Bryan Garner’s top three reforms for Law Reviews

June 8th, 2013

In a very witty piece about using footnotes in law reviews, Garner offers three tips to improve law reviews.

First, articles must be shorter.

(1) Any serious law review should adopt a strict word-limit on articles. Law professors are notorious bloviators: however taciturn we may be in person, when we start writing we turn loquacious . . . . I’d like to see all law reviews adopt a strict 25,000-word limit, including footnotes. Law reviews shouldn’t be publishing law professors’ failed book manuscripts. And they should never, never publish any piece that the student editors cannot fully comprehend in both content and structure.

Second, law review editors must be proficient in the English language–with dig at the Texas Law Review Manual on Usage and Style:

(2) All editorial-board members should pass an editing test to show that they are proficient with the subtleties of English usage, not to mention punctuation and capitalization. They need usage guides that are heftier and more reliable than The Texas Law Review Manual on Usage and Style. Every law-review office should stock a small library of at least five usage guides by different authors.

Third, echoing comments from Sandy Levinson and others, law review need more book reviews:

(3)We need a resurgence of book reviews (which are all but extinct) and casenotes (which have been superseded by lawnotes). Second-year law-review students should be required to explicate a single case through close reading and analysis – in no more than 1,000 words. It’s a lost art. Third-years should then write lawnotes of no more than 3,500 words

Plus, Garner adds some well-deserved praise for Ross Davies and The Green Bag:

By contrast, The Green Bag – in my opinion the best law review in the country, and a faculty-edited one at that – has a strict 5,000-word limit, with an equally strict 50-footnote limit. If you haven’t read The Green Bag, try it. Founded and edited by Professor Ross Davies of George Mason School of Law, The Green Bag has as its main criterion that each piece must be riveting. Now that’s an unusual law review.