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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

On the Training of Editors

On my way back into the LRR office, I tripped over Matt's gauntlet: justify student-edited journals, reform them, or abandon them.  I read him to say that, though student-edited journals may have flaws, they may also have strengths, and in any event the institution looks pretty durable at the moment.  Instead of just cursing journals for what they're not, why not figure out what they could be? 

The comments, all of which are well worth reading, offer some great nuggets of ideas.  One I especially liked, from "Jason," suggested offering a 2-credit course on legal scholarship for 2L editors.  I'd add that such a course would probably also be attractive to non-editors, especially at schools that regularly produce academics.

Now, look, 2 credits ain't a Ph.D.  But it's a lot more than nothing.  I'd be interested to hear more detailed thoughts and reactions to the idea.  Is it worth doing?  Has your school offered such a course, and if so how did it go?  (I feel like chicago has -- any others?)  What would you teach in it?  (I'd probably have a section on methodology/professional norms, and the bulk of the course reading exemplars of important recent intellectual movements.)  How would you grade it?  (I'd go mostly with weekly response papers, but perhaps the experience of writing original legal scholarship would also be valuable). 

What else should we be doing to help student editors help us do our jobs?

Posted by BDG on June 8, 2011 at 09:26 AM in Law Review Review | Permalink


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Building on previous comments, NYU's Tax Policy & Public Finance Colloquium is another very successful program that gets students involved with scholarship. Every week a scholar presents a tax-related paper. In a morning session the professors (Daniel Shaviro and a visiting professor, usually an economist) explain the key concepts and clarify any confusion. In the afternoon the visitor presents the paper, and students (along with other faculty and sometimes practicing NYC lawyers) question/comment on the paper. Students write papers critiquing the visitors' articles some weeks, and must submit a written question other weeks.

It is worth looking at if people want to work from real life models.

Posted by: Doug | Jun 8, 2011 7:22:51 PM

Mark, your proposal is pretty intriguing -- I'd like to see you write some more about it in your next guest stint, and maybe we'll bat it around on the front page in the meanwhile.

Larry's response, which I sort of expected to hear (if not from him specifically), depends heavily on the assumption that legal scholarship is not "useful" to practicing lawyers and that scholarship lacks "any relation to the actual practice of law." I don't want to debate that point now (and my view may not be exactly what you might guess). But for the moment my point would be that the usefulness of the class depends on what its instructors make of it -- which I why I said what I would do if I taught it. If Larry taught it, I imagine that students at Chapman would read a lot of what he finds to be well-crafted doctrinal synthesis. And that could be just fine, if that's what the faculty thinks their journal should look for.

Posted by: BDG | Jun 8, 2011 4:33:31 PM

It is easy to understand the appeal of this proposal in terms of the interests of academics seeking to improve the process by which articles are selected for publication. I share the skepticism of some that a two-credit course will be unable to counteract the widespread pressure to use reputational proxies for quality that are now so prevalent, but this proposal surely couldn't hurt. Maybe it has some pedagogical appeal at "schools that regularly produce academics," whatever that means. (At Yale, something less than 20% of the graduates go into the academy -- perhaps that qualifies, though I doubt anyplace else does) But perhaps we should occasionally concern ourselves with the interests of our students. In an increasingly difficult job market in which students are expected to demonstrate a marketable skill that will enable them to provide an employer with a return on investment, how does a two-credit course studying a type of writing of very limited utility in practice provide value for the student? Does anyone think that employers are looking for students who have learned how to select law review articles for publication? Or who are familiar with "exemplars of important recent intellectual movements"? (few of which have any relation to the actual practice of law) Or is this yet another way in which students are expected to subsidize the scholarship of their teachers?

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University School of Law

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Jun 8, 2011 11:33:02 AM

Just to be clear in response to Jake's last sentence: you would submit to all [x] journals at once and they would have the full month. (In fact, the system could operate by holding back all of the responses until that one month deadline is up.) Frankly, in a world in which peer-review systems take at least 6 months to a year, one month isn't that slow a turn-around -- indeed, this system would hopefully destroy the rank irrationality of the "submission window" season as a nearly-exclusive schedule for submission. This would force authors to diversify their list of journals to whom to submit, or to attempt to submit in multiple iterations (ie, if x=10, one could go top 10 and then 11-20; or, one could go 1-3, 8-10, 14-17 or some such). If time is of essence to them, authors should include "safety" journals in the journals they include in their first submission.

Meanwhile, the journals will know that the author is serious about accepting an offer, and the authors will know that the journals will respond within a time certain, while the journals will receive fewer submissions and have a more rational period within which to deliberate. This will especially benefit the mid-top tier journals that are likely the most deluged both with expedites from below and with authors who want to use them as springboards.

Posted by: Mark Fenster | Jun 8, 2011 11:20:02 AM

The Chicago Legal Scholarship Workshop was quite similar to the law and econ workshop model that D. Schleicher described. In the fall, we had several visitors come to the law school. We read their papers ahead of time and submitted response papers with questions we intended to ask, the visitors gave sample job talks with the students serving as interlocutors, and we students provided feedback on the job talk to the visitors, so they had some indications of how they could improve their delivery for future job talks. I thought it was very helpful to me as a hopeful academic.

On Mark's point, LexOpus had a 20 submission limit with a rolling queue, not unlike a Netflix queue. As journals higher up in the queue rejected an article, it would be submitted to the next journal on the list. LexOpus folded, but ExpressO could certainly try something similar, if it was so inclined, which would reverse the current cycle of trying to shop up placement at a "lower ranked" journal. But Mark is also right that journals would have to commit to a fairly quick turnaround. I don't think one month would be quick enough, unless we moved to a year round cycle, where the author wasn't at risk of losing a spot in multiple journals while the board considered the article.

Posted by: Jake Linford | Jun 8, 2011 10:39:08 AM

Brian's idea is good but it would require a commitment by the institutions which seems politically difficult given an expected "what's in it for us" response. Mark's idea is really good if it could be implemented but whose rules would these be and how how would they be enforced? If these issues could be resolved the huge upside is that the student-run law reviews would be retained in current form while the system would be improved.

Posted by: Lev | Jun 8, 2011 10:31:49 AM

Brian: Let's assume that the marginal value of training is greater than zero (although there are opportunity costs, both for the students who will take this class rather than do something else for course credit, and for the faculty who teach it and the schools that give faculty credit for teaching it). But isn't there also a deliberation process issue? Will training make up for the deluge of articles and short deadlines that editors face? No amount of training can prepare even the most brilliant reviewers for the triage they have to perform during the submission windows. There would need to be submission rules that help tame that monster and allow the students to actually take advantage of whatever training they receive.

Not to change the subject, but since I raised the issue, here are my two suggestions:

1. Authors can't submit to more than x reviews (with x being somewhere in the neighborhood of 10) but will be promised a response from all x journals within y time (with y being, say, a month). Authors must accept an offer from one of that group if one is extended, but can choose among multiple offers from those x journals if they are extended within that time period. This gets rid of the expedite mess and will lead to a reduction in submissions across the board.

2. Authors can't submit to journals published by student-edited journals within their law schools. We'd need rules to take care of submissions to the Z Law Review by visitors into Z Law School and by faculty members visiting away from Z, but that wouldn't be too difficult.

Assume away the logistical problems with #1 (which the near-monopoly power of ExpressO makes possible) and the entrenched interest problem with #2 (you'll have to pry away that privilege from the cold dead hands of some top school faculty). But better-trained students working under better conditions will produce a better process.

Posted by: Mark Fenster | Jun 8, 2011 10:20:26 AM

This is a great idea. The best way to do it, I think, would be to use the model created by the variety of public law workshops and law and econ workshops that schools put on, where papers are presented to a mix of students (who write response papers) and profs. When they work, these workshops are great -- a nice mix of comments at different levels.

Posted by: D.Schleicher | Jun 8, 2011 10:04:24 AM

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