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February 24, 2021


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A non

A more reasonable policy would to just adopt a double-blind peer-review model (with electronic, recorded submissions), like the rest of the academy, and to have faculty members serve on the editorial board. Y'all don't/"can't" really believe that second or third-year JD students are qualified or prudent assessors of academic scholarship either, so why perpetuate the charade?


A non

What's worst is, in addition to gaming the system by scratching each others' backs and putting pressure on their students, who are subordinates to the "highest rank" as Lubet so gently reminds us (the hallmark of the junta in socialist, totalitarian, authoritarian societies), the "scholars" of legal academia lead their students to believe that the "letterhead" of those who submit is more important that the quality of the scholarship. In other words, the drek that is produced by professors at "elite" law schools is published in the journals of "elite law schools" and professors at the "lesser" institutions don't really have anything like an equitable opportunity. Remember: above all else, law professors crave attention and power and they will do almost anything to gain and protect these (see, e.g., the games that are played on SSRN).

Students at "elite" law schools are more than willing to go along. All this is new to them, and to be involved in a shady game of self aggrandizement teaches them to believe they are part of the "elite" too. After all, another hallmark of the junta is that they cheat. (See, e.g., the post above).

Combine this with the obvious nature of the student leadership of the law reviews. For those who know, I think most, if honest, would agree that at most law schools the choice of EIC has literally nothing to do with expertise, talent or good judgment. It is, again, a choice of someone who exhibits the qualities of power in the junta.

The quality of legal scholarship is, in a word, poor. But, there is zero incentive for this to change, because, the only persons who could change it -- the junta -- benefit from the unethical nature of it.

That is the reason that even a minor reform -- preventing strongarming student editors - could never even be considered.

Saurabh Vishnubhakat

I appreciate this thoughtful take. One other item for the "benefits" side of the ledger—indeed, a potential benefit to the student board themselves—is that this practice is likely to diminish strategic bidding up. If the outside colleague did successfully secure an offer through this practice, it would seem to be in quite poor taste to turn around and expedite rather than accept the offer. And doing so may also have reputational consequences for future requests.

Of course, none of this necessarily changes the concern about student pressure. Articles editors may much prefer to risk losing a paper to expedites so long as they can keep their autonomy in selecting articles.



But, wouldn't the insider, rather than feeling that his/her time was wasted, feel that his/her venal influence on vulnerable student editors enabled the corrupt colleague to bid up?

Remember, the game is to play the system, for the mutual benefit of the insiders. The students are pawns in this game. The insiders don't care what they think, they care about whether they can manipulate them to do what they want.

And, I think we also need to bear in mind that this corrupt game of surreptitious pressure is played mainly by those at "elite" institutions, where the game is worth the candle. No one really needs to play this game at the less competitive reviews, where the vast majority of professors publish their unread, unnoticed and mainly unworthy work. (That is not to say, of course, that the vast majority of articles published by the "elite" journals are any better: they are perceived to be "better" because the persons writing them are better at playing the corrupt system of privilege they have created for their own selfish needs.)

Saurabh Vishnubhakat


That's possible but, I think, probably rare. Some inside colleagues may do this for their friends without a second thought. I think many more would systematically decline for ethical reasons (as the original post discusses). But categorical positions tend to be less common than moderate middles. So there's likely a sizeable group who might do it in the right circumstances.

So what are the right circumstances? I think inside colleagues (if they're open to it at all) are more likely to say yes to the request if (1) they do care what students think, (2) they see their influence not as venal but as helpful, and (3) they do expect that the end result will help everyone involved: the outside colleague gets a good placement *and* the journal secures a good article. For this middle-ground group in particular, the supposed view of students as irrelevant pawns strikes me as just contrary to experience.

I'll certainly concede that my thinking is based on discussing this practice a lot with colleagues inside and outside my law school—which is a lot of anecdotes but is still merely anecdotal. Still, this practice is done discreetly, so there's not likely to be much systematic evidence.



Thank you for your thoughtful and reasonable analysis.

The clandestine nature of this practice, IMHO, is the tell. The author of the post above states: "I hadn't considered the unintended pressure that these sorts of forwards might place on the receiving student editors vis-à-vis the faculty at their school." You state: " this practice is done discreetly, so there's not likely to be much systematic evidence."

Exactly! No one involved in the law review pretense (that students act independently and are capable: with no experience, training or expertise, of choosing quality) wants to reveal the true machinations of faculty to game the system.

You speak of the stories spun by colleagues. I assure you, I have heard all these, and more.

Again, IMHO, law professors are almost by definition unreliable witnesses. As I said above, they are just so self interested and willing to basically do anything to get attention and accolades (not all, of course, this is a generalization) that the law review is just too tempting and fertile a ground for manipulation.

You say: "(1) they do care what students think, (2) they see their influence not as venal but as helpful, and (3) they do expect that the end result will help everyone involved."

My view: "(1) Law professors are so in the bubble that they speak of their twenty plus year old students as "the kids" ... this is because they see their own "kids" (who will be "kids" to them when these "kids" are in their sixties). The students are not "kids" - they are adults. Law professors infantilize their students, which is not respect, and, frankly, in my experience, law professors really don't give a whit what the students think (except, that they crave their love for themselves). (2) It is true that profs will from time to time help students that they favor for one reason or another. OFten, these reasons are venal, such as gaming the law review. Finding, as stated in teh comment above, "toadies" is a very common practice in legal academia. (3) Law profs, as I stated, expect that "it" will help everyone involved, if you mean law professors.

Law professors love to preen to admire their own plumes. They go around boasting (in oblique ways, of course) about how hard working and selfless they all are. Placement in the Yale Law Journal?

What would a law prof do for this? If all it takes is a little under the table dirty dealing (after all, this is supposed be a merit based system) do you have ANY doubt?


One more point about the farce that is the law school law review.

Even if a group in charge decided to play fair (as some have tried in the past) and declared, as suggested, that profs need not try to pressure them into publishing their cronies, so what?

In three years, all those folks will be gone. Does anyone here actually think about their students in anything other than idealized and ridiculous terms?

Each new group won't know and won't care. The student editors are by definition incompetent and incapable of actually selecting, editing and administering the publication in an academic journal of pieces of any worth. "Institutional memory"? Please.

Hence, the politics. The author selection, topic selection, leadership and editing are run, even at the "elite" institutions, by novices who have no idea what they are doing (after one year of cite checking, how could they)? Professors aren't in there training them (to the extent law professors with a bare JD would know any better themselves); law professors are in there playing them.

Anyone who brags and boasts about student led law reviews really and truly, with all due respect, hasn't really thought things thru.

Anon LawProf

I appreciate the author's candor and self-reflection, but I am stunned that any professor would not see that asking a student doesn't take advantage of power dynamics (this is true for any current student, but even more so if it's a student in the professor's class and they will be grading the student later in the semester). Frankly even more troubling are the professors who ask colleagues at other schools to do this. Yes, I know this has been a practice for years (though I've personally never asked a colleague to do this), but there is NO way anyone would do this unless they were seeking an advantage. Even if you tell yourself that you are just getting your article "pulled out of the pile of submissions" that's still seeking an advantage. It's a deeply inappropriate practice that is unfair to students as well as unfair to those scholars who stick to the rules and don't attempt to circumvent the process.

Alan Weinberger

The missing voice in this conversation is that of law review editors themselves. I’d be interested in hearing from members of this group whether they perceive themselves to be under undue pressure, or whether they may actually welcome an introduction of a piece by a faculty member with genuine expertise to comment on the quality of a particular submission that might otherwise fall through the cracks as a consequence of letterhead bias. I predict that law review editors regard the robust grapevines at their schools as sufficient to help them distinguish between the well-intentioned faculty member, and the ones seeking to accumulate favors to be called in down the road when the proverbial shoe is on the other foot.



Ahhh, the voice of reason.

"an introduction of a piece by a faculty member with genuine expertise to comment on the quality of a particular submission that might otherwise fall through the cracks as a consequence of letterhead bias."

But, again, this unseemly gaming of the system doesn't predominately occur at the lower "ranked" journals. This is among those who share the "letterheads" and it is their effort to contain access to their selfish cadre.

"Prestige" is the coin of the realm in legal academia. The denizens of this little fiefdom spent their youth chasing credentials. They are programmed to continue this competition in adulthood, especially at the "elite" law schools.

Placement in the "right" reviews is what we are speaking of here: and the willingness to stoop to any form of unethical conduct to get what is wanted: more prestige.

So, let's not pretend that this unethical practice is designed to promote access by those shut out by letterhead bias. The profs making these calls, and those receiving them, are just as biased as the students, and we all know it.

And, if we are being honest, I think we all know what the quality is of the pieces published in the "elite" journals (by and large). This, too, is the result not of a meritocracy, but an system of privilege developed literally over centuries to preserve status.


I teach ethics, and on occasion I also teach judicial ethics. I think that when we place a law review article from our peers in front of our students, we really ought to tread lightly. I just finished a discussion of what a new associate is supposed to do when a senior partner is acting in an unethical manner. We ought not to prime our students to think that a little fudge here and a little fudge there is okay. Frankly, I wont do it.

Now, I understand that Scholastica – to use a simple term – stinks. It is difficult for law review editors to make timely decisions. And the submission to offer ratio is disconcerting. I generally do not like going on Profsblawg, but lately I have been reading the comments about the process of publication. Some of the complaints about law reviews are merited – for instance the “stealth rejection.” But the other complaints are really about a broken process that law schools and individuals pay almost $7 for submission on, with no proof whatsoever that anyone on the other end actually opened the submission. None of this, however, makes it acceptable to ask for favors

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