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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advice to Law Journals, Part 19

National_archives_listening O.K., so the year's almost out; that means, it's really past time to finish up this series on advice to law journals.  Back in June I announced it would be about 18 parts (more or less)--and I've added a few, but I'm now just a few of posts away from finishing.  And I intend on finishing sometime in January.

19 listen to faculty, but don't necessarily do everything they tell you.

Actually, this is good advice on a whole range of issues.  Remember James D. Gordon III's advice in his essay "How Not to Succeed in Law School," back in April 1991 in the Yale Law Journal?  It's one of the funniest articles I've ever read.  I talked about it in my Halloween post.  He said

Just to prove that at heart they are really gentle, fun-loving people, professors will occasionally do something a little bit zany, like wear a costume to class on Halloween. This makes the students laugh and cheer. Before you laugh and cheer, however, you should check your calendar. It is often difficult to tell whether a professor is wearing a costume or not.

Gordon then goes on to warn students about taking the faculty's advice:

If you want to know what kind of people law professors are, ask yourself this question: 'what kind of person would give up a jillion dollar salary to drive a rusted-out Ford Pinto and wear suits made of old horse blankets?'  Think about this very carefully before asking your professor's opinion on any subject.

(100 YLJ 1679, 1668 (1991)).  I've invoked this sage advice before.

Faculty, obviously, have a lot more experience in publishing than the students who run the law journal and they ought to have more expertise in the subjects under discussion, though faculty--like students--bring their biases and limitations to the review.  They may have irrational predispositions in favor (or against) a particular article.  Faculty have a lot of good ideas; they also may have some really bad ideas.  As far back as when I was a student (which is a long time ago now), I remember one professor telling us to take an article--which we did.  Upon closer inspection (that is, during the editing process), a bunch of us thought the article had, well, some serious problems.  Perhaps we would have taken the article without that professor's urging, though I suspect not.  We allowed someone else to substitute his judgment for ours.  I've seen this sort of thing happen a couple of times over the years--including more than once when students thought that pieces I was supporting were not worthy.  Of course, I think my judgment was right and theirs wrong--but it's always more than possible that I've made a mistake.

Endnote: The image, of a few soldiers from Company A listening to a guitar player, on January 18, 1968, during operation Yellowstone, is from the National Archives.  I went searching first for an image of someone talking and people not listening, then stumbled across this powerful photograph and thought a picture of people listening might be even better.  Our policy of only posting public domain images (or images of books that we're talking about) certainly limits us, but in some ways it causes me to find more interesting pictures.

Alfred L. Brophy
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