Progress on the Length of Law Review Articles?:
I have blogged before about the length of law review articles
, and my belief that law journals should try to accept and publish shorter works. I am therefore delighted to find out that some of the top law reviews in the country have agreed to a statement of principles discouraging particularly lengthy submissions. The agreement appears to be a response to the Harvard Law Review online survey in December that I blogged about here
. Specifically, the ACS Blog
reports that the main law reviews at Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, Texas, Penn, Virginia, and Yale have agreed to "rethink" the length of articles they agree to publish:
The vast majority of law review articles can effectively convey their arguments within the range of 40-70 law review pages, and any impression that law reviews only publish or strongly prefer lengthier articles should be dispelled. Ultimately, individual law reviews will have to decide for themselves how best to resolve these concerns. Please know, however, that editors across the country are cognizant of the troubling trend toward longer articles and are actively exploring how to address it.
It's terrific that several of the top law reviews are being responsive to this problem. I hope other journals are paying attention and join in. Of course, it means that law professors who have spent the winter padding their articles with needless asides and unrelated background points to bulk them up to 100 pages or so are now going to have to edit their pieces down to a more readable length. But in the end this will result in better, more concise scholarship that is much easier to read and easier to understand.
(Hat tip: Paul Caron
New Harvard Law Review Policy on Article Length:
Acccording to an e-mail I just received in my inbox, the Harvard Law Review
has adopted a new policy on the length of articles it will publish:
The Harvard Law Review will give preference to articles under 25,000 words in length — the equivalent of 50 law review pages — including text and footnotes. The Review will not publish articles exceeding 35,000 words — the equivalent of 70-75 law review pages — except in extraordinary circumstances.
Although academic publications from a range of other disciplines regularly use length limitations, we are aware that we are abruptly introducing a constraint to which the legal academy is unaccustomed. Not surprisingly, then, we anticipate growing pains and acknowledge that our approach runs certain risks. Still, we hope the policy we announce today will play a modest role in reversing a trend that has cost legal scholarship dearly. . . .
We encourage contributors who have submitted articles that exceed the new length limitations to resubmit abbreviated versions of their articles. We are sorry for the inconvenience this mid-year change will cause and the additional work it will surely require. Please understand that these policies, however burdensome, are intended to enhance legal scholarship in the long run. Indeed, the Review conceives of this new policy as a modest first step in a longer process toward substantially shorter articles.
Fascinating. I don't know how many authors will rewrite their articles just to suit the preferences of the Harvard Law Review — the HLR accepts only a small handful of pieces by non-HLS faculty every year, so serious consideration is a longshot for any individual author — but it will be interesting to see if other law reviews also supplement the recent statement of principles
with more explicit length policies. Is this the beginning of something big?
I have enabled comments.
UPDATE: Micah Schwartzman notes that the Virginia Law Review is ahead of the game; it adopted the following policy
We strongly prefer Articles under 20,000 words (including footnotes). We will publish manuscripts over 30,000 words only under exceptional circumstances.
More on the Virginia Law Review policy here
ANOTHER UPDATE: As a commenter points out, the Columbia Law Review
has adopted the following policy:
Effective February 28, 2005, the Columbia Law Review will no longer review nor publish articles or essays in excess of 37,000 words in length (including text and footnotes; measured by Microsoft Word's word count feature), barring exceptional circumstances. In addition, we will give preference to articles and essays submitted under 32,000 words in length.
The Future of Legal Scholarship?:
News that some of the top law reviews are turning to shorter articles
makes me wonder about the future of legal scholarship — and in particular, how the combination of blogs, SSRN, and shorter articles might work together.
Here's one vision of the future. In a decade or two, articles published in law reviews will average about 30-40 pages in length. The "law review version" of the article will be the condensed core of the argument, with relatively few footnotes. The goal of the "law review version" of the article will be to present a relatively brief and highly readable version of the argument for a broad audience — sort of like articles in the Green Bag
, but a bit longer. This is the version that will go into print and be found in the stacks at the library.
Second, each article will also have an associated website that contains other resources relating to the article and its argument. The website could be the law review's, or SSRN, or perhaps a blog. Either way, the website would contain an extensive biblography, a helpful discussion of background materials, and any other materials that a researcher wishing to learn more might find helpful. A comment section on the website might be available as well, allowing individuals to leave comments about the article and carry on a discussion of its merits.
It seems to me that this would be a major improvement over the existing approach of legal scholarship. The Internet allows authors to bifurcate their scholarship into condensed and more readable versions for publication and more extensive versions available online for those interested in knowing more. Law reviews could focus on publishing the condensed and readable versions, while websites containing additional materials could be handled separately.
Your thoughts? I have enabled comments.
Will Blogs Kill the Law Review Case Comment?
While mulling over my blog post
below about a recent court decision, it occured to me that one way blogs will change the content of law reviews is by rendering case comments superfluous. A case comment is a brief student-written article, usually around 10 pages long, explaining and offering commentary on a recent court decision. Case comments traditionally have served three functions: 1) Alerting readers to a recent decision, 2) Offering a scholarly assessment of the decision soon after the decision is out, hopefully before academics and appeals courts have had time to digest it, and 3) Helping editors improve their writing skills and generating a writing sample for future job applications. The question is, will blogs drive case comments out of business?
My sense is that blogs have eclipsed the first two functions of case comments. How Appealing
alerts readers to new court decisions, often on the same day they are published (at least when Howard doesn't have the nerve to go on vacation
). Within a matters of days, the blogosphere usually generates a discussion among practitioners, law professors, students, and interested laypersons about the merits of notable decisions. In general, the quality of legal analysis generated by the blawgs is notably higher than that of case comments; practitioners and law professors have more expertise and experience than 2Ls, and the back-and-forth debate online generally tightens loose thinking pretty quickly. In contrast, student case comments are usually short on perspective and long on political agendas; the majority seem to fall into the "I'm liberal and want to bash the Rehnquist Court" mold, or the "I'm conservative and this Reinhardt decision is nuts" mold.
By the time case comments come out, usually about a year after the decision, it is too little, too late. Litigants, judicial clerks, and anyone else involved in the case can read the output of the blawgs online and take away whatever lessons they wish from the commentary; few are going to go hunting through westlaw for student comments a year or two later. For example, if Eugene blogs about a First Amendment decision the day it comes out, offering his assessment of the case and pointing out its strengths and weaknesses, will anyone care if a year later the Brown Journal of Law and Identity
publishes a case comment by a 2L editor explaining that he liked or didn't like the decision? In a pre-blawg world, such a case comment might be the very first piece of analysis on the case; it could be important because there is nothing else on the opinion. The role of first responder is now played by the blogosphere.
Perhaps the third function of case comments is enough to keep case comments alive, at least for a decade or two. But my prediction is that journals will eventually stop publishing case comments and instead focus more on scholarship surveys (where student reviews could be very helpful) and broader note topics.
Thoughts? Reactions? I have enabled comments.
Law Review Article Length -- Real Changes?:
A few months ago, a bunch of the top law reviews announced a change in their submission policies
that introduced a preference for shorter articles. There was lots of commentary about the new policies both here and elsewhere. Now that the spring law review season is winding down, I'm wondering if the new policies made any difference. Did authors submit shorter pieces? Did the editors actually prefer shorter pieces, or did the change in policy exist only on paper?
We'll get an idea of the answer in a year or two, when the new articles come out and readers can see whether they are on average shorter than the articles in recent years. We'll also know in a year or two whether journals beyond the initial group adopted the same or similar preferences. In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to get a jump on that by asking for reader feedback. If you either submitted an article to a law journal this spring or were an editor at a law journal, please consider posting a comment below.
Authors, please begin your comment with "AUTHOR:", and then say whether you shortened your submission in response to the new policies. Editors, please begin your comment with "EDITOR:", and then fill us in on whether editors at your journal were attentive to article length and whether you think your journal preferred shorter-than-average pieces. (Also, please include whether your journal was one of the journals that signed on to the change in submission policies.)
Thanks to everyone for participating. The results are obviously going to be impressionistic at best, but I think it's better than nothing.
All-Raich Super-Blog and the Future of Law Reviews:
SCOTUSBlog's one-day experiment as an all-Raich super-blog has ended
. I thought it was really cool, in a turbo-law-geek sort of way. Indeed, I wonder if law reviews will get into the act and start hosting their own versions of this. It seems to me a fantastic opportunity for them to capitalize on the blog movement. If you're an editor, all you need to do is ask a bunch of blogger/lawprof types if they will blog on your journal's website the day a big case comes down. On the day of the big decision, you contact all of your authors and hand over the keys, er, passwords, and let them blog away. By the end of the day, your journal will be the host of a mini-symposium about the brand new case. Of course, you won't actually publish the contributions, but you can keep your mini-symposium online and available for future scholars to peruse. By the time the law reviews start publishing case comments and Supreme Court Term overviews, the blogged scholarship posted on your website will have framed the commentary long ago.
Randy Picker Starts MobBlog:
I've blogged before
on the merits of the "All-Raich SuperBlog
" approach to blogging about new Supreme Court cases. My initial thought was that law reviews would jump at this concept, hosting instant symposia on their websites. I don't think any journals have done so yet; it's only been two weeks, but in Internet time that seems like ages
In the meantime, Professor Randy Picker of the University of Chicago Law School has just announced that he is starting a blog that will do much the same thing. (Hat tip: Solove
) Please welcome the Picker MobBlog
to the blogosphere:
The idea is to bring together a group of interested people to blog on a particular topic, do so, and disband. I will post on the blog intermittently between mobs, but the mobs will be the heart of the blog. I think of this as an online reading group or an online workshop.
. . . .
The first mob topic will be the forthcoming opinions in Grokster and Brand X. Smart mob bloggers on Grokster and Brand X will include me (Randy Picker); my colleagues Doug Lichtman and Lior Stahilevitz; Julie Cohen; Wendy Gordon; Jessica Litman; Larry Solum; and Phil Weiser.
This is an all-star cast for Grokster and Brand X; definitely check it out when those opinions are handed down.
By the way, that sound you hear is the blogosphere changing legal scholarship. It's not going to be the last time you hear it.
Law Review Article Length: What Changed?
Berkeley law prof Bob Berring
has a short piece in the latest issue of The Green Bag
wondering about why the elite law reviews decided to adopt their article length policies that call for shorter articles.
Berring applauds the change -- as an aside, I should add that most legal academics seem to agree, with the most notable exception being the smallish group of professors who like to write 100+ page drafts -- and focuses his attention on the timing of the policy switch. Academics have been criticizing law reviews for years, Berring notes. What changed? In Berring's words, "So what is up?" Berring speculates that the reason might be competition from online databases such as SSRN, or perhaps the influence of the Green Bag itself.
This is an interesting question, at least to us law profs. The policy change was a pretty bold move, and anecdotal evidence suggests that it has led to a significant shift in the scholarly designs of many law professors. In response to the policy change, most lawprofs are trying to write significantly shorter articles. Berring is asking a good question: why now?
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.
Query on Blogs and Legal Scholarship:
As regular readers know, I'm very interested in how blogs are changing legal scholarship. I've blogged about it a bunch of times, and I'm now thinking about writing a short essay about this issue for a general law review.
It seems appropriate, given the topic, that I would start by asking blog readers to offer their own thoughts in the comment section on how blogs have changed their own access to, time with, and use of legal scholarship. It's a highly unscientific and biased way of canvassing opinion, obviously, but I just want to get some ballpark ideas on whether and how blogs have changed the ways that law professors, law students, and lawyers learn about and discuss scholarly ideas and developments in the law.
My request, then, is for interested readers to post something in the comment section (or, if you prefer, e-mail thoughts to me at orinkerr at yahoo.com) on how blogs have changed the ways in which they find out about and discuss new works of legal scholarship, as well as how blogs have changed how or whether they read different law reviews. Have blogs, whether on their own or in combination with sites like SSRN, made a difference to you?
Oh, and if you don't like legal scholarship or you're not a lawyer, no need to leave a comment saying so. This one is more for the legal geeks among our readers.
Why Blogs Will Not Replace Law Reviews:
I enjoyed reading the very interesting responses
to my post on blogs and legal scholarship, including this post
by David Zaring. I wanted to offer a quick follow-up on why legal blogs will not
replace or seriously challenge traditional law reviews. Two major reasons:
1) Blogs and law reviews are two totally different birds, with different time horizons and different purposes. The difference between blog posts and law review articles is kind of like the difference between short term and long term memory. Blog posts are about what happened today, yesterday, maybe last week. They are quick reactions to current events and current issues, and for the most part are forgotten a few days after they have been posted. In contrast, law review articles take the long view. They are meant to last. A good article should be just as relevant five or ten years after it is published than the day it is published. Blog posts may support and influence traditional scholarship, just as short term memory can work its way into long term memory, but the two are very different entities.
2) The very long time it takes for traditional articles to be published is a scholarly asset; the insta-publish nature of blog posts is a scholarly liability. Law review articles provide the opportunity to refine and debate an argument over months if not years before publication, and that opportunity is a critical part of creating lasting scholarship with real depth. A typical law professor might start an article in the summer; work on it through the fall; share drafts with other colleagues in the winter; rework it in response to comments in February; send it out in March; present it at conferences or workshops in April; have it accepted at a journal in May; rework it in response to comments in June and July; start the editing proces in August; present it at another scholarly workshop in September; rework it and refine it several times during the editing process; and then finish up the final version in January. From start to finish, the process might take a year and a half. During that time, the author has many opportunities to test various approaches and settle on the best one, weeding out ideas that seemed good at first but didn't last. In contrast, a blog post is one person's idea at one particular time, with all the limitations that implies.
How might blogs change law reviews, given that they won't replace them? Here are some preliminay thoughts. First, I expect that blogs will become the preferred format for short-term scholarship, and law reviews will begin to focus more exclusively on the long term picture. For law reviews, that means fewer case comments, and possibly fewer rushed-into-print articles on hot topics or recent cases that are in the news. Second, blogs will be a key way of advertising new law review scholarship, such as we see today with Legal Theory Blog
. Third, and more speculatively, I wonder if the quick and punchy writing style that works for blogs will begin to find its way into more law review articles.
The Pocket Part:
The Yale Law Journal has launched The Pocket Part
, an "online companion to the Yale Law Journal" that looks a bit like a blog. Here's the relevant blurb:
The Pocket Part is the online companion to The Yale Law Journal. As members of the legal community know, legal publications often contain "pocket part" supplements with up-to-date information and commentary. The Pocket Part plays an analogous role. It features op-ed length versions of Journal articles and responses from leading practitioners, policymakers, and scholars. The Pocket Part also serves as a forum for our readers and authors to discuss legal scholarship.
While full-length scholarly works remain at the center of legal debate, students, professors, and practicing lawyers are increasingly turning to the Internet to read about, and comment on, developments in the law. With The Pocket Part, the Journal hopes to combine the strengths of both print and online media, broadening the readership and influence of traditional legal scholarship while enriching the dialogue among the academy, bench, and bar.
I've been wondering
when law journals would try something like this; kudos to the YLJ editors for going first. Hat tip: Heidi Bond at Crescat
Are Law Review Articles Getting Shorter,
in response to some top law reviews' call for avoiding the really long pieces? Orin posted about this some months ago, and said: "We'll get an idea of the answer in a year or two, when the new articles come out and readers can see whether they are on average shorter than the articles in recent years."
Here's an early data point: Jean-Gabriel Bankier of Berkeley Electronic Press's ExpressO submission service -- a service that I use routinely, and much like -- reports that, based on "more than 1,000 unique submissions in both 2004 and 2005," the averages were:
There are obviously all sorts of possible confounding factors -- for instance, as time goes on, presumably the user base of ExpressO shifts from the early adopters to people who are more representative of law professors (and some lawyers and law students) more generally; perhaps that helps account for the change in page count. Still, I thought I'd pass it along, for whatever it's worth.
Harvard Law Review Forum:
In my haste to blog a link to my new piece, I overlooked a significant event in the law review world: the debut of the Harvard Law Review Forum
. Here's the official blurb from the Harvard Law Review
It has been our experience that short Replies to our Articles often add a great deal of value to the Review, and to the Articles themselves. However, the constraints of the publication process make it impossible for us to publish as many Replies, in as timely a manner, as we would like. The Forum is an online extension of our printed pages that is intended to allow for a more robust scholarly discussion of our Articles.
In addition to allowing us to publish more timely Replies, the Forum also allows scholars to contribute ideas that may not lend themselves to the traditional law review format. To that end, Forum Replies are approximately 3000 words long, and should be lightly footnoted and sourced in comparison to traditional Articles. However, they are subject to the same editorial standards as the material that appears in our printed volume.
Replies appearing in the Forum are permanently published on our website as Adobe PDF files. (We are also working with Lexis and Westlaw to incorporate the Forum into their databases.) The Forum is formatted and paginated like our printed volume, and should be cited as follows: Jane Smith, Reply Title, 119 HARV. L. REV. F. 1 (2005), www.harvardlawreview.org/forum/issues/119/dec05/author.pdf.
The Forum will feature multiple Replies to each Article in the Review. Replies are published on a rolling basis; we invite you to follow the conversations as they unfold.
You can view the initial set of Harvard Law Review Forum
. I was particularly interested in the response to my own article
by my friend and brand-spanking new law prof Paul Ohm, The Fourth Amendment Right to Delete
I suppose it's natural to compare the HLR Forum
to the Yale Law Journal's
new site, The Pocket Part
. The Yale site is more blog-like; responses are in html, with hyperlinks, and comments are enabled. In contrast, the Harvard site has no comments or hyperlinks, but posts the articles as .pdf documents in that cool HLR font. Plus, the Harvard responses will be available on Westlaw and Lexis. [UPDATE: C.J. Mahoney writes in
to add that "The Yale Law Journal is likewise working with Lexis and Westlaw to include Pocket Part content on their databases."]
Does anyone know if other journals are planning something similar?