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How the Law Review Grind Makes Legal Scholarship Worse

Balls and Strikes, Jacob Hammond: “Law reviews, for the uninitiated, are academic journals that house the near-entirety of legal scholarship. Typically staffed by second- and third-year law students, law reviews hold a special place in the profession: Beyond delivering tortuous Socratic lectures and occasionally grading exams, the only real “work” law professors do is publishing law review articles. That work is important, because the advancement of new ideas in the law often sprouts from discourse developed through law reviews. Major progressive 20th-century changes to the Supreme Court’s handling of illegal searches under the Fourth Amendment (including an expansive focus on privacy and a strengthening of the exclusionary rule), for example, can be traced back to the influence of a 1974 law review article by Stanford Law Review professor Anthony Amsterdam. Legal intellectuals, however, have been complaining about law reviews for decades. Famed federal appeals court Judge Richard Posner wrote about the “ignorance, immaturity, inexperience, and inadequate incentives” of law reviews back in the mid-90s. Both Chief Justice John Roberts and at-long-last-retired Justice Stephen Breyer have complained in recent years about how an overemphasis on niche topics like, as Roberts put it, “the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria” has left much of legal scholarship unresponsive to the real-world problems that they, as judges, ostensibly have to deal with. Perhaps that’s why a 2007 analysis by San Diego Law Professor Thomas Smith suggested that about 40 percent of all law review publications have not been cited once…”

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