Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Law Reviews' Critics

Lawyers, law professors, and judges have been griping about law reviews for decades: they aren't practical, they aren't interesting, they aren't well written. And they're edited by mere students. An article by Adam Liptak recounts the criticisms: Law Scholarship’s Lackluster Reviews, N.Y. Times, Oct. 21, 2013.

Periodical display shelves, Reference Area, Gallagher Law Library

Liptak cites these studies:
And he also cites an early critique: Fred Rodell, Goodbye to Law Reviews, 23 Va. L. Rev. 38 (1936). For more on law reviews, look up this classic article on HeinOnline, click on "Articles that cite this document" and browse through the 253 articles listed.

screen snip: Articles that cite this document

For some defenses of law reviews, see this post.

How would switching from student editing to peer review or peer review with peer editing change the law review process? Here are a couple of thoughts.

Selection process:
Typically, authors submit papers to a couple of dozen journals at a time, so multiple sets of student editors are all looking at them at once. In a peer review systems, journals would insist on papers being submitted to only one journal at a time. So a professor who is used to getting a few offers within weeks of submission might instead wait for a couple of months while the peer reviewers go over his or her paper and write critiques. The editors would then decide whether to run it as is, ask for revisions, or pass. If they pass, then the author would start the process again with another journal. So publication might be slower.

Labor and costs:
The traditional model burns a lot of student hours, as they make publication decisions then gather sources, edit, and check citations. This is justified in part by the educational benefits of journal editorship. The students put great care into their work out of commitment, passion for their topics, and pride in the product.

Peer review depends on having many willing faculty members to read and comment on submissions. Professors in other fields are used to this, but it hasn't been part of the culture of law schools. What would law professors give up doing in order to make time to write thoughtful critiques of strangers' papers? Peer editing requires faculty editors who will do the editorial work as a service to the profession or for a small stipend. (Some might be able to get reduced teaching loads to make time for editing duties.) If the faculty editors want to hire RAs to do the more tedious work, how much will they have to pay? Law reviews have traditionally been a bargain among scholarly publications; paying editors and assistants could drive up the price. A lot.

For a wide range of information about law reviews, including the submission process, ranking, and more, see Writing for & Publishing in Law Reviews.

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