It’s that time of the year again. Every spring, law professors court law reviews. The relationship is initially filled with mutual infatuation — law professors eagerly try to get their articles accepted by the top law reviews and law review editors eagerly seek out interesting articles. It’s a springtime puppy love that sadly will not last. Soon after articles are betrothed to law reviews, the editing process starts. And that’s where some discord can set in.
Most of the time, I’ve been extremely pleased with the editing I’ve received on articles. There are, however, some practices that law review editors routinely do that are incredibly silly and annoying. They bother nearly every professor I talk to. And yet they persist. One of the reasons is the Bluebook. The Bluebook is a thick book with a blue cover filled with more rules than the Internal Revenue Code. It is written by a consortium of law reviews and its primary purpose is as a money-making racket.
My sense is that many law review editors have no idea just how widely professors view some of their editing practices as silly and bothersome. Perhaps by airing them out here will lead to meaningful reform.
Here are two of the silliest rules and practices of law review editing:
One of the most obnoxious rules is the requirement that nearly all cites need to have a parenthetical containting descriptive text. For example, suppose you write in the text:
The Supreme Court has held that a public official must prove actual malice to prevail in a libel suit. [Footnote 1]
Commenters tell me that the above sentence won’t need a parenthetical. Here’s another try:
The Supreme Court has made it significantly more difficult for public officials to prevail in libel suits. [Footnote 1]
Footnote 1: See New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 281-83 (1964).
But that’s not good enough. Often editors want a parenthetical. But what needs further explanation? Notwithstanding the fact that it is completely useless and unhelpful, a parenthetical will be added:
Footnote 1: See New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 281-83 (1964) (holding that actual malice is required for public officials in libel cases).
I’ve often received my articles back from law review editors with hundreds of parentheticals added to cites in the footnotes — and these parentheticals just repeat what was said in the text or add extraneous and irrelevant information.