A peer-reviewed publication is one of the cornerstones of an academic portfolio throughout higher education, but when it comes to the legal field, law professors are expected to secure their credentials primarily at the whim of a collection of 2Ls and 3Ls. All the cascading effects of legal scholarship from shaping the narrative of academic critique to indirectly influencing the job market are coming off the research instincts of students who only got their first Westlaw password 18 months ago.
But is it possible that student-run journals actually turn out better scholarship than the publications ostensibly edited by “peers”? That’s the theory proposed by Professor Jeff Kosseff, a Naval Academy law professor who gets to straddle the worlds of traditional undergraduate academia and legal scholarship giving him a unique perspective on the pros and cons of each method:
Alright, shots fired. Let’s see what he’s got.
I’m not sure “gunners are more anal” is a winning argument, but it’s definitely true that student editors are running every manuscript through multiple Bluebook gauntlets. On the other hand, is such fixation on style over substance really productive? Having worked on a journal, I’m a little suspicious of the claim that 3Ls are calling up law professors and telling them they have substantive flaws in their central thesis. I spoke with a professor about “not finding a cite” for something before which is as passive-aggressive as one can be when it comes to substantive criticism and even then I worried at the time that I was treading close to the line with a senior faculty member at a T14 school.
And really, how many hacks get their tripe published because students aren’t willing to push back? There’s a whole school called ASSLaw and those people actually get published.
Academic publication is an outright scam right now. Where the academy should encourage scholarly engagement, publishing companies shut down all inquiry and charge monopolistic prices to institutions to keep the wealth of human knowledge as cloistered as possible and then they pay the “peers” a pittance — if at all — to do all the work for them. People may not remember, but it was the brass knuckle tactics of the academic publishing industry that drove Aaron Swartz to suicide.
All this while ensuring that only the journals they own possess the requisite prestige to serve as currency in the job market. Publishing in some open-source, online journal? Good luck getting credit for that fly-by-night scholarship!
So that’s a reason why law reviews and journals trump the traditional academic publishing world in the status quo, but it’s less an argument for student-run journals as it’s an argument against the excesses of the academic publishing industry that — by a quirk of fate — student-run journals don’t find themselves tied to.
This is the best argument for the law school model. If student journals ran like Ohio State is running I/S — which is the information society journal, not a new Ohio State trademark bid to own “is” — then the law school model has truly offered academics something superior to the traditional alternative. They can receive quality peer review from faculty advisors involved in the process because they care, robust copy editing from student editors, and an open-source journal that receives due respect in the field.
So hats off to all the law review and journal editors out there. You’re the true heroes. And I’m not just saying that because you have all the best 1L outlines.