From our friend Scott Pryor:
In the July issue of The Atlantic Cato Institute Fellow Walter Olson reiterates some long-standing complaints about the place of law reviews in the world of legal scholarship. You can read “Abolish the Law Reviews!” here. Declining circulation, untimely publication schedules, and the inability to edit post-publication are three of Olson’s criticisms of the current print-based model of law reviews. All true but nothing new.
Olson goes on to note that it is now in the blogs where we find cutting-edge legal discussions: “Much of the intellectual groundwork for the Supreme Court's ObamaCare rulings was laid at blogs like Volokh Conspiracy (for libertarians and conservatives trying to overturn the individual mandate) and Jack Balkin's Balkinization (for liberals defending it).” In other words, it was the blogs and not the law reviews that provided the intellectual fodder for the most significant constitutional law case of the young century. A nice insight but …
The most influential bloggers on ObamaCare or any other significant legal matter didn’t fall from the sky. They cut their teeth in the law reviews. The intellectual hero of those challenging the law is Randy Barnett, and he has labored for years within the constraints of academic legal publishing (articles, essays, books; you name it, he’s written it). I submit that in fact it is the practiced constraints of legal academic publishing that makes the work of those who subsequently venture into the blogosphere so valuable. Great pianists practiced their scales; great legal bloggers practiced their craft and honed their intellectual skills in the salt mines of law reviews.
None of this means that Walter Olson’s other criticisms are not well-taken; they are. The explosion of the number of law reviews and the dubious quality of much of what is written means that finding value requires diligent searching. But let’s not be too quick to discount the real value that law reviews provide. We wouldn’t have the current flourishing of good legal blogging without them.