With the advent of the Internet, and with it the expansion of open publishing, it’s not reasonable to expect law reviews to continue in their current form.
Law professors looking to publish should be provided their own “printing press” operated and supported by the law school. With WordPress the defacto content management system of record for digital publishing, WordPress should serve as the law school’s printing press.
Law reviews have been published in the States for almost 200 years, with the first being the University of Pennsylvania Law Review in 1852. Today, we have Law Reviews published by most every major law school, covering either general topics with the law review in the law school’s name or a partcular area of the law, such as environmental law.
Until the Internet, printed law reviews made a lot of sense. How else could the insight of law professors, judges and practicing lawyers be disseminated? How else could such commentary be cited by the courts?
But, as University of Kentucky College of Law Professor Brian Frye writes this week, as information costs drop ever closer to zero, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify law reviews in their current printed form.
Law reviews today, rather than disseminate legal commentary per Frye, limit the distribution of valuable ideas.
The inefficiency of the law review editorial process is legendary. While peer-reviewed journals may take even longer to publish articles, law reviews are still inexcusably slow. Many (most?) law professors post drafts of their papers to repositories like SSRN, Bepress, or the new Lawarxiv. Typically, articles do not appear in “print” until long after they are publicly available, often a year or more. By that time, most of the intended audience for the article has already seen and read (or ignored) it. Much of the delay is caused by the pointless convention that law review articles appear in printed “volumes” and “issues.” Nobody wants a printed law review, especially a smorgasbord generalist one. It is a huge waste of time, money, and effort to produce print law reviews that inevitably go straight to the landfill, along with the law porn that accompanies them. There is no longer any reason for law reviews to publish anywhere other than online. If authors actually want printed copies of their articles, they can order them print on demand.
Worse than distribution, says Frye, is the incoherent and arbitrary way student run law reviews choose what to publish, and from whom. A lot of good ideas and insight from legal professionals never sees the light of day.
A lot of good scholarship gets ignored, especially on subjects law students don’t understand, and a lot of flashy dross gets published. It is an article of faith among law professors that law review editors prefer constitutional law to any other subject, and the odds of placing an article are proportional to the number of editors who have taken the relevant class. Law students also reward articles with lots of carefully bluebooked citations, a metric that seems largely uncorrelated with good scholarship. And under the wildly inefficient and depressing “expedite” tradition, most “prestige” law reviews don’t even consider or bother reading articles until one of their “prestige competitors” has accepted it for publication.
What if faculty members published their articles exclusively in their “home” journals? That would eliminate the focus on the “placement” of a piece, hopefully with increased attention to actual content as a result, and motivate both students and faculty to do more high quality work, I’d suspect. Bias against scholarly subject areas would be reduced, and generalized bias against faculty at lower tier law schools would no longer affect the “sorting function” that placements have on junior faculty writers. Law faculties that produced good, relevant scholarship would see their home journals get numerous citations. Law faculties that did not would see the impact of their home journals and the reputation of their law schools suffer, and deservedly so.
Ten years ago it would not have been as easy to set up, or license, a WordPress publishing platform. Most law professors were, and still are, publishing blogs on TypePad, outdated and little used publishing software, originally produced by Six Apart.
Today, WordPress is running almost 70 percent of the content management systems in the world. WordPress is regualrly updated and enables a multi-user platform with multiple individual sites, all of which would be needed by a law school’s “printing press.”
Many law reviews publish online-only content in addition to their print publications, with some law journals abandoning print entirely, publishing solely to the Internet.
Why not go with the inevitable and enable the “home journals” referenced by Bartow and Frye with the open source technology we have at our disposal today, WordPress.