Paul L. Caron

Monday, February 2, 2009

Law Review Circulation Down 62%

From our article, What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, 82 Tex. L. Rev. 1483, 1534-35 & n.296 (2004):

[L]aw reviews could be ranked, as are newspapers and other periodicals, based on circulation. Surprisingly, although the U.S. Post Office collects circulation figures for periodicals desiring reduced postage rates, we found no attempt in the literature to rank law reviews based on circulation. Our own preliminary ranking of law reviews by circulation yielded surprising results. Only five of the top twenty law reviews, but eight of those ranked lower than one-hundred (as measured by U.S. News & World Report), are included in the top twenty law reviews based on circulation figures.

[Here were the Top 10 law reviews by circulation, along with the schools' U.S. News peer reputation ranking:

1. Harvard 7500 (1)
2. Arkansas (Fayetteville) 5000 (97)
3. Yale 4500 (1)
4. Arkansas (Little Rock) 3800 (119)
5. Cornell 3500 (11)
6. McGeorge 3200 (108)
7.  Boston University 3000 (25)
     Brooklyn 3000 (64)
     Seattle 3000 (108)
     South Carolina 3000 (87)]

Ross E. Davies (George Mason) has compiled the circulation figures of the general law reviews at the Top 15 law schools as ranked by U.S. News in Law Review Circulation, Green Bag Almanac & Reader 164 (2009).  Here is the abstract:

Many law reviews are required by law to publish accurate reports of basic information about their subscribers and circulation. But many do not -- do not report accurate information or do not report information at all. Perhaps this is in response to steep declines in subscriptions, which the available reports illustrate.

Davies documents a 62.4% decline in law review circulation over this 29-year period, from 47,543 in 1979-80 (3,170 per law review) to 17,878 in 2007-08 (1,192 per law review) (using data from the closest year if data was missing for either 1979-80 or 2007-08).  The biggest percentage declines were:

  1. Virginia:  -77.9%
  2. Michigan:  -73.5%
  3. Harvard:  -70.2%
  4. Georgetown:  -71.1%
  5. Northwestern:  -67.5%
  6. UC-Berkeley:  -65.3%

See Inside Higher Ed, Documenting the Decline of (Print) Law Reviews, by Doug Lederman.

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Besides ranking right next to each other on the list, what do Harvard, Yale, and Cornell have in common with Fayetteville, Little Rock, and McGeorge? Do the low-ranked, high-circulation schools do something unusually competitive?

Posted by: taxrascal | Feb 4, 2009 7:41:40 PM

I wonder why anyone reads law reviews. Collectively they contain the most long winded pontification about unnecessary matters of anything else published anywhere. I stopped reading law reviews many, many years ago. I think most law review authors feel the longer the article, the more profound it is - that's nonsense.

JR Wells

Posted by: James Wells | Feb 3, 2009 6:40:40 AM