Do Law Review Articles Suck?

Yesterday the NYT published an article decrying the current state of Law Review articles. While I don’t mean to defend the publication of every article, I do think the article entire misses the point of the journals and its comparison with the NEJM is ill-conceived (more on that later).

1) Still need the forum

There are a lot of law schools these days that do admittedly publish a lot articles. Many of which likely won’t move the social needle in a meaningful way. To say that the forum is valueless though is like saying “all blogs are terrible” because 90% of them add no value. But the 10% that do really have influence in the world and help shape conversations. Do you remember your life before blogs? It was boring. There are seminal papers that are law review articles. You know the Coase Theorem? That was a law review article. Who cares if not every article is great if every 10 years we get a seminal one? You still need the forum to exist in order to allow these ideas a chance at getting out there, or else it’ll be every academic for himself.

2) Important training and signaling tool.

They also represent a really important signaling tool for employers. Different law schools have different write-on schemes that make the Law Review board more or less similar to the group of students with a top GPA, but it’s still a coveted notch on your belt in order to say ‘I made the journal and was able to do the work involved’ no matter how boring.

It’s also an important training tool. You know those decisions that the Supreme Court and Federal Courts publish that create law? Who do you think helps write, edit and brief them? Recent law graduates – often ones who were on Law Review. Are judges upset at our use of these graduates in their chambers? Do they want to do all the work on their own?

3) Is it being student-run really a big deal to its quality?

I also find it hard to believe quality has anything to do with who edits the paper for citations. And using scientific journals isn’t a great comparison point given how badly peer review journals actually peer review these days. Even if peer review was successful for weeding out bad papers in scientific journals, there’s an entirely different barrier to entry in legal scholarship. My   The only reason professors are angry about what gets published is because their things are published. When was the last time someone published a great article on the NYT that the Harvard Law rejected as proof of how bad the selection process was? If they dislike journals so much they should publish their content on the web and let people view it however they want – by admitting they care who edits it they also implicitly admit it had a readership they care about. They admit that it matters. 

Lastly – the current court is extremely conservative, and we’re surprised they don’t cite liberal academic articles anymore? This was well pointed out by Will Baude, and more of his defense of law review articles, some of which covers the same ground, can be found here.