If you polled a large and representative sample of law faculty and administrators, you’d observe the following rough consensus about the “flagship” law reviews and secondary journals at the typical law school.
- Student editors do a mediocre job of picking good articles, of training each other in writing, and in producing notes and comments which matter to the world;
- This isn’t the students’ fault: law faculty play almost no role in journal operations at most schools;
- Law journal membership is useful primarily as a resume & signaling credential;
- Anecdotal evidence suggests that the worth of the credential is in decline; and consequently,
- Most members of most journals are demoralized by the experience.
Though this rough consensus prevails, the total number of law journals in the world continues to increase. Why? Inertia obviously matters, as do faculty politics, and fear of innovation. But there’s something deeper going on. I think most faculty and administrators look at journals and think that if they provide any benefit at all, they are probably worth keeping, given the costs of change and the relatively low net cost of production. But that’s a mistake.
I’m just spitballing here, but assume that roughly 20% of the 100,000 second and third year law students in this country are members of a law journal. (This would be a conservative estimate at Temple and at most schools, given the proliferation of secondary journals.) Further assume that those 20,000 students each spend an average of 10 hours a month for 9 months on journal work. That would mean that students are spending almost 2 million hours a year on producing student run law journal content. If we billed them out as cheap, $150/hour associates, that’d be around $300,000,000 of time thrown at the world-shaking problems of bluebooking and case note production.
Assume we killed all our journals tomorrow and simply published all legal scholarship on SSRN. (There’s be enormous problems with this solution, but follow me for the sake of argument.) What could our students do with those two million hours? Assuming the ABA weren’t an innovation sucking force, might they actually work and reduce the cost of attending school? Or perform pro bono service? Obviously, students work on journals because they think they’ll get something out of the experience – or because they fear that not working on journals would be career deadening. But it’s our fault that students are forced to that choice. We could provide non-journal extra-curricular experiences, or better journals, that would make use of the gift of time that students are offering us.
If you could kill each and every journal at your school tomorrow, what would you replace them with?