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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.

anonymouscommentor (mail):
Often while editing a lengthy article for a law journal I've wondered how the Founders could write an entire constitution for a new country (not to mention a document that declared independence from the old) in 1/3 of the length it takes a modern con law professor to expound on one clause within it. Heck, even the Federalist Papers had fewer footnotes in it than a modern-day article; but I assume that point is more the fault of we the student editors than the legal academy.

I think, however, that most law journals are now using a "soft cap" for just sort of a case-by-case analysis into what articles merit longer treatment. I think most students are concientious enough not to toss an article out purely because of its length.
6.30.2005 5:57pm
Aspiring Academic:
As someone who was told repeatedly before the "rule change" that I needed "beef up" my article with material at best tangential to a set-up, thesis, and prescription that was "just right" at about 30,000 words, I'm all for anything that reduces incentives to bloat articles. But I can't imagine any law review rejecting a longer article out-of-hand if you had to take the detours to get the point across effectively.
6.30.2005 6:22pm
pct:
In the context of physics, which Kuhn was principally concerned with, great length is not necessary to shift the paradigm. For example, A. Einstein, "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper", in Annalen der Physik, 17:891 (1905), is 23 pages long.
6.30.2005 6:23pm
Brett Marston:
Shorter articles may have one big benefit for law reviews: helping them to have a better shot at meeting their publication schedule, which will make the administrative side of things easier, and will also help make law reviews more topically relevant in certain cases. I don't know if that was part of the reason for adopting the standards, though.
6.30.2005 7:27pm
Catfish (mail):
As a non-lawyer historian who ocassionally must read a law review article, I have always been struck by the amount of repetition that occurs in many of them. Perhaps it is carry-over from brief writing in which the argument must be carefully spelled out. In any event, most law review articles could be cut by 30% without sacrificing any important points.
6.30.2005 7:35pm
Julie:
My Master's thesis supervisor (a professor in the sociology department, but also with a background in economics and demography) informed me that she would stop reading after page 40. (40 pages double-spaced, mind you.) Her explanation was that an absolute page limit would keep me from blathering on, and most importantly, would greatly increase the likelihood of the thesis getting published.

I kept to the limit, and it did get published--in a law journal. For what it's worth.
7.1.2005 10:06am
Larry (mail) (www):
Many people love to say how brevity is important, and how they won’t read past a certain page, or they won’t read articles longer than X pages. (Like Julie’s advisor.) However, these people, in general, don’t understand that some articles or briefs include more than one argument, and they might actually be doing MORE work than someone who writes a 20-pager. For example, I recently submitted an article that was over the limit. Of course it was accepted, but it probably could have been split into 4-5 separate articles. Each one of them, by themselves, would have been little use to practicing lawyers or judges. But when combined they explore new territory and can be used to many litigants advantage. But still, many people like to pretend to close their ears if something goes over their attention span. However, unlike lay people, lawyers need to have long attention spans, because ain't a sitcom.
7.1.2005 10:26am
Susanna:
If your article is a hundred pages long, write a book instead, for God's sake. With exceedingly rare exceptions, most law review articles would be better if they were half the length.

Shorter is better. I'll read short articles; my colleagues will read them, our students might actually read them.
7.1.2005 1:12pm