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Monday, October 13, 2008

Is there a place for non-traditional legal writing in the legal publishing universe?

I love being a law professor.  I love thinking about the law.  I love teaching and engaging with students.  I love writing.  I love hanging out with law professors.  And I love the many personal and professional benefits that come with being a professor.  (Do all junior professors feel this way?  Does it wear off?)

One of the very few things I don't like about being a professir is that it is confining.  I mean this in a broad sense--it really limits experiences and exposure, I think (as, perhaps, does every job)--but I have something very specific in mind here, and I'm looking for advice.

I have drafted an extremely short, non-traditional piece (2500 words, not yet footnoted), and I don't know if there is anyplace to publish it. 

The piece, Everything I Needed to Learn About Legisprudence I Learned by Third Grade, is a little gimmicky.  Okay, maybe it is very gimmicky.  Based on a true story, it starts with a proclamation by Mother, the Supreme Lawmaker, that "no food may be eaten outside the kitchen."  What follows is a series of rulings by Judges (Father, Babysitter, Grandma, etc.), who, using traditional tools of interpretation, eventually declare it to mean that all food may be eaten outside of the kitchen.  Ultimately, the Supreme Lawmaker reacts and clarifies.

The piece, which I will use as a teaching tool in my Legislation and Statutory Interpretation class, is meant to highlight the following:

  • We use the basic, competing modes of statutory interpretation all the time;
  • When we interpret pronouncements in real life, we resort to a mix of textualist, literalist, purposivist, legal process, precedent, and other techniques and sources;
  • Although the various tools seem (and often are) perfectly reasonable individually, in the aggregate, they can lead to ridiculous results;
  • Even when we agree that the ultimate results are ridiculous, it is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly where the error occurred;
  • The legislature can sometimes clean up after bad judicial opinions, but it often takes a long time.

(I will also offer it to my students as a way of identifying types of arguments and a tool for reviewing their cases.)

I have thought about making these points explicitly in the piece, thus building a somewhat longer article around the gimmick, but I think it stands better as it is.  I'm very open to comments, though.

I just have no idea if there is an outlet for this sort of thing. Do traditional law reviews ever publish small, non-traditional pieces? Regular law review articles are useful for some purposes, but surely there are other ways of communicating ideas.  Short as it is, it is too long for a blog post. 

Are there other outlets?


Posted by Hillel Levin on October 13, 2008 at 09:04 AM in Hillel Levin | Permalink


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I had the same problem at Mr. Krell. "The abstract you requested was not found."

Posted by: C.D. Bradley | Oct 14, 2008 12:11:51 AM

What a great piece--thoroughly enjoyable.

Posted by: Sarah L. | Oct 13, 2008 1:33:04 PM

Interesting that you feel this way. I (a law prof. wannabe on the market with a few articles) have exactly the opposite feeling about the legal academy. It is maybe the *least* confining academic setting, the one (or at least one of the ones) most open to experimentation in other fields, cross-pollination, and so on. Maybe one can still feel "confined" just by being a professor (whether of law or anything else) but I at least don't think I will feel that way at all in this field (it might be different in the sciences, for example). In fact, if I had to rank what's sometimes off-putting about legal scholarship, 'narrowness of scope' would probably not make the top 100 vices.

Posted by: anon | Oct 13, 2008 11:06:16 AM

That is great! The Green Bag should kill for such an article. Any law review should.

I wish I was a law review editor so I could make you an offer.

Thanks for the chance to read it.

Posted by: Matthew Krell | Oct 13, 2008 10:11:31 AM

Green Bag is the one that leaps to mind. Constitutional Commentary (it is close enough to their core). All the major journals will publish short, humorous things such as this, actually even more frequently than BADM suggests, as would a legislation/legisprudence specialty journal. And I think the on-line supplements to the law review that take original pieces (Northwestern, Yale, Wash U, Virginia, Southern Cal) would be an outlet. Do the extent you have a pedagogic angle (your description sounds as if the piece does), think about the Journal of Legal Education. JUDICATURE (a magazine-style journal doing law and poly sci stuff related to the judicial system) is another possibility.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Oct 13, 2008 9:58:50 AM

Prof. Levin,

I can't download the piece. I get an "abstract not found," and when I search for your name, it doesn't show up in your list of results.

Posted by: Matthew Krell | Oct 13, 2008 9:54:45 AM

BTW, Hillel, you should change the title to "Food Stays in the Kitchen."

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 13, 2008 9:23:12 AM

I think there's a Field of Dreams rule in legal academia: If you write it, they -- someone -- will publish it. The only question is what journal will publish it, not whether someone will. And I agree, try the Green Bag 1st.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 13, 2008 9:19:30 AM

I second the previous poster's suggestion: This piece is right up The Green Bag's alley.

Posted by: dcuser | Oct 13, 2008 9:18:19 AM

Forgot to include a link to the Volokh piece:

Posted by: Bored Associate/Discovery Monkey | Oct 13, 2008 9:13:46 AM

I don't have the patience with SSRN's user interface to download the piece and read it, but based on your description, I have 2 thoughts:

1. Green Bag is one possibility. 2500 words sounds like a good length for them. Their policy on submission is: "We welcome anything that is interesting, law-related, clear, and short – meaning no more than 5,000 words and 0 to 50 footnotes (which count against your 5,000)." http://www.greenbag.org/submissions.php

2. More traditional law reviews occasionally (rarely) publish these sorts of things. See, e.g., Sasha Volokh, Aside, n Guilty Men, 146 U. Pa. L. Rev. 173 (1997).

Posted by: Bored Associate/Discovery Monkey | Oct 13, 2008 9:12:38 AM

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