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February 04, 2012


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Bill Turnier

Many law school libraries are canceling subscriptions for hard copies for budgetary reasons. Law firms are happy with electronic access only because rental space makes hardcopies prohibitive to store. When one considers this, it seems that the day when many journals are exclusively digital is not far off. The U of Michigan Press has already gone entirely electronic (I believe) for monographs. The emergence of entirely digital law journals will mean that there is a very modest cost to putting out a journal. The bottom line may be that although we do not need more journals, we may be on the cusp of seeing even more.

Charles Paul Hoffman

I would honestly rather see more specialized journals and drop the vast majority of the general journals. It's easy to pay attention to three or four journals in your area, but impossible to keep up with two hundred unspecialized journals. One the other side of the equation, there is no reason to subscribe to the 200th general interest law review, but one might want to subscribe to the third or fourth specialized journal in a specific field. (I would also be a lot more willing to submit to/publish in that specialized journal than in the #200 general law review).

Presumably this is also somewhere that lower ranked law schools can help brand themselves. Maybe they can't maintain a top general journal, but they can maintain a specialized journal that fits in with institutional strengths.


I'd suggest a slight modification to Charles (perhaps- this might be what he means, too) and suggest that many reviews would be better if they were _more_ specialized. The Georgetown Immigration Law Journal is one that immigration scholars and practitioners pay attention to. If it were a broader journal, it would be easier to ignore. This is one reason why I was sad when the Penn Journal of International Economic Law shifted, a few years ago, to being a general journal of international law. There, it's in a pretty big pack of journals that are behind the very top group. But if it had put a bit of effort in it, it could have been one of or perhaps the best place for international economic law.

Howard Wasserman

Adding to the point about more faculty producing more scholarship: We are only about a generation or so into the era in which most people in the academy and striving to be in the academy (VAPs, Fellows, etc.) are all producing scholarship on all sorts of things. The amount of articles being written is greater than when I started ten years ago and dramatically greater than 20-25 years ago.


Michael, this is a great, thoughtful post - and something I've often thought about since I began aspiring to become a law professor many years ago. While I appreciate the many good reasons to let a thousand flours bloom (proliferating number of scholars needing to publish, more opportunities for students, we can all read scholarship and make a judgment about quality, etc.) - part of me just feels like it should be more of an accomplishment to publish something. In this day and age, I would think that if someone could not publish a piece (with all of the potential journals available), the article must be terrible in quality - or so obscure that very few people would be interested in the first place. To just publish something in a law review at this point in time sends zero signal of quality - unless it is published by a good law review (however we define that) and then I personally think that it does send some signal of quality.

Given that no one has time to read everything written and posted to SSRN (or a similar website) and thus publishing does serve some sort of proxy for quality - an inevitable reality - I wish there were some way there could simply be less law reviews, say 100 total (including specialty journals in that number) - such that it actually meant something qualitatively to publish a legal article. But can you actually convince law schools that aren't highly ranked to shut down their law reviews - and should you do that in the first place? (After all, "law review" provides a unique vetting and skills opportunity for students at almost every law school.)

Re what's to be done, I sort of agree with Charles. Since specialty journals do serve a useful function I suppose (though I don't think most send any signal re quality) - and to publish in the main journal of a tier 3 or 4 law school is no accomplishment - perhaps tier 3 and 4 journals would do themselves a favor to convert their main journal into something specialized. That way, perhaps it would send more of a signal re quality to publish something in a good specialty journal, than it does now when there are only 4 or 5 similarly situated specialty journals competing for X articles. It might also help encourage - as Michael notes - an area of law that has been overlooked by general law reviews (though I personally think articles on almost any area - if well-written and making an important contribution - can be published in a good general law review).

I expect others will disagree with my assessment ...

Jacqui Lipton

I too like Charles' idea re more specialty journals or perhaps simply more fragmentation of he primary journal market to focus on more themed issues or specialty areas. Also I wonder if law journals will increasingly be a thing of the past anyway if profs and practitioners start to self-publish more either on their own websites or through SSRN or other services that appear in the future.

So much time and effort is now taken on the submission and publication process through traditional law journals which, as others have noted, are all going electronic anyway, why not cut out the middle man altogether and self publish? That's happening in a lot of other humanities based areas of writing, not the least of which is creative writing and also textbook and casebook writing in many disciplines.

StJohn's Fellow

I think that there are at least two related ideas that this post explores: (i) are there too many journals; and (ii) are too many articles of poor quality being published.

I am currently in an approximation of a VAP position and am "on the market." I've heard from several of my older professors that if the market for academic jobs was as competitive when they applied as it is now, they would not be a law professor. To me this suggests that the concern that there are too many poor quality articles being published might be incorrect. Given the huge percentage of first-year hires that previously had a VAP, fellowship and/or a Ph.D., it seems true that the market for academic jobs is getting more competitive. Yes, 200+ journals all need material to publish. But if we take as true that the market is getting more competitive at all law schools, we can presume that this means that budding professors are producing more scholarly works that are "of publishable quality."

Similarly, the issue with "too many journals" appears more related to the trouble of keeping up with interesting articles in your field than with any other. I think that journals (both primary and secondary) serve a useful role for students and would be loathe to cut back on their numbers. Perhaps academic scholarship should borrow an idea from the world of musical commentary and adopt something like "best of" lists. Different sections of various bar committees could put out their top ten articles on bankruptcy, commercial law, torts, securities, etc. every 6 months or every year. This would help us all keep up to date on the best scholarship and allow students to get their journal experience.

Michael Lewyn

It seems to me that pretty obscure stuff is often valuable and meritorious for SOMEONE- especially if what you write about is too practical or too interdisciplinary or in the "wrong" specialty for the top 100 journals. So I still believe in the "more the merrier."

I note, also, that the current mania for law schools being "practical" is diametrically opposed to the idea that there are "too many law reviews" since the top general interest journals tend to be the most obsessed with theoretical work.

James Grimmelmann

"Too many journals" is like "too many live music clubs" -- an answer to the wrong question.

If the problem is that there are too many good articles to read, that is not a problem.

If the problem is that it is too hard to tell the good articles from the bad ones, we need better post-publication filters.

If the problem is that law reviews don't publish enough good scholarship to read, then the problem is not with the law reviews.

Law schools are supplying us with an immense amount of editorial assistance, and it appears that this subsidy can be justified in terms of its educational benefits for the students. Why look a gift horse in the mouth?

Michael Lewyn

Or to put it another way, if there's not enough good scholarship, the fault, dear faculty, is not in our 22-year-old student editors, but in our selves!

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