Academic journal article Duke Law Journal

Student-Edited Law Reviews: Reflections and Responses of an Inmate

Academic journal article Duke Law Journal

Student-Edited Law Reviews: Reflections and Responses of an Inmate

Article excerpt

In the classic description, students without law degrees set the standards for publication in the scholarly journals of American law--one of the few reported cases of the inmates truly running the asylum.(1)

INTRODUCTION

The above epigraph represents but one example in a long line of attacks leveled at the institution of the student-edited law review. The mixed feelings of legal academics toward their scholarly journals(2) may date to the inception of the student-edited review; at the least, they can be traced back to Fred Rodell's famous piece Goodbye to Law Reviews, published in the Virginia Law Review over sixty years ago.

Interestingly, however, the average law student will likely hear none of this criticism. Indeed, the average law student's ignorance on the topic may continue well into her own legal education, perhaps as long as or longer than my own did--halfway through my second semester as a staff editor on the Duke Law Journal. Not until I took a relatively nontraditional seminar in which we read Professor Rodell's essay did I become aware of the disdain that my colleagues and I suffer from many of our potential (and perhaps even our actual) authors. At the same time, I also became keenly aware of the potential power that I, as a newly elected article editor of Volume 49, might soon be tempted--or ignorant enough--to wield abusively.

Realizing the unique position I was in, I felt both a responsibility and an interest in investigating what else, if anything, had been written on the subject. I found no shortage of materials on the topic, all of which were fascinating reading and very instructive to me as a new article editor. At least three symposia and one exchange on this subject have been published in the last six years,(3) as well as numerous independent articles and essays featuring criticisms of the current law review system, ranging from constructive(4) to politely scathing.(5) Some professors even defend law reviews against their critics.(6) Student editors have entered the debate, generally rejecting criticisms or shifting the blame,(7) but often admitting the need for reform.(8)

In this Note, I acknowledge that student-edited law reviews have inherent flaws, and that many of the widespread criticisms are valid ones.(9) In general, however, the problems noted are so deeply rooted in the system that they cannot be completely solved without undermining the many benefits that accompany student-edited reviews. Thus, I argue that the benefits ,of student-edited law reviews to legal education, legal scholarship, and the legal profession are important enough that the institution of student editing should remain, with a few constructive reforms.

In Part I, I outline what I perceive to be the three principal criticisms of student-edited law reviews: elitist selection practices, the relative scholarly incompetence of student editors, and excessive editing by multiple editors--what Carol Sanger has called the "multi-layered attack" on the author's draft.(10) In Part II, I balance this with a discussion of the benefits that the institution of student-edited law reviews brings to student editors, faculty, and later employers--primarily, a strong supplement to the editors' legal education, increased opportunity for student-faculty interaction, and greater freedom for law professors. In Part III, I discuss what I believe to be the general problem underlying the various deficiencies in the current system: the dominance of hierarchy, not only in the culture of law reviews, but in legal culture generally. Admitting that there is no solution to this underlying problem, I explore in Parts IV and V some suggestions for reform. Though I reject some of these suggestions, I believe that many could be both workable and beneficial, such as returning control of the work to the author, diversifying membership criteria, encouraging informal faculty involvement, and instructing student editors in editing. …

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