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The debate on the necessity and relevance of law review articles is not a new one. But an article in The New York Times, has brought that issue front and center as debates now rage on in the Twitterverse (fyi search #LawReviews).
I should be clear up front: I was on law review, was a notes editor and was published. That I'm a proponent of law reviews is no secret around here. And it's for a reason: every legal job opportunity that I've had has no doubt been bolstered by the appearance of law review on my resume.
I read The Times article that's causing a fuss online and I have to say that I'm not a believer. Perhaps you read it, perhaps you didn't, here's my breakdown of the article, and while great at stirring controversy, I find it unconvincing.
Medical Journals v. Law Journals
"Would you want The New England Journal of Medicine to be edited by medical students?" The article opens with this question and proceeds to say "Of course not," so why are law reviews edited by students? I don't really think medical journals and law journals can be compared because of the stark differences in the fields. First, medical journals publish new studies and medical findings, whereas legal journals publish legal analysis and theories. No one will die from a botched law review article.
At least not right away.
Furthermore, though both legal and medical professionals have particular areas of interest, it's much easier for legal scholars to cross over into different areas than medical scholars that need to focus on one particular area of practice. In law school, the tools you take away are legal vocabulary and an analytical framework that can be applied to any legal situation. Any good law student has the tools necessary to edit and review a legal article.
Finally, there are thousands of doctors whose entire professional life is research and pure science. Outside of law school, and a few think tanks, law doesn't have such a thing. Our research is going to have to be done in academia. And that includes students.
Loyola Law Review Study
The Times article references a study conducted by the Loyola Law Review, with responses from approximately 2,000 lawyers, judges, student editors and professors. "There was broad dissatisfaction, ... [with] '[l]aw professors ... more critical than any other group,'" reports the Times. Among the reasons professors cited were that students "relied ... on authors' reputations and the prestige of the law schools where they teach."
Um, so professors don't like to have their reputations and their schools factored into decisions? Isn't that precisely the same criteria that students are judged against? Are professors and others responsible for admissions saying that a potential law student's undergraduate Harvard degree doesn't matter to them? If that were the case, law school applications would look a lot different.
Decrease in Citations
The Loyola study also cites the decrease in court citation of law review articles as a troubling trend. While troubling, perhaps it has more to do with the kinds of articles that professors are submitting for publication. Maybe professors should be doing more critical thinking about current legal issues that are making their way through the judicial system, and less on purely theoretical pieces relating to intellectual history. Maybe they should leave the philosophical issues for their books, and the critical thinking for journals.
Rather than seeing the Loyola study as a reason to end all law reviews, I see it as a way to highlight how law reviews can improve and become more relevant to the legal community as a whole. Judges and practitioners get caught up in day-to-day affairs, and it's up to law professors, and students alike, to make law review relevant once again.
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