The Law Reviews at Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, NYU, Northwestern, Stanford, and the University of Chicago have collaborated to create The Legal Workshop. Here is an excerpt from the press release:
TOP LAW REVIEWS STRIKE UNPRECEDENTED DEAL AND COLLABORATE TO LAUNCH WEB MAGAZINE
The Legal Workshop aims to revitalize legal scholarship
STANFORD, Calif., April 21, 2009—A consortium of America’s most influential law reviews today launched The Legal Workshop (www.legalworkshop.org), a free, online magazine featuring articles based on legal scholarship published in the print editions of seven participating law reviews: Stanford Law Review, New York University Law Review, Cornell Law Review,Duke Law Journal, Georgetown Law Journal, Northwestern Law Review, and University of Chicago Law Review.
The Legal Workshop features short, plain-English articles about legal issues and ideas, written by an author whose related, full-length work of scholarship is forthcoming in one of the participating law reviews. But The Legal Workshop does not house a collection of abstracts. Instead, it offers an engaging alternative to traditional academic articles that run 30,000 words with footnotes, enabling scholars to present their well-formulated opinions and their research to a wider audience. In addition to making legal ideas understandable, The Legal Workshop seeks to house the best of legal scholarship in one place—making it easier for readers to find the best writing about all areas of law.
“It’s really the best of both worlds,” said Dahlia Lithwick, the Stanford Law alumnus who covers the Supreme Court for Slatein a highly influential column. “The general public can be better engaged with the latest thinking about the law while knowing that what they’re reading is serious scholarship; not just fad or opinion.”
A quick look at the the first set of pieces will give you a clearer sense of the basic idea. For example, one of the pieces is Alexander Volokh, Choosing Interpretive Methods: A Positive Theory of Judges and Everyone Else. The version on "The Legal Workshop" is approximately 3,800 words--with 22 footnotes. It includes a link to the full article, which is published in the New York University Law Review. The full version is approximately 37,000 words long, and includes 345 footnotes. The website allows reader to get both the "Reader's Digest" version and the full version of the article.
I just got the email announcing this a few minutes ago, and it will take some time to assess this idea. I do have a few quick reactions:
Second, I am a bit skeptical of the ambitious claims in the press release about reaching "the general public." Consider this sentence, chosen randomly from one of the first batch of pieces:
In the context of systemic risk, however, individual market participants who fully understand that risk will be motivated to protect themselves but not the system as a whole.9 Imposing additional disclosure requirements may even prove counterproductive, causing market participants to change their behavior. For example, traders may become more cautious, demanding that prices move farther before making trades, thereby ultimately reducing market liquidity.
Third, I am also skeptical about potential for the format of "The Legal Workshop" to produce pieces that will directly influence practitioners--lawyers and judges, who are most interested in descriptive doctrinal scholarship. Only one of the articles in the first batch is doctrinal scholarship aimed at practitioners and judges. The culture of the legal academy deeply disfavors this form of scholarship: the multivolume treatises are still produced, but the authors tend to be very senior, not at top ranked law schools, or practitioners themselves. (Please do not be offended if you are a treatise writer: I am the author of two treatises and I believe in the value of the form.) Moreover, the kind of descriptive doctrinal scholarship that is best produced by legal scholars involves the synthesis of large volumes of legal texts (e.g., case crunching, code crunching, and rule crunching). But synthetic and comprehensive legal scholarship is best suited to the long form. Indeed, the long form came to dominate legal scholarship for exactly this reason. Lots of ideas developed by legal scholars can be expressed in short form scholarship (and shorter forms predominate in the adjacent disciplines of philosophy, economics, and political science), but interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary scholarship is not aimed directly at legal practitioners (with some exceptions, of course).
I look forward to more from "The Legal Workshop." Comments are open for this post!