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July 6, 2012
Don't Abolish the Law Review, Adapt It
The Atlantic web site features a provocative article by Walter Olson titled Abolish the Law Reviews! He questions the value of a law review in light of declining subscription numbers with the Harvard Law Review as the example. The 2010-11 volume moved 1,896 copies. The analysis in the article shows this to be a steep decline in subscription numbers for Harvard and likely all print law reviews. He has two points to make in light of this. Get rid of printed law reviews (hence the title) and:
The wider question is whether the law review model of content--with its long lead time to publication, editing by students, and format that's resistant to after-publication editing--yields enough scholarly gems to deserve surviving in its present form even online.
He further states that the law blogs are a better and timelier vehicle for the taught analysis and academic give and take on a legal issue. There is some truth to that. A faculty member can publish commentary at an established outlet with the speed of a “send” button or the equivalent. The sidebar to Olsen’s article features text by Jack Balkin (The Court Affirms Our Social Contract) and Wendy Kaminer (Juvenile Sentencing: Alito’s Misguided Dissent). Those articles would be published sometime in the late fall or early winter at best if written in a form appropriate for law review editors.
I think a law review could easily exist online with the same editorial standards that appear now. In fact, I think they would have a better life online by adopting some of the features of online publication. The footnotes, for example, could lead to live sources, and at the very least PDF versions of the information. The “last visited” could be replaced or augmented with snapshots of sites as they existed at the time of the research. There need not be “on file” notes with some content.
Moderated comments could aid readers as well. The articles can be updated and revised over time. West does it with weekly updates to ALR online. Law faculty can take charge of revisiting their content. There is precedent for that with SSRN as a pre-publication outlet with some faculty having multiple drafts of the same article on the site. I’m sure a law review editorial staff could develop standards for publishing revisions.
My biggest problem with law review content is that even when it is presented online it still generally conforms to print. Maybe it’s the Bluebook mentality. There is the possibility of an enhanced presentation of an article if someone can set standards in light of the available web features. One or two respected titles can lead the way. The rest will likely follow. [MG]
Why is Olson counting subscriptions? Aren't citations the most important measure of what's being read?
Posted by: Tony Smith | Jul 9, 2012 1:23:57 PM
You do realize that it is the "Bluebook mentality" of the student editors and not the faculty writers that is the cause. I have dealt with editors, members of the digital generation, who still have a problem with PDF's. Some faculty publications would fit well under the blog model, others require a more long-form platform, but that is not to say that they can't all be online. I also think many libraries would rather subscribe to Hein Online and dump the print.
Posted by: matt | Jul 9, 2012 8:24:46 AM