Friday, May 27, 2011

Vonnegut's Law: Pattern Finding in Law Reviews

Robert Krulwich, on his NPR blog, writes that that people are "pattern-finding animals."  He goes on to say:

Do any of us live beyond pattern? Do great musicians, breakthrough artists, great athletes operate pattern free? Pattern indifferent?

I don't think so. Artists may be, oddly, the most pattern-aware. Case in point: The totally unpredictable, one-of-a-kind novelist Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater) once gave a lecture in which he presented — in graphic form — the basic plots of all the world's great stories. Every story you've ever heard, he said, are reflections of a few, classic story shapes. They are so elementary, he said, he could draw them on an X/Y axis.

The site then has a link (here) to a short excerpt of a talk from Kurt Vonnegut that is worth a look. (I think, anyway, but I am huge Vonnegut fan.) 

What does this have to do with business law?  Well, maybe not that much, but it seems relevant to me in the context of the discussion about the recent, but not new, concerns about law reviews Steve Bradford, Stephen Bainbridge, and others are talking about.  The current focus of discussion is the concept of "specialty journals" and, as Steve wondered: "[W]hy are mainstream courses like tax and business associations considered “specialty” topics, unlike the constitutional law and jurisprudence articles that seem to fascinate law review editors so much?"  

As someone who writes primarily on corporate law and energy law issues, I am well aware of the specialty journal concern. And I, too, find it frustrating sometimes.  But maybe it is just that law review editors are pattern-finding animals, just like the rest of us. 

As an aside, I'm always torn on the heavy critique of law reviews and the law review process. As a former editor in chief, I found the Law Review experience to be invaluable, and a major reason why I do what I do today. I learned something about scholarship; I learned something about process. I learned about how I wanted to be an author (and how I didn't want to be as an author). I learned I wanted to be law professor. And I know that learning almost certainly came at some expense to our largely outstanding group of authors. I think we were professional, and courteous, and careful. That was always our goal. But I also know I would have been a lot better at it the second of third time around.  

I am now on the Board of Advisory Editors for the Tulane Law Review, and I sit on a board for the Tulane Law Review Alumni Association, a 501(c)(3) a group of us started to help support the law review.  I am also proud to be the North Dakota Law Review faculty advisor.  I spend so much time on this because still believe it is an invaluable experience for students, and it can be a very good experience from the author side, too. Maybe it is that the student value is the primary value.  I think it's more than that, but I appreciate others have different views.

One way or another, the patterns are set in place, and we seem to follow them.  Despite my frustrations with the process, I do think there are a lot of upsides to the law review and law journal system.  And I don't think we should forget that either.

Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Teaching | Permalink


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