Ribstein on the value of law review articles

May 9th, 2011

I previously balked about the staggering cost of $100,000 per law review article:

$100k? $25k? Seriously. I wrote 9 law review articles for free. No one paid me a penny. In fact, I did them while working at a full-time job that didn’t pay me to write. I never really understood why professors needed funding for articles. Unless you are doing research that requires some rare archives, or hiring research teams, shouldn’t your salary cover your writing?

Professor Ribstein, a prolific writer of deeply insightful scholarship has is take at TOTM:

Well, I guess I should show these stats to my dean, since they make me look cheap.  I’ve written over 160 articles in my 36 years, more than four a year, with increased production in later years roughly correlated with my pay.

As a producer of law review articles, of course I have an incentive to defend them. Legal academics have been the main source of legal ideas in the U.S.  Walter thinks, with some basis, that many of these have had pernicious effects.  This, of course, is in tension with the idea that legal academics labor in obscurity.  In any event, even if many articles fall on deaf ears, this is no different from the many books not read and the many inventions never manufactured.  Given the difficulty of predicting which ideas will take hold, a robust market for ideas must produce losers as well as winners.

Ribstein further opines on his views about the future of the legal profession, and the academy in general.

My article Practicing Theory sketches the market for legal education that might emerge once these constraints are lifted.  I don’t discuss law reviews specifically, but in general I can see some student-edited law reviews in top schools fitting with my overall vision of law schools as legal information producers.

I doubt, however, that the current system of hundreds of student-edited law review could survive legal education’s loss of the monopoly power conferred by licensing and accreditation.  Special purpose training programs would emerge that could not begin to support professors who spend most of their time researching and students immersed in cite-checking rituals.

Research would continue in the full-fledged law schools that remain.  However, the outlets for research would be peer-reviewed web-based journals as well as the legal information products, including privately produced laws, that Bruce Kobayashi and I discuss in our Law’s Information Revolution.

In short, the problem isn’t student edited law reviews as such, but regulation that sustains this system without respect to its value relative to alternative mechanisms for creating and disseminating legal ideas.

Amen. I couldn’t agree more.