I'm at the conference on "Writing About the Law" at New York Law School. The first panel is on now. Here is the description and lineup:
Just Cite It! The Traditional Law Review Structure
Law reviews have been attacked as irrelevant and their student editors criticized as incompetent, yet legal scholars still need to publish in law reviews to get and keep their jobs. What role does the traditional law review play, what role should it play, and should it be continued?
Panelists and Moderator:
- James Lindgren, Professor, Northwestern University School of Law and Cofounder of the section on Scholarship of the Association of American Law Schools.
- Randy E. Barnett, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center and senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the Goldwater Institute.
- Ann Althouse, Professor, University of Wisconsin School of Law and author and blogger.
- Paul Caron, Professor, University of Cincinnati School of Law and Publisher and Editor of TaxProf Blog.
- Cameron Stracher (Moderator), Codirector, Program in Law & Journalism and Publisher, New York Law School Law Review.
The panel started out with a really marvelous discussion of the virtues of student-edited law reviews. The most dramatic part of this discussion was Jim Lindgren's discussion of the the value of cite checking. Lindgren (and Randy Barnett) noted that the lack of careful citechecking in peer reviewed journals can lead to serious problems. Lindgren recounted his own work that exposed substantial problems with the scholarship on gun ownership in early America by Michael Bellesiles. (Lindgren's work can be found in his paper Counting Guns in Early America.
Another interesting topic was the discussion of the relevance of the law review. Caron and Altman both made the point that blogs have many more readers than most law review articles--and Caron noted that a very significant percentage of law review articles are never cited. This point is right--of course--but I am constantly surpirsed by how much legal scholarship is read--not only by the legal academy but my scholars and students in many other disciplines.
Jim Lindgren made another point--that libraries seem empty these days. Lindgren related this to the "death of paper" theme. I must say that in my own case, I find that I do almost all research electronically. The one exception is monographs & even there, my route of access is usually Amazon.com--rather than trying to locate the book in the library.
Ann Althouse and Jim Lindgren had a very interesting discussion of the role of the "Case Comment" or "Case Note." Lindgren suggested that this genre is dead. One sense in which this is the case has to do with the demise of traditional doctrinal scholarship--in the legal academy and general and especially in the elite legal academy. Legal academics are interested in the relationship between law and economics, normative theory, sociology, and political science. The "Case Note" is the paradigm of doctrinal scholarship: I actually can't remember the last time I read one. But I wonder whether student written doctrinal scholarship still has an audience in the bar and bench--where doctrine is still the name of the game?
There was a very interesting discussion of the law review submission process. Paul Caron had a horrifying story about his examination of the comments marked by students at a law review on drafts. Only one comment appeared on each draft--a number. Caron was puzzled, and was finally able to figure out what the number represented. It was the "U.S. News and World Report" ranking of the law school of the submitting author. Chilling! But of course, behind this horror story is the reality that students seek proxies for a reason. If we eliminate the proxies, will the quality of decision making really improve? I posted this as a question, and Randy Barnett strongly defended blind review--and noted that some elite law reviews now do "blind" or "partially blind" review.
Barnett also discussed the "symposium" alternative--which is the opposite of blind review. Chicago-Kent's student edited journal improved dramatically by adopting an all-symposium, faculty-selected format. I edited one of the Kent symposium issues--on John Rawls's then new book, Political Liberalism. Stephen Griffin and I were able to get some really wonderful contributions--from Josh Cohen (now at Stanford in philosophy), Kent Greenawalt, and others.
The first session is winding up! I'll post on the second session in about two hours.