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Lawtopic:

The UCLA Law Library and I have put together http://www.lawtopic.org, a Web-based clearinghouse for student article ideas. The theory is that law professors, lawyers, law clerks, and judges would submit such ideas to this site, and students would pick up those ideas.

Why would someone want to submit? A few thoughts:

  1. Law professors often run across article ideas that they don't want to write about themselves. (The topics may be ambitious enough for a student but not for the professor, or the professor may be tired of writing in this field, or the topic may be outside the professor's field.) They might contribute the idea to students just because they want to help. What's more, all I ask is a few paragraphs, which is to say five minutes of the professor's time.

  2. Law professors want to increase the impact of the articles we write. One way to do this is to have others write articles that build on the professor's work. Many of our articles set forth proposals that can apply to problems beyond the one that they specifically address. Many others identify collateral problems that are related to the issue that we're discussing. Our work often raises more questions than it answers; it's good if others answer those questions, and cite us in the process.

  3. Lawyers -- whether in private practice, in government service, or at public interest organizations -- often run across issues that (a) are of recurring importance to them and their clients, (b) are unresolved by the current case law, (c) are meaty enough to justify a student article, and (d) haven't been sufficiently discussed in the treatises or the law reviews. The lawyers are unlikely to take the time to themselves write the scholarly article; why not suggest it to students?

  4. The same goes for judges and law clerks; if they see an issue that's of recurring importance, they can help both the legal system generally and the judiciary in particular by stimulating good scholarship on the subject. And if you want to keep the suggestion anonymous, we let you do that.

So if you're a professor, lawyer, judge, or law clerk, just go to this page, click on "Submit," and fill out the form we give you. More detail is obviously better, but beggars can't be choosers. We'll also let you indicate whether you (1) are willing to discuss the topic with students who want to write about it, (2) don't want to be bothered but are still willing to see your name given as the source of the idea, or (3) would rather submit the topic anonymously. You'll be helping students, you'll be helping the legal profession more broadly, and you may also be helping yourself.

A few details:

1. We'd like to get submissions from legal professionals, or (in rare circumstances) nonlawyers who still know the literature quite well (e.g., scholars in allied fields). It's not enough that the topic be important; it also has to be relatively uncovered by the existing scholarship, and manageable for a law student, two things that nonlawyers tend not to be able to evaluate well.

2. Students who get a topic from the database do run the risk that other students might be writing on the same topic that they choose. But that's a risk with any topic; a single other student note on the subject (or even two or three) is unlikely to preempt your own note, since students tend to have very different views; the chances that a student will have selected this particular topic aren't that high; and the risk isn't something we can do much about, since we can't just let student authors withdraw, on their own say-so, the idea that they've chosen to work on.

3. I tried promoting this site about four years ago, and got several dozen serious submissions; but unfortunately I didn't promote the site as well as I should have, so it wasn't heavily used. I've therefore archived those submissions and removed them from the database, since there's a substantial risk that many are now obsolete. I'm hoping that this pass will produce more submissions, and more use by students.

4. If you think this is a good idea, please promote it on your blog, especially if it's read by law professors, lawyers, judges, law clerks, or law students. You'll be doing your readers, and others, a service.

College Student (mail):
This is slightly off topice, but I've been looking to write a paper applying computation to the law, but to do so, I need loads of court opinions to, well, compute. Downloading them one-by-one from Westlaw or whatever is impractical and unappealing.

Any ideas? And maybe requests like this one might have a place on this website?
7.27.2006 4:04pm
Jack S. (mail) (www):
Great idea! I'm planning to do an article on a topic in Antitrust law, but given my lack of experience in the area, I'm not sure which holes most need filling. Looking forward to seeing some of the suggestions.
7.27.2006 4:17pm
Harriet Miers' Law Partner:
The site says there are three articles in the database, but I've clicked on all the subjects and can't see one of them. What am I doing wrong?
7.27.2006 4:31pm
Cronaca (mail) (www):
Excellent idea -- and one that deserves to be picked up by other disciplines.
When I was a grad student, research time was plentiful but topic guidance lacking. Now it's the other way around.
7.27.2006 5:22pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Partner: They should be under Constitutional Law (two) and Torts (one) -- is that not showing up for you?
7.27.2006 5:30pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
College Student:

Take a look at:
http://teddy.law.cornell.edu:8090/questata.htm
and
http://fjsrc.urban.org/index.cfm
7.27.2006 5:31pm
Harriet Miers' Law Partner:
Prof. Volokh: After restarting my browser, I can now see the topics. Thanks for checking on me.
7.27.2006 5:51pm
Federal Dog:
Wow! What a cool idea.
7.27.2006 6:32pm
DTS (mail):
Prof. Volokh,

This is a great idea. Thanks. I wanted to recommend that an RSS subscriptions option be added to the law topic website.

Additionally, it would be nice to have an option where law reviews and journals can solicit articles on specific topics.

DTS
7.27.2006 6:40pm
Colin (mail):
A wonderful idea. Is there a particular reason, though, why only graduates are asked to submit topics and only students are asked to take them up? I can see why it would work that way in practice, at least most of the time, but I can also see why graduates (especially clerks) might want to snap up an idea or two.
7.27.2006 7:45pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Graduates are certainly welcome to the topics.
7.27.2006 8:19pm
andy:
what a terrific idea. this is a great way for students to make sure that their notes are timely and relevant. i hope it catches on.
7.27.2006 9:07pm
crackpotus (mail):
Love the idea, but don't like the implementation.
Maybe you could consider a java-free version and show the number of ideas for every subject.
7.28.2006 4:46am