Let’s say you need a new chef’s knife. So you go to Bed, Bath & Beyond and head for the kitchen section. (That’s part of the “Beyond,” I guess.) In a fancy cutlery display you see a large selection of chef’s knives. But you don’t buy any of those. Instead, you walk right past the chef’s knives and over to the cheese knives. After perusing a bit, you buy this set:
Looks pretty nice! But when you get home and start preparing dinner, the cheese knives just don’t seem to do the job. It’s a total disaster! The next morning you go back to BB&B to return the knives. “They didn’t work at all! I couldn’t even slice a tomato with these things!” you complain. “And don’t even get me started on what happened when I tried to dice an onion!”
Not surprisingly, the customer service rep at BB&B isn’t sympathetic. She calmly responds, “Sir, these are cheese knives.”
Obviously, nobody would ever do anything like that. We understand that different tools have different purposes. And you shouldn’t malign a tool for not working in circumstances for which it was not designed to work. Something clearly labeled “cheese knife” should be used for cheese, not dicing onions.
But for some reason, people malign The Bluebook for this sort of thing all the time. The most recent entry in the catalog is this piece from Judge Gerald Lebovits: Cite-Seeing Part II: The Bluebook’s New York Bloopers. Judge Lebovits pulls no punches in his critique of The Bluebook’s “mistakes”: It “fails miserably when it comes to New York citations.” “Every rule and example in the Bluebook violates how a practitioner, judge, or academic should cite New York authorities.” “The Bluebook’s rule also contradicts” various state rules and statutes. And “it’s not hard to spot incorrect examples for New York in the Bluebook.”
“Everybody knows The Bluebook sucks. What this article presupposes is—maybe it doesn’t?”
— Ron Fisher, Latham & Watkins
“I nearly puked but I’ll still read it”
—Sasha Moss, R Street Institute
“Scariest thing I’ve seen today… by far!”
—Eric Segall, Georgia State University College of Law
“Anyone who wrote a 27 page book review of the Bluebook is not to be trusted.”
— Jim Tyre, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Okay, so maybe those reviews are not great. But I’m pretty sure they were offered in the playful spirit shared by the essay itself. Seriously. I figured I couldn’t take myself too seriously while writing a 27-page book review of a legal citation manual. So while I certainly intended the essay to raise some important issues, I also tried to make it a fun read. I hope you enjoy it!
In the review, I argue that many critiques of The Bluebook don’t critique the actual book. Rather, they seem to be upset about something altogether different, with The Bluebook just providing an easy target for their scorn.
An instant classic of the genre appeared today in Above The Law. An in-house lawyer offers a recommendation to future in-house lawyers: “Burn Your Bluebook.” Yikes! Look, I admit I’ve never worked as in-house counsel. And I wouldn’t be surprised if in-house lawyers rarely used The Bluebook. But the complaints in the article have almost nothing to do with The Bluebook. You could burn (or not burn) pretty much anything and you’d have just as much of an effect on the problems outlined in the article, since the author’s dispute is not with The Bluebook as a citation guide. Rather, the author seems to dislike providing any legal authority whatsoever in his memoranda. That’s fine! But that has nothing to do with The Bluebook, which contains rules to follow for when you do want to cite to legal authority in your memoranda. Continue reading →
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 →
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.”
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, whoselects and edits your scholarship?!?).