TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Law Review v. Peer Review

Law Review v. Peer ReviewSteven Lubet (Northwestern), Law Review vs. Peer Review: A Qualified Defense of Student Editors, 2017 U. Ill. L. Rev. Online 1:

The Harvard economist George Borjas has also written about the shortcomings of peer review:

The point is that many human emotions, including nepotism, professional jealousies, methodological disagreements, and ideological biases go into the peer review process. It would be refreshing if we interpreted the “peer-reviewed” sign of approval as the flawed signal that it is, particularly in areas where there seems to be a larger narrative that must be served. The peer-review process may well be the worst way of advancing scientific knowledge — except for all the others.

Let me suggest that Borjas may well be wrong about the latter point. For all of their flaws and naiveté, law review editors are likely to demand proof, or at least citations, for assertions that go unquestioned by peer reviewers—not because they know more than the experts, but because they recognize that they know less. And therein lies their virtue.

Brian Frye (Kentucky), The Past & Future of Law Reviews (Aug. 6, 2017):

[W]hile I agree with Lubet that student-edited law reviews have under-appreciated merits, over the years, I've had many occasions to reflect on how they might be improved.  ... I have observed that customary law review practices are often inefficient, ineffective, and incoherent. ...

I think law reviews could be more efficient and more effective. And I'd like to re-introduce an idea suggested by Ann Bartow in a Madisonian post way back in 2008: Why not eliminate the "submissions" process entirely, and just have law professors "publish" their articles in their "home" journal? (See also thesePrawfsblog posts) (PS Thanks to Scott Boone for alerting me to Ann's post & an assortment of suggestions I received on Twitter). As Ann observed, doing so could eliminate many of the problems associated with student-edited law reviews by precluding letterhead bias and discrimination, and (eventually?) eliminating the "prestige" associated with publishing in journals associated with particular schools.

Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, I think Ann's suggestion looks even better today than when she made it. I think one of the biggest benefits would be to increase the pedagogical value of law review to the students who do the work. Currently, they "edit" articles written by professors at different schools, who they will mostly never meet, and will interact with only once. If law reviews were to only publish articles written by professors from their own schools, the students would be able to sit down with the professors and talk to them directly about their articles and the editing process. This would be a great learning opportunity for the students. And it would encourage professors to mentor students more closely, and teach them about relevant scholarly norms. For example, professors could explain to students when citations are necessary and when they are not. Perhaps we could avoid the interminable parade of useless "id." citations and filler citations currently included in most law review articles.

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