Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Law Review Circulation Continues to Plummet

Ross E. Davies (George Mason) has posted Law Review Circulation 2009: The Combover, Green Bag Almanac & Reader 419 (2010).  Here is the abstract:

For our second annual study of the law review business [see the first study here], we added circulation data for four flagship law reviews (UCLA, Texas, USC, and Washington University) and two specialty journals (NYU’s Tax Law Review and Duke’s Law and Contemporary Problems). We also corrected a few errors in the tables in our first study and filled-in a few blanks. And, finally, we noticed something that might be worth thinking about: the possibility that the law school combover culture has infected law reviews.

Davies documents an enromous decline in law review circulation over the 1979-2009 period.  The Tax Law Review's circulation, for example, has declined 89.1% from a peak of 5,685 in 1980-81 to 620 in 2006-07.

Update: National Law Journal, Study Finds Sharp Decline in Law Review Circulation.

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Dave, I think you are looking for @Mike Myers.

I am glad the Token Conservative picked up on my comment. I didn't try out for law review. At the small firm I am out now, we do mostly insurance bad faith cases, with many other types of cases from PI to contract cases. We also have an IP practice. I am the only attorney here that did not do law review or journal in law school. When I was asked about law review during my interview, whether I tried out, etc., I answered that I felt it was more useful for me to spend my time actually working on real cases. I think law review has become a pointless exercise for everyone.

Posted by: Brian G. | Feb 18, 2010 3:07:47 PM

@Brian G

Couldn't the change from the "grade-on" to the "write-on" method potentially have the opposite effect? By opening the process to students who may not have earned the highest grades but who are actually better writers than their academic superiors, the write-on could invite higher qualify work.

Posted by: Dave | Feb 18, 2010 12:10:28 PM

Just another symptom of the ever-widening gap between the realms of theory and practice. As lawyers increasingly fill the roll of technicians in a vast industry, the necessity of a 3-year graduate degree to practice law becomes increasingly suspect, while those who are genuinely interested in the academic and theoretical are relegated to the fringe. Will legal formalism come to dominate the profession? Has it already?

Some comments complain that law reviews are, in effect, out of touch with reality. But it is also true that the practice of law has become disturbingly disconnected from the theories that support its very existence. Neither can exist without the other, and so the disconnect should be cause for concern on both sides.

Posted by: Kenneth Pike | Feb 18, 2010 12:08:20 PM

15 years in business/corporate practice. Never once read a law review. Why would I--they are utterly useless.

Even the business-oriented ones tend to be overly-wordy, poorly-sourced, and bothersome to find.

Far better to simply pop open any number of far more useful commercial works available from book publishers.

Posted by: snowguy | Feb 18, 2010 9:23:58 AM

Brian G is correct. I stopped reading law reviews a long time ago, with the exception of the ABA Section publications. They were either left wing identity politics or equations, and I could not understand them nor were they relevant to the practice of law.

Posted by: Fat Man | Feb 17, 2010 8:00:56 PM

In direct proportion to respect for the legal profession? Yes. So many words. So little substance.

Posted by: Granus | Feb 17, 2010 3:11:07 PM

I don't know whether your study figures reveal circulation for say 1959-1979. But if law review readership first started to plumment in 1979, such a decline in circulation is at least anecdotally related to the fact that, at about that time, law reviews started to have candidates "write on" as opposed to "grade on" the review. Writing on allowed for ample use of "diversity criteria".

As a guy who had to bust his hump to "grade on" to the California Law Review at Berkeley in the spring of 1966, and had to write and publish a comment or a case note in 66-67 (my second year in law school) and then edit the work of the Class of '69 members of the Law Review, I think we put out a good product--worth reading--and citing by courts.

So I was a little puzzled when Barack Obama could become President of the Harvard Law Review without apparently writing or publishing anything.

Good legal research and writing is worth reading. Could the decline in circulation reflect a decline in quality?

Posted by: Mike Myers | Feb 17, 2010 3:02:52 PM

The problem with law reviews is they are of little value to the attorneys that practice everyday law. Of course, if I get a transgender client facing incarceration and placement the general population and who is be deprived the freedom to practice the Wiccan religion and of special dietary needs, I can access 25-30 articles on that no problem. Now, if I want some assistance on the problems with offsets when multiple uninsured motorist carriers involved, something that implicates 5-10 of my cases a year, there might be one or two out there, but are way out of date.

Posted by: Brian G. | Feb 17, 2010 2:20:01 PM

An 89.1% drop isn't a plummet, it is falling off a cliff. Ouch!

Posted by: Hacklehead | Feb 17, 2010 1:49:11 PM

No offense to law reviews (especially since I spent two years working on one), but does circulation really matter, especially when so many of them are online in one form or another?

Posted by: Marc | Feb 17, 2010 12:58:02 PM

"Law school combover culture" LOL.


Posted by: Phil Hodgen | Feb 17, 2010 12:01:55 PM

The 2009 Durham Statement calls upon law schools to cease hard-copy publication of law journals in favor of stable electronic-only publication. It sounds like the economy has taken us 89.1% of the way there already.

Posted by: Timothy K. Armstrong | Feb 17, 2010 10:19:48 AM