posner contra law reviews

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Cole S. Law
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby Cole S. Law » Tue Feb 16, 2010 12:28 pm

When I first found out how law journals worked, I tried to imagine the kind of person who, as a thrid year law student, would have the balls to tell someone like Posner that his submission needed revision. After spending a few months in law school, I see dozens of people who think that much of themselves.

ScaredWorkedBored
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby ScaredWorkedBored » Tue Feb 16, 2010 3:01 pm

I'd like to meet whoever it was that marked up Posner's article to the extent that it prompted him to write that. 8)

Anyway, while we senior editors are frequently pompous jerks with little or no knowledge about the field behind an article, much of what we ultimately publish was garbage when it came in the door. Many professional authors would earn F's if they were turning in graded work; the student stuff is almost invariably much more correctly and completely cited. It's also usually much more sharply written.

jrs12
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby jrs12 » Tue Feb 16, 2010 3:12 pm

I thought it was a little weird too. That was before I actually started editing.

Try seeing the crap that professors actually have the balls to submit. I would be humiliated if I sent my work out in such sloppy condition. Most of the stuff I do is really not a judgment call. I could have 10 other people on the staff look at it and they'd all laugh and agree.

I doubt Posner's experience is the norm. He's one of the most talented legal writers of the last century, and he's almost certainly the most diligent. Most writers are truly dependent on student editors' services, menial though they may be.

Also, regarding specific areas of expertise: on a staff of over 80, we've got someone with legitimate experience in just about every field that could be addressed, and we staff the articles accordingly. Granted, we don't interact with the writers as intellectual peers, but that's not our purpose. The accelerated time frame and high volume of scholarship in legal academia means that it's far more practical for the intellectual give-and-take to happen across articles. Co-authorship is also a common way for a professor to get substantive cooperation from a respected peer, beyond just the informal academic conversations that have been the foundation of academic thought for thousands of years.

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apper123
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby apper123 » Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:04 pm

jrs12 wrote:I thought it was a little weird too. That was before I actually started editing.

Try seeing the crap that professors actually have the balls to submit. I would be humiliated if I sent my work out in such sloppy condition. Most of the stuff I do is really not a judgment call. I could have 10 other people on the staff look at it and they'd all laugh and agree.

I doubt Posner's experience is the norm. He's one of the most talented legal writers of the last century, and he's almost certainly the most diligent. Most writers are truly dependent on student editors' services, menial though they may be.

Also, regarding specific areas of expertise: on a staff of over 80, we've got someone with legitimate experience in just about every field that could be addressed, and we staff the articles accordingly. Granted, we don't interact with the writers as intellectual peers, but that's not our purpose. The accelerated time frame and high volume of scholarship in legal academia means that it's far more practical for the intellectual give-and-take to happen across articles. Co-authorship is also a common way for a professor to get substantive cooperation from a respected peer, beyond just the informal academic conversations that have been the foundation of academic thought for thousands of years.


This is a really great post. Well said.

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steve_nash
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby steve_nash » Tue Feb 16, 2010 7:50 pm

I'm sure Posner writes great articles, but some of the articles professors sent my law review are downright sh-t. One professor sent an article that basically had to be cut and pasted together and contained blanks for almost every footnote. I do wish the faculty were more involved with the editorial process, as I do feel intellectually inadequate to be making or suggesting substantive edits to a prof's work.

270910
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby 270910 » Tue Feb 16, 2010 7:52 pm

steve_nash wrote:I'm sure Posner writes great articles, but some of the articles professors sent my law review are downright sh-t. One professor sent an article that basically had to be cut and pasted together and contained blanks for almost every footnote. I do wish the faculty were more involved with the editorial process, as I do feel intellectually inadequate to be making or suggesting substantive edits to a prof's work.


When they're that bad, why do you accept / edit them? I thought it was hard to get something published, even as a prof?

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rayiner
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby rayiner » Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:03 pm

I think there are two legitimate purposes to academic publishing, and the student-reviewed and peer-reviewed journals each suit one but not the other. Posner alludes to this:

first emerged in the latter part of the 19th century, when legal scholarship was primarily a professional rather than an academic product. Its primary aim was to serve judges and practicing lawyers, rather than other professors, by offering careful doctrinal analysis, noting, for example, divergent lines of authority and trying to reconcile them.


As Posner notes, law students are competent enough to edit doctrinal analyses, and low-level enough to do the requisite grunt work of meticulous citation and reference-checking (which is unmatched in other fields of academia).

On the other hand, there is also a place for more academic legal writing --- economic and social analyses, etc. Frankly, such work needs peer review, not editing by a law student who knows jack about economics or demographics.

I think there is a place for both, to tell the truth, and it is actually a failing of academia in sciences/engineering that there is precious little widely disseminated work in the area of professional concerns. Academic scholarship in engineering tends to be largely ignored by practicing engineers while law review articles tend to be genuinely useful to practicing lawyers.

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steve_nash
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby steve_nash » Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:04 pm

disco_barred wrote:
steve_nash wrote:I'm sure Posner writes great articles, but some of the articles professors sent my law review are downright sh-t. One professor sent an article that basically had to be cut and pasted together and contained blanks for almost every footnote. I do wish the faculty were more involved with the editorial process, as I do feel intellectually inadequate to be making or suggesting substantive edits to a prof's work.


When they're that bad, why do you accept / edit them? I thought it was hard to get something published, even as a prof?


I am still a 2L, so I'm not entirely sure what goes into the articles selection process. I did ask the current exec board about it, and they said leverage has a good deal to do with it. Their explanation is that they tried to get more "prestigious" profs to publish, but those profs cared less about the work they turned in as a result. I'm not sure if I followed their explanation but maybe will understand when the board turns over in a month.

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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby 270910 » Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:10 pm

While we're on the topic of law review theory / best practice, any tips for (potential) student authors? Things to do / not do, topics to look for / avoid, etc.?

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ggocat
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby ggocat » Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:39 pm

disco_barred wrote:While we're on the topic of law review theory / best practice, any tips for (potential) student authors? Things to do / not do, topics to look for / avoid, etc.?

Are you writing about a case (a "case note" or "case comment") or a topic (generally a "note" or "comment")?

For cases, I agree with Posner: avoid U.S. Supreme Court. A well-written and thought-provoking article about a court of appeals or state supreme court decision is much better. If you write about a case that is too popular, your note/comment is going to be one of 20+ published in the following year all about the same case. The ed board doesn't want to publish stuff that will be too heavily covered elsewhere. Plus, there are plenty of blawgers and frequently updated sources that can do analysis quickly after a court decision. You really have to find a unique angle to write about a popular case.

Also avoid being a hack. That is, make sure your original ideas are more than surface-level analysis. But to the same extent, don't overreach with your ideas. Admittedly, there is sometimes a fine line between shit and bullshit.

Finally, don't slack off on the citations. Someone who has been on law review for 3-4 months should not have major citation errors. It shows sloppiness, laziness, incompetence, or procrastination. If you took the time to make your citations decent, then the reader (who is probably reading dozens of other student articles and won't have the specialized knowledge to judge whether your original ideas are good) will be more likely to believe that you put the same amount of effort into the substance of the article. Having good citations will gain you credibility.

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apper123
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby apper123 » Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:50 pm

How common is it for students to get their articles widely cited after they are published? I feel like that would be pretty cool. I used a phenomenal law review article written by a student from the early 90s for a research project recently, and I noticed it had been widely cited not only by other articles, but by legal encyclopedias and federal district courts(!!!). Of course I google the guy's name and, as I suspected, he's now a law professor.

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edcrane
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby edcrane » Tue Feb 16, 2010 9:17 pm

I think Posner overstates the difficulty of editing interdisciplinary articles. Law & Econ articles, for example, virtually never require PhD level expertise to understand and edit. When an article does, faculty consults are available to ensure that the submitted article isn't off the wall--perhaps something more should be required, but such articles are few and far between regardless.

I also find his comments about over-citing unpersuasive. Sure, the demand for cites for virtually all propositions makes LR articles FN heavy, but it also ensures that authors aren't simply making stuff up (it happens) and makes it easier to critically analyze the article. If you don't want to read the FNs, don't. It's not that tough to keep your eyes above the line.

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ggocat
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby ggocat » Tue Feb 16, 2010 9:30 pm

edcrane wrote:I also don't find his comments about over-citing persuasive. Sure, the demand for cites for virtually all propositions makes LR articles FN heavy, but it also ensures that authors aren't simply making stuff up (it happens) and makes it easier to critically analyze the article. If you don't want to read the FNs, don't. It's not that tough to keep your eyes above the line.

I agree, particularly the bolded.

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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby ScaredWorkedBored » Tue Feb 16, 2010 10:48 pm

disco_barred wrote:
steve_nash wrote:I'm sure Posner writes great articles, but some of the articles professors sent my law review are downright sh-t. One professor sent an article that basically had to be cut and pasted together and contained blanks for almost every footnote. I do wish the faculty were more involved with the editorial process, as I do feel intellectually inadequate to be making or suggesting substantive edits to a prof's work.


When they're that bad, why do you accept / edit them? I thought it was hard to get something published, even as a prof?


On this, I would say "you should see the ones we reject."

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steve_nash
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby steve_nash » Tue Feb 16, 2010 11:11 pm

apper123 wrote:How common is it for students to get their articles widely cited after they are published? I feel like that would be pretty cool. I used a phenomenal law review article written by a student from the early 90s for a research project recently, and I noticed it had been widely cited not only by other articles, but by legal encyclopedias and federal district courts(!!!). Of course I google the guy's name and, as I suspected, he's now a law professor.


That's not my boy Volokh, by chance? And, to answer your question, not common.

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TTT-LS
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby TTT-LS » Tue Feb 16, 2010 11:49 pm

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Last edited by TTT-LS on Tue Jul 06, 2010 5:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby 270910 » Tue Feb 16, 2010 11:53 pm

TTT-LS wrote:
disco_barred wrote:While we're on the topic of law review theory / best practice, any tips for (potential) student authors? Things to do / not do, topics to look for / avoid, etc.?

As in, to get published by another school's journal? Or your own? The two are really separate questions.


I guess I'm curious about both, as well as the pros and cons of going for one over the other?

Snooker
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby Snooker » Wed Feb 17, 2010 11:54 pm

My favorite part of the article is this:

Many of the revisions they suggest (or impose) exacerbate the leaden, plethoric style that comes naturally to lawyers (including law professors). According to an article written by James Lindgren at Northwestern Law School in the Chicago Law Review, one law review editor "thought that many uses of the word 'the' in an article were errors. Following this bizarre rule of thumb, he took as many 'thes' out of manuscripts as he could, thus reducing many sentences to a kind of pidgin."


It reflects a sort of the madness the law school system is based on. Here we have an ultra-elite institution that supposedly has criteria for selecting the best and the brightest to be their editors, but nonetheless let quite a lot of this in the door. But then Posner turns around at the end of the article and says LRev students actually are the best and the brightest, seeming to ignore much of the bullshit he'd just accused the law reviews of.

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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby Snooker » Thu Feb 18, 2010 12:09 am

jrs12 wrote:I thought it was a little weird too. That was before I actually started editing.

Try seeing the crap that professors actually have the balls to submit. I would be humiliated if I sent my work out in such sloppy condition. Most of the stuff I do is really not a judgment call. I could have 10 other people on the staff look at it and they'd all laugh and agree.

I doubt Posner's experience is the norm. He's one of the most talented legal writers of the last century, and he's almost certainly the most diligent. Most writers are truly dependent on student editors' services, menial though they may be.

Also, regarding specific areas of expertise: on a staff of over 80, we've got someone with legitimate experience in just about every field that could be addressed, and we staff the articles accordingly. Granted, we don't interact with the writers as intellectual peers, but that's not our purpose. The accelerated time frame and high volume of scholarship in legal academia means that it's far more practical for the intellectual give-and-take to happen across articles. Co-authorship is also a common way for a professor to get substantive cooperation from a respected peer, beyond just the informal academic conversations that have been the foundation of academic thought for thousands of years.


I've read about this phenomenon as well. I can't remember it too clearly, but I remember the general theory being that the mass of student editors on law reviews basically gives professors incentives to rush through a poor quality manuscript and then foist it on the law reviews. The staff of 100 editors will get your article fixed up and cleaned, the cites proper and checked. Lots of the work is outsourced to law students.

Law Professors have us figured out. They can charge us 40k a year to pay their high salaries to take part in a competition to decide which of us will have the honor of fixing their sloppy law review articles.

I have to disagree with Posner's argument at the end of the article that the law reviews provide good training. Certainly it is training, but I have serious doubts that the most effective way to gain legal skills is to work on a law review, as opposed to get an education designed to train lawyers.

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steve_nash
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby steve_nash » Thu Feb 18, 2010 12:20 am

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Last edited by steve_nash on Mon Feb 27, 2012 10:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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TTT-LS
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby TTT-LS » Thu Feb 18, 2010 12:48 am

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Last edited by TTT-LS on Tue Jul 06, 2010 5:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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steve_nash
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby steve_nash » Thu Feb 18, 2010 8:58 am

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Last edited by steve_nash on Mon Feb 27, 2012 10:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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jonas
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Re: posner contra law reviews

Postby jonas » Fri Feb 19, 2010 9:22 am

In an interview last year, the new (now outgoing) president of Harvard Law Review gave the following response to Posner. I think her points are strong.
Q: Judge Richard Posner '62, himself a former president of the Harvard Law Review, has derided the honored place of student-run law reviews in America, stating, "[the] system of student-edited law reviews, with all its built-in weaknesses, has persisted despite a change in the character of legal scholarship that has made those weaknesses both more conspicuous and more harmful to legal scholarship…Because the students are not trained or experienced editors, the average quality of their suggested revisions is low." Does Judge Posner have a point?

A: I have little desire to go head-to-head with Judge Posner—though since you've quoted him, perhaps I should note that even he has admitted, in a blogged debate with Randy Kozel about the usefulness of student-run law reviews, that the Review provided him with "excellent suggestions" and "a number of very helpful suggestions" on at least two of his pieces. More generally, I think that student-edited law reviews can and do provide a useful service to legal scholarship and that the usual alternative proffered—peer review—is no panacea.

Student editors are able to spend more time and effort on the editing process than I imagine most professors would be willing to do. Given the commitment of our editors, I believe that we can provide a more thorough set of edits and can complete those edits more quickly than most other types of publication.

In addition, having pieces selected and reviewed by student editors may help prevent legal scholarship from splintering into a collection of law-and-something's that can no longer converse with one another. Although we realize that our editors cannot have the same expertise as professors in the field, that very absence of specialization means that we can provide a space for articles relevant to a general legal audience. Our lack of specialization also may guard against the problems of insular thinking and rigid orthodoxy that might arise within small, specialized communities of scholars.

Peer-reviewed journals still will have problems. Critics of peer review in scientific research journals have noted a variety of flaws in the process: difficulties verifying research, theoretical and methodological biases, subjectivity, and variations in peer review practices at different journals. I think that similar problems exist for peer-reviewed legal publications, and so it's very unclear to me that all of those publications would necessarily be better than all student-edited publications.

Furthermore, the Review combines the strengths of student-editing with some of the strengths of peer-reviewed journals. Prior to selection, we send potential articles to faculty members for review and comments, and that commentary is used in our decisions of which pieces to accept. In addition, we do not prevent authors from gathering feedback from their peers through conferences or publication of drafts in places like SSRN.

Of course, I have no opposition to the existence or establishment of peer-reviewed publications or other forms of publication that can contribute to our field. For all of these reasons, I believe that there is a place in legal scholarship for student-edited law reviews.

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