Personally, I gave up on law reviews in the mid-90s.
For a while after I graduated from law school, I flipped through the tables of contents of the highest profile law reviews, to see what the scholars were saying and to read things that were relevant to my practice. But by the mid-90s, I gave up: There was no chance of finding anything relevant, so the game was no longer worth the candle.
(When I took up blogging about pharmaceutical product liability cases, I began rooting around for law review articles in that field, which could generate the fodder for blog posts for which I was always desperate. Even then, the law reviews rarely offered much that practitioners would care about.)
None of that convinced me that the law reviews were dead, however, because I figured that the academics were at least still relying on the law reviews to screen and distribute each other’s work. But I had dinner recently with an old law school classmate who’s now (1) a prominent scholar in his or her field and (2) a member of the hiring committee at his or her law school. A short conversation with this guy (or gal) convinced me that law reviews are not long for this world. . . .
“How do you follow the new literature in your field?” I asked.
“I read stuff written by the people I respect.”
“How do you know what they’ve written?”
“They post articles on SSRN and send me a link. If they don’t send me a link, someone else sees the new piece and sends me a link. It’s then months or years before the articles show up in print in law reviews.”
“That seems grossly unfair to the brilliant young scholars,” I protested. “You know the people who already have reputations, but how would you learn about a great article published by brand new, 29-year-old professor?”
“SSRN has a service that sends you the abstracts of all new articles posted to SSRN in a particular field. I read the abstracts, and if somebody I’ve never heard of has written something with an interesting thesis, I download and read the article.”
“Do the editors of the law reviews serve any screening function at all?”
“Nope. I do my own screening, and I’m better at screening than law students with no knowledge of my field.”
“Do the law reviews serve a distribution function?”
“No. Everything’s distributed costlessly and universally by SSRN. There’s no need for law reviews.”
“Do you ever see anything in the Yale Law Journal that surprises you?”
“Never. If an article’s in my field and makes a difference, I’ve known about it for months before it appears in print.”
“Why do law reviews still exist?”
“They serve a training function for students who work on them. They don’t have to turn a profit, because they’re subsidized by the law schools. And the law schools are reluctant to discontinue them. Can you imagine the uproar if our school (Michigan) discontinued its law review? People would be outraged. Law reviews may no longer serve a purpose, but traditions die hard.”
By the time we got around to the pudding (I told you — I live in London now), we’d figured it out: Bottom-tier law schools, strapped for cash, will realize that law reviews serve no function and eliminating the review would save money. Some lesser-ranked school will cut its program. The dominoes will then fall upstream, as higher-ranked schools follow suit. And eventually the world will stagger to the end that Fred Rodell predicted more than a half-century ago: Goodbye to law reviews!
I’ll give law reviews another decade. Check back with me in 2022.
Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at [email protected].