Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Defense of Student-edited Law Reviews

Every semester I share with the students in my Advanced Legal Research class Judge Richard Posner's piece, Against the Law Reviews, in Legal Affairs (Nov.-Dec. 2004) criticizing the student-edited law review ( Many of the students serve on one of my school's three law reviews, and they take umbrage at Judge Posner's statement that the today's "system of scholarly publication in law...[results in] too many articles that are too long, too dull, and too heavily annotated, and...many interdisciplinary articles are published that have no merit at all." I'm grateful to Judge Posner for his negative spin on the law review because it is guaranteed to get discussion going.

A new article provides a useful balance to Posner's position, and I plan to mention it to my class. Natalie C. Cotton, who is a student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and editor of two different law reviews at Penn, has just published an article that responds to each one of Posner's criticisms. The citation is: Comment: The Competence of Students as Editors of Law Reviews: A Response to Judge Posner, 154 U. Penn. L. Rev. 951 (2006). I found Ms. Cotton's remarks on the article selection process and the tenure process to be particularly cogent. Ms. Cotton opposes using the alleged quality of the law review in which a faculty member publishes as a proxy for the quality of the scholarship itself. She fears that this happens during the faculty hiring process as well as during the reappointment and tenure process. As she points out, "the best scholarship is not published only in the top reviews, and the top reviews don't publish only the best scholarship." Busy committees might not have time to read and evaluate a candidate's scholarship, so they might take a short cut and assume that an article is worthy because it was published in a top-tier law review. Ms. Cotton speculates that "professors might dislike the system of student-run law reviews...because they fear that students' selection of article will influence...[their] careers." But surely Judge Posner has nothing to fear on this score?

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