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Monday, February 11, 2008

Too Many Law Reviews?

This article reports (based on this article in the National Jurist) that  most law reviews are desperate for articles  and end up publishing poorly written and shoddy sholarship.  The article posts two questions to "Law Blog loyals": "First, does law review experience actually make better law students and lawyers . . . ?  Second, do you agree . . . that the importance of law review in the job search process is leading to shoddy scholarship and academic waste?"

I tend to think that the answer to the first is "yes" and the answer to the second is "yes, but."  Let me explain.

I think journal experience is beneficial.  Journal members learn at least two skills: how to Bluebook and how to edit.  Granted, journal Bluebooking is different than brief Bluebooking, and scholarly editing is different than brief editing, but there are also similarities, and I think those similarities end up enhancing lawyerly skills.  Obviously, the level of benefit depends upon the journal, but I think it is a benefit in any case.  I was on two journals at Duke (yes, I was not very bright back then) -- Duke Law Journal and Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum.  I got more out of my experience on Duke Law Journal, but I benefitted from my experience on DELPF, too.  A third skill that many journal members develop is writing, if they have the opportunity to publish a student note or comment.  Not every journal member does that, but those that do usually gain valuable writing experience.  And I have seen some excellent student notes, even from relatively lower-ranked journals.

I do think that the abundance of journals can lead to shoddy scholarship and academic waste in some cases.  But my guess is that most cases of shoddy scholarship and academic waste would have been done anyway and still have found its way into some publication medium even without such an abundance of journals.  And, I think there is real value in most journal writing, even those that have little name recognition.  Practitioners are often relegated to more obscure journals, and although sometimes those articles are less scholarly and more doctrinal (or even patently advocacy pieces), they can still add positive value to the overall discussion.  And, finally, I think that there are some real niches that secondary journals fill even if the supply of articles is low.  The University of Arkansas has three journals, for example.  The Law Review, the Journal of Food Law & Policy, and the Journal of Islamic Law & Culture.  The latter two may struggle to fill volumes, but they are also fairly valuable products in niche markets.

Posted by Scott Dodson on February 11, 2008 at 10:24 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I deny that bluebooking is a skill. But my denial is based on a certain understanding of what it means to have a skill. No doubt, the technique of bluebooking has some use in places other than law school -- someone needs to be able to check the citations in the brief. But it ought not to be called a worthwhile skill, for several reasons:

- It's not something you need a lawyer to do. A paralegal can check to see if citations conform to the rules. Indeed, a toddler could do it, if the toddler were kept liberally supplied with candy and antidepressants.

(I assume here that "bluebooking" doesn't stand in for a broader array of skills like "being sure that the object cited says what the citation says it says." That's more an issue of intellectual honesty than skill, and is hardly valued in legal practice anyway, since the practice of law basically reduces to motivated intellectual dishonesty, i.e. to distorting one's authority just up to the point where one is likely to get called on it.)

- It's not objectively worthwhile -- let's face it, the bluebook is just flat-out stupid, and society does worse with the existence of a bunch of lawyers who are trained to check whether the comma is italicized than it would do if that training were not present. (For one thing, the cost of legal services is higher than it otherwise might be if we as a society weren't paying lawyers to do that stupid shit.)

- It's overall bad for the poor fool who gets the training. I can't prove that, but I intuit that spending a couple years of one's life scrivening over a bunch of citations and being conditioned to enforce moronic little rules about things like citation signals will produce a person with a notable narrowness of spirit and sensibility. (Much like the practice of law in general!)

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Feb 12, 2008 1:38:06 PM

Over at my blog, I asked whether the plethora of law reviews can survive certain trends in legal education. I’m more or less resigned to the trend towards interdisciplinary scholarship. As long as law schools pay significantly higher than most humanities disciplines, there will be plenty of economists, philosophers, and other social scientists who are attracted to law teaching for pecuniary reasons. Because law faculties tend to replicate themselves, the growing numbers of JD/PhD faculty members will help tilt the hiring process even further towards hiring their ilk (usually from their old boy/girl network). There’s both demand and supply forces trying to turn law schools into quasi-graduate schools.

If this trend continues, as I begrudgingly believe it will, there will be growing pressure for faculty to publish academic press monographs and articles for faculty-edited journals.


Posted by: Steve Bainbridge | Feb 12, 2008 12:26:23 AM

Your final point, about the Food Law and Islamic Law journals, points out that the problem may be less the existence of the journals than their insistence on publishing so often. Journals that ought to exist, such as Food Law, oughtn't necessarily to publish two issues per year. Perhaps one issue every two years would be appropriate.

Suppose that is the right number for that particular journal. So why do they publish four times as often (or however often they do publish)? Because it'd be silly to be on the journal during the year in which it didn't publish. Some work would get done, particularly sifting through submissions and some editing/citechecking/bluebooking for pieces that are accepted, but what urgency would there be for the students if they knew that the journal wasn't even scheduled to come out for another 18 months? In order to ensure that everyone actually gets that valuable journal experience, the journals grind and grind and put out articles without overmuch evaluation of whether they're actually worth the ink.

But maybe if publication were made less frequently, the work wouldn't be lessened, but would rather *change*. That is, perhaps actual evaluation of the articles would go on. Perhaps the editors would read the work that the author cites to see if that author really is making a new contribution. Perhaps the arguments would actually be evaluated on their merits. Perhaps, that is, the articles would go through an analogue of a peer review process (the difference being, of course, that the reviewers aren't peers).

Posted by: Jason | Feb 11, 2008 11:09:37 PM

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