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Tips from two serious women rainmakers | Should students not be law review editors?

Oct 25, 2013, 01:30 pm CDT


Legal scholarship will not be taken seriously until students aren't choosing what goes in the legal version of academic journals on the basis of what's trendy that year.

That is one reason why real academics laugh out loud at most legal scholarship.

By Anonymous on 2013 10 25, 2:38 pm CDT

The only thing laughable in this present tempest is the fact that Adam Liptak resurrected a decayed canard and the Times chose to publish it. The strengths and minuses (and there are both), of student run law reviews have been known for decades, and the only thing new in the present ferment are the names of people who think the first time an idea has occurred to them is the first time it has occurred to anyone. "Real" academics learn from just about any kind of scholarship because their minds are facile enough to do that. Academic wannabees, and insecure people generally, "laugh out loud" at work, largely because they cannot produced it on their own. There are hundreds of law review articles that have changed the content and structure of American law over the years, and hundreds of courts, both state and federal, that use law review scholarship on a daily basis to decide real cases. But then one would have to read law review articles to know that.

By Pushkin on 2013 10 25, 4:51 pm CDT

I don't know if that's true. I'm sure someone can cite a source, but I've read that law review "scholarship" is seldom used in any practical way by sitting judges. (And anecdotally, I've heard them certainly say as much.) Occasionally, they cite it something as evidence that someone agrees with them.

Not all articles are poor scholarship or wasted ink, certainly many are valuable.

But the institution as it stands is looked down on by real academics, and I think that it's currently structured in such as way that such disdain is justifiable.

In the scenario I was talking about, I assure that the scholar in question was not laughing out loud because she was insecure. She was laughing out loud because she genuinely thought I was joking or being hyperbolic when I told her that students choose what counts as "scholarship" in the legal academy. She was shocked when I explained to her that I was not.

By Anonymous on 2013 10 25, 5:28 pm CDT

Anonymous - There is pedestrian scholarship in every field. The biggest difficulty in non-legal scholarship is the need to fit within the modes of thinking dominant in particular journals. If one doesn't do "puzzzle-solving" work (in the sense Thomas Kuhn used the term) within a journal's particular world view then the chances of being published in that journal are almost nil. Truly original work that doesn't fit within existing orthodoxies has a very difficult time getting accepted for publication because most journals are captives of particular schools of thought. (This is true for getting grant money as well.) Law students, by contrast, are not "mature" scholars (in the sense of being committed to a particular scholarly perspective) and thus are open to all kinds of work, particularly work that appears to be new and clever. This means that scholars with original perspectives and new ways of conceptualizing a field have a better chance of getting published in law than in other scholarly fields. Most self-designated "original" work is silly, of course, but some of it contains truly breakthrough ideas that change the direction of a field. (There are books written on this subject illustrating how much law owes to scholarship that was thought crazy when first published.)

Your claim that certain types of scholarship are "real" (I take it you mean legitimate or worthwhile), therefore, and that others are not, betrays a certain ignorance of the nature of scholarship. All types of scholarship are real and have different contributions to make. Anyone familiar with disciplinary work generally would understand this, so your friend being surprised when told about student run law journals means either that you did not do a very good job of explaining legal scholarship to her, that she is new to the academy and still learning her way around, or that she is not a very sophisticated scholar in her own right (and thus prone to insecure laughter). Any good scholar in whatever field already would know all of this, or at least be smart enough to know that there must be more to the story. Finally, a high percentage of present-day legal scholarship is published in peer reviewed journals and is commonly the work of interdisciplinary teams (legal scholars working in tandem with scholars from all other kinds of disciplines, including the natural and biological sciences). Student journals are used principally to teach writing and to provide students with credentials for the job market. Many of the student journals even have gone over to a system of (faculty) peer review for selecting articles for publication. The idea that students run the show completely hasn't been true, at least in the most highly regarded journals, for years. You must have gone to law school a very long time ago (the only other explanation for your views is less flattering).

By Pushkin on 2013 10 27, 12:01 pm CDT

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