ABA Journal


Law Schools

Law review articles are too long, editors rely too much on author pedigrees, critics say in survey

Oct 11, 2013, 09:45 pm CDT


Survey research is generally worthless, but it can be trusted here since it is used to support a self-evident proposition: that third year law students don't know enough to make substantive judgments of any kind. As for the researchers' other breezy conclusions, law review articles aren't designed to meet the needs of lawyers, that's what associate memo and practice technique pieces that dominate the bar journals are for. Legal scholarship is designed to serve the ends of law, to show how legal rules and institutions can or should be adapted to meet the changing social and political commitments of a society over time. Legal scholarship is about justice more than technique, and it has been making contributions to that subject for over one hundred years, even if the Luddites don't know about it.

By Pushkin on 2013 10 12, 4:18 am CDT

Luddites like Chief Justice Roberts, Pushkin? Law review articles are the end result of poor pedagogy: overwhelmingly neophyte lawyers who enter the academy, become far removed from the law, and write without the rigor of peer review. Legal scholarship is about well-cited claptrap; the sort of thing Alan Sokal infamously lampooned in "Transgressing the Boundaries" some years ago.

By Uh huh - on 2013 10 12, 3:41 pm CDT

Back in another life as a graduate student, our professors would often quip that the modal number of citations for most researcher's articles is zero. That was an exaggeration, but the point that most scholarship produced is of little to no general interest was legitimate. It is also true with law review articles. It does not mean that the whole process is worthless.

On the other hand, this article makes some great points about how the process is flawed, and Pushkin hits the nail on the head. How can a third year student be expected to be aware of the cutting edge of the law across the wide array of topics that law reviews cover?

By NoleLaw on 2013 10 14, 12:43 pm CDT

A blanket assertion that law review articles are too long means nothing. An educational publication should be as long as necessary to convey the information contained therein, IMO. The problem is that most academics seem to prefer "getting off" on their own rhetorical voice, as opposed to imparting information in brief, useful chunks. Consequently, you wind up with 200-plus page law review articles with nebulous titles such as: "A BRIEF HISTORY OF ERISA AND OUR CURRENT HEALTHCARE CRISIS," when articles along the lines of: "HEALTHCARE BENEFITS PRACTICE POINTERS: Understanding the Nature and Extent of ERISA's Equitable Remedies under the Affordable Care Act" would not only be shorter, but would provide useful cutting edge information in an area where many attorneys consistently screw up.

By BMF on 2013 10 14, 4:51 pm CDT

Uh huh - Yeah, Luddites like Roberts. You must not keep up. Roberts' famous line about law review articles is this: “Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar.” The funny part is that Bulgaria didn't exist as a country until the late 18th century, 75 years after Immanuel Kant died. During Kant's lifetime and thereafter, it was the Ottoman Empire. Notwithstanding this screw

By Pushkin on 2013 10 15, 12:35 pm CDT

The study also revealed that law review articles are typically pointless.

By Dan-O on 2013 10 15, 2:54 pm CDT

I take it you didn't make law review, Dan-O. I hope your career has gone better than that.

By Pushkin on 2013 10 15, 6:29 pm CDT

Sadly, neither Westlaw nor Lexis will discount the subscription price for excluding law review articles (unlike that savings for exempting jurisdictions, practitioner manuals, and the like.) That would appear to speak directly to their value.

By Island Lawyer on 2013 10 15, 10:55 pm CDT


Justice Roberts not knowing when Bulgaria was founded does not take away from the fact that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States does not place much worth on law review articles. Nor do most practicing attorneys. My guess is you are neither the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court nor a practicing lawyer; your posts have the putrid hubris all too common among career law professors.

By Uh huh - on 2013 10 18, 3:42 am CDT

I rarely hear complaints that online ABA Journal articles are too long.

By William Able on 2013 10 18, 5:07 am CDT

I was responsible for article selection for my school's law review. We weren't the most prestigious of journals, so it was difficult to attract talented authors. (Or, in some instances, any authors...) I didn't have the luxury of caring about pedigree, and I found that some of our better articles were student-authored. (The students were certainly easier to work with too!)

Law review articles really are too long, but that's an unfortunate reflection of legal writing as a whole. People are more concerned with sounding smart and "lawyery" than about communicating their point clearly and concisely.

By Former Executive Editor on 2013 10 18, 1:03 pm CDT

law review articles are nothing more than slave labor for the students who must endure editing professors endless babble. in today's world, no one other than academia cares about law review articles.

By tim17 on 2013 10 18, 1:53 pm CDT

Law reviews serve only to provide a forum for law school professors to keep up their pubication rates as they slog up the hill towards tenure.

In my 30 years of litigation practice, including a good deal of state and federal appellarte work, I have cited a law review article only once....and only because it dealt with a subject that no published American case had yet addressed. Most are functionally useless for those of us in the actual trenches.

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 10 18, 3:12 pm CDT


Agreed. Law review articles are typically written to impress law professors (or editors who wish to impress law professors) rather than practicing attorneys.

That said, I don't mind the length. When I use a law review article to understand or argue some unclear or unsettled area of law, I often scan to the most relative area of the article, and use the footnotes for my next stage of research. I'm sure that there are others who do the same. What is important is the quality of the sources and analysis.

By William Able on 2013 10 18, 4:38 pm CDT

Just as there may be too many law schools, there may also be too many law reviews.

By John Ruskin on 2013 10 18, 8:27 pm CDT

Would you risk a patient's health or life based on an article in a medical journal written or run by medical students? I doubt it.

I've never understood why people who by definition aren't fully trained, much less experienced, in the law are put in charge of our journals.

By John on 2013 10 18, 8:41 pm CDT

@ 16: ...And I never understood why professors, most of whom have either never practiced law, or who fled practice after only a few years, are permitted to write journal articles for students. The most useful classes I ever took in law school were taught by practitioners or judges.

By BMF on 2013 10 18, 11:51 pm CDT

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