Sunday, October 27, 2013
Recently, Adam Liptak wrote a piece for the New York Times, which questioned the current system of student-written law reviews. Here are a couple of excerpts for flavor:
"These student editors are mostly bright and work hard, but they are young, part-time amateurs who know little about the law or about editing prose. Yet they are in charge of picking the best articles from among many hundreds of submissions written by professors with authentic expertise in fields the students may never have studied."
"Law reviews are not really meant to be read. They mostly exist as a way for law schools to evaluate law professors for promotion and tenure, based partly on what they have to say and partly on their success in placing articles in prestigious law reviews."
There have been a plethora of critiques of Liptak's article on legal blogs. However, neither Liptak's article nor any of the comments I have read mention whether working on a law journal is valuable for helping law students prepare to practice law.
The exact question is not whether law review experience is valuable. The question is whether law review experience is more valuable for helping law graduates practice law than the other things that law students could be doing in law school. The problem, then, is that law review takes up a significant part of a student's time during the second and third years.
Law review members mainly do two things: write a scholarly article for possible publication in the law review and cite check lead articles. Writing anything is a valuable experience. However, in practice, most lawyers do not write scholarly articles. As I have said previously (here), because of the way our brains store information, organization in long-term memory is in relation to how the material is learned, including the context and function of the way the material is being learned. In other words, "students performed better when their knowledge organization matched the requirements of the task, and they performed worse when it mismatched." (Susan Ambrose, How Learning Works 48 (2010)). This means that writing a scholarly article is a poor way to help law students prepare for the kind of writing they will be doing in practice.
Cite checking is an important skill for lawyers. However, is this mechanical skill so important that law students should be devoting considerable time to it when they don't learn more relevant skills in law school?
Law review editors select articles, edit text, supervise student writing, and run the law reviews. Is selecting scholarly articles an important skill for practitioners? I can think of no way that this process prepares future attorneys. Text editing is a valuable skill, but isn't there a better way to teach law students how to edit the kinds of texts they will see in practice. Supervising others' writings is a valuable skill for attorneys. However, lawyers do not suprevise the writings of other attorneys until they have practiced for several years. Finally, administrative experience is helpful, but does running a law review help prepare graduates for the administrative tasks in a law practice. Moreover, those who have the top positions in law reviews usually don't obtain administrative positions in their law firms for many years.
Most law students want to be on law reviews. However, this is for the prestige, not the experience.
In sum, I believe that the choices in law school curriculum should be dictated by what is best for the students. Law review experience is not valuable for future lawyers because it mostly does not prepare them for the tasks that attorneys will do in practice. Law students are better off taking experiential courses, business courses, or advanced courses in their chosen field.
P.S. And what about the cost? Dave Hoffman had this to say on Concurring Opinions a couple of years ago: "I’m just spitballing here, but assume that roughly 20% of the 100,000 second and third year law students in this country are members of a law journal. (This would be a conservative estimate at Temple and at most schools, given the proliferation of secondary journals.) Further assume that those 20,000 students each spend an average of 10 hours a month for 9 months on journal work. That would mean that students are spending almost 2 million hours a year on producing student run law journal content. If we billed them out as cheap, $150/hour associates, that’d be around $300,000,000 of time thrown at the world-shaking problems of bluebooking and case note production."