Why are law reviews so dull, tedious, and boring?

Adam Liptak’s recent report in the New York Times on “lackluster law reviews” is fun to read and highly recommended. Here is an excerpt:

Law reviews are not really meant to be read. They mostly exist as a way for law schools to evaluate law professors for promotion and tenure, based partly on what they have to say and partly on their success in placing articles in prestigious law reviews.

All this is true, but Liptak ignores the most obvious problem with the law reviews: law review editors don’t know how to edit. (*) The proof of this statement is in the law review pudding, so to speak, or the fact that most law review articles are simply dull, tedious, and boring. The editing process, by piling on so many extra footnotes, probably makes them even worse.

Worse yet, the average number of words in a typical law review article has now reached enormous proportions. Compare, for example,  the length of the articles appearing in the most recent issues of the Yale Law Journal or Harvard Law Review with the length of the most recent scientific reports appearing in the journals Nature or Science, and you will get some idea of how bloated and unnecessarily long law review articles are. (**) After all, who wants to read a 50+ or 100+ page article with 300+ plus footnotes?

No one. (***)

* Clarification: law review editors certainly know how to edit footnotes and citations but not the content and style of the articles themselves.

** Could there be an inverse relationship between the truth value and originality of an article and its length?

*** prior probability suspects that even law professors don’t really enjoy reading law review articles

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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3 Responses to Why are law reviews so dull, tedious, and boring?

  1. The Professor's Wife says:

    * When you were Senior editor of the Yale Law Review did you know how to edit the content and style of the articles?

    **So lengthy that they probably contradict themselves. Plus just rambling on about nothing.

    *** BORING

  2. enrique says:

    * When I was an editor at the YLJ, the essays would be divided into small chunks of 8-10 pages (as I recall), so each team of editors would be editing a separate chunk of the essay. The lead editor would then edit the piece as a whole, but again, with a focus on footnotes and correct citation, not on style or substance
    ** The problem of internal contradictions is a deep one in law; even the venerable doctrine of stare decisis is to some extent contradictory; see, e.g., http://asulawjournal.lawnews-asu.org/?p=468
    *** as a law professor, I actually find many law review essays to be intellectually exciting, but because law review editors (including myself, when I was one) do such a bad job of editing essays (to keep them short and to the point), this is probably why most people find law reviews so tedious and boring

  3. Pingback: Why are abstracts of law review articles so damn long? | prior probability

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