Subsidizing Student Scholarship

In recent discussions about reforming law review submissions to decrease the burden on editors, authors have been treated more or less as a unit. The argument goes that all authors submit too many articles, creating a mountain of paperwork for poor editors to sort through.  But of course not all authors are similarly situated – letterhead bias distinguishes between professors; practitioners have little time to polish pieces and consequently rarely make it to board reviews; and many journals exclude student authors entirely.

Notably, excluding student authors is a foolish rule that testifies more to student editors’ insecurity than to any thoughtful judgment about the quality of scholarship produced by particular authors.  (I’ve made this argument repeatedly here and to every Law Review editor I speak to – I won’t bore you with it again.)  Assuming that this bad policy is on the way out, I wondered whether law schools ought to be in the business of subsidizing scholarship by, say, paying for submissions on expresso.

Of course, we already subsidize scholarship in a sense by creating a system of writing seminars and guided research credits. (In my view, such credits could and should be better spent). But direct subsidies are relatively rare.  When I was at Harvard, there was no money available for what was then a hard-copy mailing process. Mike O’Shea and I were lucky enough to get Olin Center funding to mail out this piece.  Later, I heard that Elena Kagan made funding generally available.  I’ve no idea how common that practice is – Temple, for example, limits its BePress account to faculty.

Some schools obviously have sufficient resources so as to make the choice anodyne.  For others, the pros and cons are worth discussing:

Pros:

  1. Students who can publish at an outside journal get a resume item of some use, and not incidentally increase the likelihood that someone will actually read their work.
  2. We pay for similar resume-enhancing items – like clerkship letter postage – which benefit only a few members of the class.
  3. Spending law school funds on direct student services is generally a good thing!
  4. The cross-subsidy argument in con #2 applies as strongly to paying for faculty scholarship. What’s good for the goose….

Cons:

  1. The world doesn’t need more law review submissions –  and paying for submissions creates moral hazard for students just as it does for their professors.
  2. Taking tuition dollars and giving them to students to produce scholarship, so as to produce resume credentials, effectively is a wealth transfer to students who need help the least.  Exactly like the clerkship process, schools end up pouring resources into the most credentialed members of their class.

What do you think?

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4 Responses

  1. The George Mason Law Review declined to publish my note, so I shopped it around as a 3L. It was accepted by the Santa Clara Law Review. The EIC sent me a really nice note, saying that most journals will not look at student articles, but he is very glad that he did. I was too! GMU did not let me use their Expresso account, though I asked.

  2. Detroit Criminal Defense Attorney

    I remember when I was in law school, Law Review Article Submission was used as a great resume builder because you could show potential law firms and employers that you certain “scholastic” or academic skills to bring to the table. I am however somewhat partial to the law schools policy on this because they are not in the business of being “resume builders” but rather submitters of quality work. The have a duty to protect their editors as well from frequent submissions by students just to pump up their resume and value.

  3. Doug Richmond says:

    This is something of an aside, but there are practitioners who polish their articles and still have a very difficult time placing them because they are on subjects that do not appeal to most law review editors (e.g., insurance law, professional responsibility, product liability, etc.). Moreover, even a law professor at the least-known law school in the world has a letterhead advantage over a practicing lawyer.

  4. Al says:

    Dave,

    Agree with you 100% that law reviews should publish good work no matter who wrote it. Also, I think it’s great for students if they write something publishable — in their journal or in someone else’s. One quick thought on bepress/expresso: don’t the institutional subscriptions cover everyone at the institution, including students?