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Monday, January 11, 2016

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When I was first starting out in the gig, one of my mentors gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me. Don't write replies. Even if your paper is essentially a response to someone, don't frame it that way. Build the response into a larger claim.

But there was more to it: definitely respond. Engagement is key. The conversation is what matters. Disagree, amplify, make subtle distinctions. Just don't frame the paper around the reply.

I've followed this advice and given it myself. Yet I've never really considered. Why not reply?

My sense--and I'm fine being wrong about this--is that the advice is driven by the submission process. By pitching the paper as a response to someone, we give the appearance of a limited contribution. The law review submission process is a black box on its best days. So it makes sense for scholars, especially junior scholars in search of tenure, to avoid submission formats that won't play well with the acquisition editors. Maybe that's always good advice, whether in a law journal or peer review situation. Or maybe the "no reply" rule isn't widespread. Frankly, I don't know.

But I welcome thoughts. Please and thank you.

Posted by Zachary Kramer on January 11, 2016 at 02:34 PM in Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


I feel like a lot of the greatest writing of the ages was, in some way or another, a reply. Most obviously the socratic dialogues in books like The Republic

Posted by: Tim Wu | Jan 14, 2016 9:05:27 PM

My take is that if an article goes no further than taking potshots at ananother writer's positions, then such an article would have little value. Article writing should not be the equivalent of dueling appellate briefs.

However, if the author makes crystal clear that he or she is going beyond a criticism of another writer and is also making an original contribution to the literature, then we have a different situation entirely. There can be much value in a respectful debate with another writer where there is a difference of opinion on basic doctrinal or normative issues and where the author performing the critique provide new insights or solutions for important problems.

There are many examples of where reply articles have taken their rightful place in the legal pantheon. If Lon Fuller had taken your metnor's advice, he might not have written his famous piece,Lon L. Fuller, Positivism and Fidelity to Law--A Reply to Professor Hart, 71 Harv. L. Rev. 630 (1958). While few of us can aspire to such heights, it could be dangerous to overgeneralize about avoiding reply articles as a per se proposition.

A final point is that reply articles are now more important than ever. Most law journals actively solicit "reply" pieces in their submission instructions for their on line supplements. Check out the Harvard and Yale on line supplements for proof of this trend. While on line supplements might not have the same scholarly gravitas as the print journals, it remains a fact that many thoughtful on line contributions have been made in this type of forum.

I understand that reply articles can sometimes be petty exchanges of insults, but where done properly they can add to our understanding of the law.

Posted by: Non-prof | Jan 13, 2016 1:47:01 PM

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