The Law Review Revolution

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Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law


Legal scholarship needs to undergo a revolution to contribute to the identification and resolution of pressing modern legal issues. Student-editors of law reviews have the best chance of leading that revolution — a role they so far have not adopted. An ever-growing number of law reviews and journals publish an expanding quantity of longer and more theoretical pieces each year. The supply of legal scholarship exceeds demand at tremendous societal cost. Law professors spend hundreds of hours on articles that will go likely unread and will generally go uncited. They continually prioritize their scholarship over teaching, mentoring, and serving their community because such scholarship carries more sway over their professional futures. Professors have several reasons not to disrupt this status quo: an individual who bucks the trend of producing pointless scholarship will likely have a short career in academia; professors may like writing more than teaching and value the act of researching regardless of its overall effect on the law or society; and, with respect to faculty members at elite institutions, professors may want to protect an approach they know affords them greater influence and reach. Law schools authorize the expansion of journals based on the assumption that increasing student participation on such journals will imbue those students with writing and research skills that the school would otherwise have to offer through specific and costly courses. Yet, empirical evidence increasingly suggests the assumed benefits of journal participation may not be realized in practice — and, to the extent that they are, those benefits could and arguably should be afforded in a more equitable manner. Nevertheless, law schools will likely refrain from championing change to the status quo due to a number of factors; in particular, so long as journals serve as a signal of prestige, schools will support their creation and expansion to keep up with other institutions doing the same thing. Law students hustle to publish as many articles as possible to garner as many citations to the journal as possible and, consequently, bolster the prestige of their participation on that journal. Generally, students have no real incentive to evaluate whether those articles are duplicative, desired, or likely to develop the law. Not only are there clear reasons why students may support an excess supply of legal scholarship, they also have the least to lose from a revolution to the status quo. This article makes the case for a revolution led by law students to reform and improve legal scholarship. Students have unparalleled and nearly exclusive authority over the selection and publication of articles. By making structural, stylistic, and substantive changes to that process, students can drastically increase the odds of legal scholarship fulfilling its potential: namely providing substantive, timely, and useful critiques of the law.

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