Should Louisville (or any other law school for that matter) get rid of its Law Review?

December 17th, 2011

This interesting note by a 3L at Louisville makes that argument.

As the University of Louisville Law Review publishes its fiftieth volume of scholarly writing in 2011, it faces many of the issues that plague other legal journals at American law schools. The law review loses thousands of dollars each year, its print circulation is in a decade-long nosedive, and its articles and notes — which can take up to a year to publish — are rarely cited by judges, legislators, or anyone else outside of academia. Given these troubles, should the journal continue at all?

Some would say the answer is no, at least not in the journal’s present form. Law review critics contend that the student-edited publications are plagued by high turnover and poor editing, and should be abandoned in favor of faculty-supervised scholarship. They claim that, no matter who is steering the ship, law reviews too often publish work that is irrelevant and unnecessarily long, and that decisions about publication are made based on the prestige of the author’s law school, not the quality of the author’s writing.

But there are reasons why law reviews should continue, and these reasons ultimately outweigh the arguments in favor of extinction. As the outside world moves from typewriters to Twitter, law reviews continue to provide an invaluable experience to law students. They publish tens of thousands of pages of legal writing, providing ideas and information to attorneys, scholars, and other decision-makers. The journal offers some editors their first experience as a leader and manager of other people.

Law reviews in general, and Louisville’s in particular, can be improved. Greater involvement from faculty members could address concerns about training for inexperienced student members, and arguably make the finished product more professional. Louisville’s flagship journal also should expand its online distribution and seek to publish a wider variety of legal writing. This should not be difficult, especially with numerous other journals publishing innovative new types of scholarship online. But as the University of Louisville Law Review passes its semi-centennial anniversary and begins its next fifty years, it should focus first and foremost on its greatest purpose: educating the lawyers of tomorrow.

From the article, with lots of notes from Dean Chen:

First, critics argue that judicial citations to law reviews have dropped to the point where journals are no longer relevant as tools for shaping the law. Years ago, before online services such as Lexis and Westlaw provided lightning-fast access to court decisions, scholarly journals were a critical source of information for judges and practitioners. That has changed over the last thirty years.  . . .

Second, law reviews are taken to task for publishing unnecessarily long articles and taking a long time to finish the job. According to Dean Jim Chen, the publication schedule is particularly troublesome in an age of rapid-fire news from blogs and sources such as Twitter.47 A typical article may take between three months and a year to write, and another three months to run through the submission and acceptance process. Assuming that the law review has not fallen behind schedule, editing and publishing may take another three to six months.  You can see that this adds up to a process that may be years in the making,” Chen said. “Now there may be good reasons for this, but the reality is that relatively few law review articles win an audience of practitioners of law, let alone decision makers such as legislators and judges. I don’t think that’s a good thing at all.”

A third criticism of student-edited law reviews is that their editors are at best inexperienced, and at worst arrogant and mistake prone.49 This issue brings with it a number of potential secondary issues. For one, busy faculty authors may have to suffer through multiple rounds of editing by students who have few time constraints and little practical training.50 Moreover, even the most seasoned editors are ushered out the door after two years and replaced by new students who must learn the process anew.51