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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reforming Law Reviews: "Regional" Law Reviews and Specialty Issues (not Journals)?

Ann Bartow's neat thought experiment -- the suggestion that law reviews revert to publishing only work by professors at their host schools -- prompts me to suggest another set of potential changes to address the reported problems with student-edited law reviews (which, I think, are a bit overblown). (See Howard's reaction to Ann Bartow's post here).

Law Review critic Robert Jarvis (Nova) suggested that law reviews were so desperate for articles that they would publish his grocery list.  I'm not so sure.  I guess it depends on what he's cooking tonight (of course, any law review would publish Posner's grocery list).  My own experience is that at some (somewhat arbitrary) list of "top" law reviews -- at perhaps the top 50 US News schools' "main" law review -- the placement competition has gotten incredibly tight.  It's far harder today to place an article in the "top" (25? 30?) law reviews than it was two "scholarly generations" ago.  At the same time, I think Professor Jarvis is right that, thanks to the proliferation of "specialty" journals and law schools (all of which seem to need to have a journal), there is definitely a seller's market at the "lower end" of the spectrum.

Two suggested reforms, both of which would have the effect of reducing the total number of law reviews:

First, what about "regional" law reviews?  Several "lower" ranked schools could team up and publish a journal jointly.  Different issues could be edited by different schools, but the selection of articles could be made jointly.  E.g, a "Marquette-DePaul-Loyola Law Review" or a "Louisville-Kentucky-Memphis-Cincinnati" Law Review.  Wouldn't such a journal both combine three or four schools' "prestige" (making the journal competitive, for authors with the great misfortune of multiple offers, with more "highly ranked" journals), and provide a benefit to all three schools should the journal (or its articles) be cited?  (A colleague once suggested, in jest, that our school start a "Flyover States Law Review", to cover legal issues relevant for the part of the country that isn't NY, California, Boston or DC, but I think to be practical there would be have to be some greater geographic restriction).

Second, I think schools should encourage specialty issues, rather than specialty journals.  It seems like specialty journals, particularly those that don't begin with the word "Harvard," are particularly challenged when it comes to finding quality pieces and attracting attention upon publication.  Yet the arguments for specialty journals -- that they give many more students journal experience and help ensure the publication of scholarship in areas like corporate law or employment law or tax law that are not "sexy" to student editors -- are persuasive.  My suggestion is that schools replace specialty journals with dedicated specialty issues.  Colorado Law Review, for instance, has a dedicated "natural resources" law issue.  This ensures some natural resources law scholarship will get published.  To provide additional editorial opportunities to non-law review students, such "specialty issues" could invite non-journal members (preferably from existing student organizations like the Environmental Law Society, Sports Law Society, Business Law Society, etc.) to participate as "editorial consultants."  The subject matter experts could help the editorial staff select articles, and contribute substantive editorial suggestions.

Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on April 8, 2008 at 08:40 PM | Permalink


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If the dedicated issue were a regular thing -- say, if the third issue of the "Georgetown Law Journal" every year was the immigration law issue -- wouldn't immigration scholars know to expect it and look for it? What I'm suggesting is that the main-line law review dedicate an issue each year to the (same) specialized topic(s).

I'd also say that thanks to SSRN subject matter lists, RSS feeds, and the built-in capability to set Lexis and Westlaw up to deliver new articles to you on subjects of particular interest, the "search costs" argument for specialty journals isn't as compelling as it might once have been.

Posted by: Geoff | Apr 9, 2008 10:14:10 AM

To my mind specialty reviews can be very good, but more so the more specialized they are. So, there are probably too many "general" international law law reviews, but more specialized ones could be useful- this is one reason I was sad to see the Penn International Economic Law Review drop the "economic" and become just another international law review. For example, for people working on immigration the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal is something that must be looked at all the time and is a desirable place to publish. This is so since we know that everything is likely to be at least somewhat relevant to what we're interested in. I suspect that other more highly specialized journals are somewhat similar. This is better than the "special issue" idea, at least in some ways, because I always know that the GILJ will have new interesting immigration law articles, but if there are rather a random number of journals doing special issues on immigration I'll have to spend more time searching them out. This doesn't mean special issues are bad- they might well be very good- but just that at least some specialized journals (even w/o "Harvard" attached!) are well respected and very useful.

Posted by: Matt | Apr 9, 2008 9:19:58 AM

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