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Shorter Law Review Articles:

Orin says it is generally thought to be good. I'm not so sure (I honestly haven't made up my mind). In general, I think it is probably a good thing, but I think there may be substantial unrecognized costs.

It is true that articles are much shorter in other disciplines. I suspect the main reason for that is that most scholarship is in the nature of what Kuhn calls "normal science," i.e., science that takes place within a commonly-accepted paradigm. As such, most research is conducted within a relatively closed set of assumptions and techniques, which, in general, need not be repeated from one article to another. The problem with law review article length became that too much length was taken with rehashing the "normal science" portion of the article, primarily (in my view) because of the need to educate the law students reading the article, to whom there is no normal science because they haven't been immersed in the literature of a given field. So to the extent that most law review articles are in the nature of "normal science," shorter is better, following the convention of other fields.

In addition--and this differs from law reviews--other fields seem to have constraints on the number of journals in a field, and hence, on the number of slots for articles. Shorter articles permit each journal to publish more articles in each issue, which may be useful for capacity-constrained journals and fields. Law reviews seem to be under no constraint (in fact, it may be that there are more slots available in journals than there are articles truly worthy of being published).

The problem, however, are for those articles that are outside the established paradigm, and thus are not in the nature of normal science. Those articles may need to be longer, in order to educate the editors and the reader as to why a new paradigm is being proposed.

I have personally felt this pinch--because much of my work on consumer bankruptcy and consumer credit draws on economic concepts and empirical research that has been largely ignored by the legal academy, it does in fact take a fair amount of set-up. The economic approach to consumer bankruptcy, as one might expect, is well-established in the economic study of consumer credit--and much of the work there is now empirical, meaning shorter articles in the normal science mode.

But law professors have gone off in a very different direction which has little to with economic analysis. As a result, although the dominant paradigm in economics, it is not in law. So the short-cuts associated with ordinary science--and shorter articles--are in fact an obstacle for much of my work.

So I'm still on the fence as to whether adopting a rule requiring shorter articles will turn out to be an improvement over the old standard that evaluated articles on a case-by-case to determine whether they were the "correct" length.

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