Law reviews get little respect both within and outside the legal academy. For those unfamiliar with the system, legal academics publish their articles in law reviews, which are edited and run by law students. Law students select the articles, not professors. In contrast, journals in most other fields are peer reviewed and edited.
The conventional wisdom is that it is immensely silly and problematic to have students selecting and editing our articles. But while I have many gripes about the current system, there are actually many virtues to the law review approach that are not being stated. So I aim to be contrarian and (ironically) defend the status quo.
1. Article Selection. One argument is that a peer-edited system would be better in article selection. On the surface, it does seem quite odd and almost absurd for professors to have students do the article selection. Critics of the law review system say that students often don’t have sufficient knowledge about a field to appropriately assess the quality of articles.
But with student-selected articles, it is not as though peer assessment is vanquished. It just occurs after publication. To the extent that we use law review placement as a proxy for article quality, we’ve got ourselves to blame. I do think that there is a rough correlation in article quality and placement — the system isn’t perfect, and many mistakes are made, but I wonder whether perfection is possible or efficient. To the extent that we doubt law review placement as a proxy for quality, then we can discount it and assess articles on their own merits. In the end, I think that the objection is really about the fact that other professors (not ourselves and our friends, of course) will not appropriately assess the correlation between law review placement and article quality. In a sense, this is an argument that we don’t trust the judgment of our peers. But that shouldn’t mean we blame the law reviews — we should blame ourselves.