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Law reviews: “So…what’s it all for?”

UVA Law Professor Rosa Brooks said this on her blog:

In 1936, Fred Rodell famously declared that he would no longer publish in law reviews. In Goodbye to Law Reviews, (23 Va. L. Rev. 38 (1936)), Rodell issued his manifesto: "There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.... In the main, the strait-jacket of law review style has killed what might have been a lively literature. It has maimed even those few pieces of legal writing that actually have something to say."

As a junior professor, I dutifully churned out law review articles to fill my tenure file. Some of those articles, I think, may even have contained a few good ideas and a few good lines, but all of them suffered, to one degree or another, from the constraints of the genre. Worse yet, I'm fairly sure that practically no one outside my tenure committee and my mother has actually read the damn things (and I have my doubts about my mom). Not that this makes me unusual: the vast majority of law review articles are read by few people, and cited by even fewer. So... what's it all for?

That blog post of Prof. Brooks provoked an online debate, and was then picked up by the Wall Street Journal here. (I excerpted the article here.)

She said, “[T]he vast majority of law review articles are read by few people, and cited by even fewer.” A case in point is this practitioner I mentioned earlier here, whom I’ll quote again:

Blogs are better for me than L.Rev.s will ever be, in these ways:

·         I need speed. Often, we have a pending appeal that raises the same issues as a USSC case, so we need to do a supplemental brief, or adjust a brief-in-progress, and blogs that give us ideas are great…

·         I need easy-to-digest bites. Sorry, but we don't all have time to read your academic masterpieces.

·         I need a focus on what the law is or conceivably might be in my near future. I like insights into where the Supreme Court's jurisprudence is actually headed, not a Grand Unified Theory of what-might-be if 6 Justices retire and are replaced by Critical Legal Theorists or something.

·         I like being able to jump in discussions, and having other practitioners jump in as well….

So a professor doesn’t like writing law review articles, and a practitioner doesn’t like reading them. Furthermore, the professor writes about it on her blog, and gets cited by the Wall Street Journal.

The day after I first posted the practitioner’s comments above, I heard from him. Mr. Stephen Carney, who works in the Attorney General’s Office here in Columbus, somehow found out that I had quoted him on my blog, and wrote me a friendly and encouraging email (not during work-time!).

Now, I am not comparing my quoting of Mr. Carney to the Wall Street Journal’s quoting of Prof. Brooks. Despite my delusions of grandeur, I am very clear that 3L Epiphany is a minimalist enterprise. But my interaction with Mr. Carney is another example of the immediacy of blogs as compared to law reviews.

A professor writes on her blog, and very quickly a discussion ensues, which is picked up by the mainstream press. And I quote a practitioner’s comments on my little 3L blog, and hear from him (without seeking his response) the very next day.

These two examples together indicate the benefits of blogging. Blogs can provoke an online discussion and quickly get picked up by reputable sources like the WSJ. And blogs can stimulate instant communication in a way that traditional media simply cannot replicate.

To make one further point, seemingly unrelated but actually very relevant, it’s been awhile since I’ve listed locations of visitors to 3L Epiphany. I’m doing this for a reason, so bear with me. Here are some recent places where readers come from (some I may have mentioned before): Norway, Finland, Morocco, Belgium, Italy, Germany, France, India, Pakistan, Singapore, China, and Korea. Plus the Bahamas. I have also been visited by every state of the Union except Hawaii and South Dakota.

Why do I point this out? Because blogs can penetrate where law review articles and traditional scholarly forms cannot. Prof. Brooks said that “the vast majority of law review articles are read by few people.” But that is not true of blogs, including her own. And it is not even true of 3L Epiphany, regardless of its limitations.

My blog does not have a very high traffic rate, especially recently. But in the last two weeks I have been read by more people and in more places than will ever read my student note (except for the footnote located here).

All of this obviously does not mean that blogs are superior to law reviews in every respect. But there is no question that blogs provide impact, relevance and immediacy which law reviews lack by nature. And what’s true for some law professors and legal practitioners will become increasingly true for some law students as well.

February 27, 2006 in Blogs and Law Reviews | Permalink


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