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Monday, October 21, 2013

NYT's Adam Liptak on Lackluster Legal Scholarship (or, On Elephants Swatting Flies)

In case you didn't see it, Adam Liptak's Sidebar column in the New York Times takes aim at student-edited law reviews with such zingers as: "Law reviews are such a target-rich environment for ridicule that it is barely sporting to make fun of them."  Liptak gets it mostly right in describing the dismal status quo, incluing the utter lack of relevance of most law review articles to the practicing bar.  (I had a law professor who said the best way to keep a secret is in a law review article and I tend to think he was right). 

I am shocked that this story is newsworthy and I don't necessarily agree with the prescription that "blind screening, peer review and more training for the student editors" would make all the difference.  But I am most grateful that Liptak's column references a 1936 essay by Yale Professor Fred Rodell titled “Goodbye to Law Reviews.”  It made my day.  Check out the abstract:

It is doubtless of no concern to anyone that this is probably my last law review article. As a matter of fact, this makes one more article than I had originally planned to write. It was something in the nature of a New Year's resolution. Yet the request to do a piece about law reviews seemed a golden opportunity to make my future absence from the "Leading Articles, Authors" lists a bit more pointed than would the business of merely sitting in a comer, sucking my thumb, and muttering Boo. Keeping well in line with two traditions—a course which lawyers will readily understand—I decided to break the resolution and not wait for opportunity's second knock. This, then, is by way of explaining why I do not care to contribute further to the qualitatively moribund while quantitatively mushroom-like literature of the law.

There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content. That, I think, about covers the ground. And though it is in the law reviews that the most highly regarded legal literature—and I by no means except those fancy rationalizations of legal action called judicial opinions—is regularly embalmed, it is in the law reviews that a pennyworth of content is most frequently concealed beneath a pound of so-called style. The average law review writer is peculiarly able to say nothing with an air of great importance. When I Used to read law reviews, I used constantly to be reminded of an elephant trying to swat a fly.

Just proves that there is nothing new to say.

[Meredith R. Miller]

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