U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts miffed some legal educators in 2011 when he said at a judicial conference that law review articles are largely about arcane topics that are of no use to practitioners and judges.
It turns out that he’s not the only one who sees some real problems with the law review system, where law student editors are tasked with selecting and editing lengthy and extensively footnoted research papers written primarily by law professors.
Judges, law professors, practicing attorneys and student editors alike believe that the current law review model needs reform, according to a new article based on an extensive survey of how those in the legal community view legal journals. The respondents said that law review articles are too long and don’t meet the needs of attorneys and judges, and that student editors should receive more training. The results appear in “Do Law Reviews Need Reform: A Survey of Law Professors, Student Editors, Attorneys and Judges,” (via Lexis) in the latest edition of the Loyola Law Review, published by Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.
The eight authors (they comprise a mix of psychology professors and doctoral students from the University of North Dakota as well as several law professors from the Appalachian School of Law) queried 1,325 law professors, 338 student editors, 215 attorneys, and 156 judges about how they view the current system, the quality of law review articles, the way articles are selected, and how they would like the system reformed.
“Law reviews are likely not meeting the needs of attorneys and judges; and law professors believe that they have a capricious, negative effect on their careers,” the authors found. “The vast majority of legal professionals and student editors believe that law reviews should be reformed and that the reforms should include blind, peer reviews and more student training.”
The article points out that law reviews have generated a great deal of controversy over the years primarily because the vast majority of them are edited by students rather than professors or professional editors.
The law professors surveyed had a more negative take on law review article selection than did the student editors, while the judges and practitioners were largely neutral on the issue. The law professors responded that law reviews frequently select articles based on the author’s credentials instead of the quality of the submitted article, and that law reviews don’t give adequate consideration to articles before making a decision on whether to accept them. (The authors note that new online submission systems mean law reviews are getting more submissions than ever before, making it difficult to wade through them all.) Law professors also were the most negative about the quality of editing that law review articles receive at the hands of students.
“Legal professionals, especially law professors and attorneys, disagreed that law reviews do a good job meeting the needs of attorneys and judges,” the authors found. “Law professors were also concerned about the effects of law reviews on their careers. Law professors were dissatisfied with the current system of law reviews and tended to believe it requires major changes, while the other three groups were neutral about these vital issues.”
Law professors and attorneys were more likely than student editors or judges to respond that law reviews should employ blind reviews (meaning the editors don’t know the name of the authors or which school they teach at), and each of those groups favored the implementation of peer review for articles. All groups also agreed that student editors should receive more training in selecting and editing articles.
“Despite the intense debates about law reviews and the hundreds of articles that have been written about them, the vast majority of law reviews have not substantially changed since they were first created in the late nineteenth century,” the authors wrote. “We sincerely hope that the present study will not just help to stimulate more discussion about law reviews, but more importantly help motivate student editors and law professors to take action to improve them.”