Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Let's Talk About The Good Things Going On With Law Reviews

People are talking about law review reform, so it looks like the recent paper met its goal. 

This time it's the NYTimes reporting on law review reform with questions like, "why are law reviews, the primary repositories of legal scholarship, edited by law students?" 

And other obvious statements like, "[t]hese student editors are mostly bright and work hard, but they are young, part-time amateurs who know little about the law or about editing prose. Yet they are in charge of picking the best articles from among many hundreds of submissions written by professors with authentic expertise in fields the students may never have studied."

The article notes that judges do not rely on law review articles, and anyone arguing in front of the Supreme Court would be an idiot to cite one. Judge Dennis G. Jacobs, of the federal appeals court in New York, said that he hasn't opened up a law review in years. “No one speaks of them. No one relies on them.”

So the NYTimes fact checked that statement: "[t]hat is only mild hyperbole. About 43 percent of law review articles have never been cited in another article or in a judicial decision."

It is also true that SCOTUS does not rely on law review articles as much as it used to. "In the 1970s and 1980s, about half of all Supreme Court opinions cited at least one law review article. Since 2000, the rate is just 37 percent -- even as Supreme Court opinions have grown longer and more elaborate."

As noted, "[t]he general debate on how to improve law reviews is an old one, and there is little prospect of change. Law reviews will continue to publish long, obscure and dated articles, and their readership and influence will continue to drop."

NYTimes, please let's continue to expound on all of the negative things about law reviews and offer no suggestions for change -- the same with law schools, in general. As an expert legal researcher, I use law review articles a lot. Law reviews are one of my go-to resources for a preliminary analysis to find an overview of the law with citations to cases and statutes. I mine the footnotes for other relevant information on topic because the beauty of law reviews is that you can generally find an article written on any topic.

In light of this article and others, I am inspired by the changes happening at my school's law review (and many others). Many law reviews are taking the open access route by providing their articles for free on their websites. They also have online companions that are more akin to blogs. As I mentioned before, the law review at my school is starting to dabble in peer review -- at least to get a professor's opinion about a hard to understand topic.

So, I have to respectfully disagree that things are not changing. There are good things going on in law review land if you just take the time to look. However, this does remind me that those affiliated with law reviews need to do a better job of promoting the good things.

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