Law Reviews, Peer Review, and Cheese Knives

According to Professor Christopher Zorn of Empirical Legal Studies, law reviews are “terrible.” And he presents a list of grievances. I’ll get to those, and I’ve already discussed some of the recent “State of the Law Reviews” discussion here and here. But before the grievances, a more fundamental point: Professor Zorn doesn’t make clear his understanding of the purpose of law reviews so it’s impossible to judge whether law reviews are “terrible” or “great” at satisfying that purpose. You can’t call a cheese knife “terrible” just because you have a hard time cutting steak with it.

Let’s say the purposes of law reviews are to (1) get a bunch of ideas out into the universe, with a reliance on post-publication evaluation and sorting, (2) provide information that is useful to the bench, the bar, and scholars in some ratio, (3) have an article’s sourcing and arguments thoroughly checked by student editors, who effectively serve as volunteer student research assistants, and (4) give law students the opportunity to work closely with professors on current scholarship. On those fronts, I would say the law reviews are doing a decent job. But here are Five Reasons Law Reviews Are Terrible, according to Professor Zorn, with my comments: Continue reading

A Sur-Reply to the Replies to My Response to Adam Liptak’s NYT Article on Law Reviews

Yes, that title is supposed to be a joke.

Anyway, a few additional thoughts in response to folks who commented on my initial post defending law reviews from the students’ perspective.

Even with Student Editors, There Should Still Be Peer Review!

Lots of folks have pointed out that peer review would be a useful supplement to student editors. I didn’t mention this in the original post, because others had already discussed it elsewhere, but peer review does happen in legal scholarship. There are, of course, plenty of peer-reviewed journals. But even in the context of student-edited journals, Matt Bodie and Will Baude note that much of legal scholarship’s peer-reviewing happens after publication, when scholars, courts, and practitioners can evaluate a piece, ignore it, cite it, engage with it, criticize it, etc. What’s the problem with that?

Also, there is actually a good amount of pre-publication peer review. People complain about star footnotes—that little footnote after an author’s name thanking all the famous professors and friends who provided comments and edits on previous drafts. Sure, some of that might be an attempt at status-by-affiliation. But it’s also peer review! I’ve yet to see a star footnote that reads: “So, uh… nobody else in the field has read this yet. I just sort of read a bunch of cases and articles and these are my thoughts. I hope they’re not terribly obvious or wrong-headed.”

Blogs Are Better than Law Reviews!

Sure! Blogs are great! Continue reading

In Defense of Law Reviews: The Students’ Perspective

Okay, the title of this post is a bit misleading, since I am not a law student. But I was once a law student, and I do think law students are important! The interests of law students, however, have been largely absent from the debate surrounding Adam Liptak’s The Lackluster Reviews That Lawyers Love to Hate, which has instead focused on judges (“Law reviews are useless!”), professors (“The process is irrational!”), and folks from other disciplines (“Wait, who selects and edits your scholarship?!?).

If you’re new to this week’s version of the Great Law Review Debate, you can find a nice round-up at UW’s Gallagher Blog here and here. I’ll try to avoid repeating what others have already said. Perhaps the best (or at least most enjoyable) statement of the case against law reviews is Fred Rodell’s anticipatory eulogy for law reviews, published in 1936. (Tellingly, Rodell’s farewell to law reviews was published in the Virginia Law Review, and we’re still talking about it today.) During a prior iteration of the Great Debate, way back in 2011, Matt Bodie refreshingly addressed the student side of the equation in this piece. But the interests of law students seem to be largely absent from this iteration. So here goes…

The Students’ Role in the Law Review Process

Law professors are supposed to teach law students. That’s actually one of the things we get paid to do. Continue reading