Why are abstracts of law review articles so damn long?

Years ago, we blogged on the state of legal scholarship by posing the following question: why are modern law reviews so dull, tedious, and boring? The problem is that most law review articles today are way too long and have far too many footnotes for their own good. (As an aside, we are certainly not the first to rail against stodgy and tiresome scholarship in legal academia: check out this this blog post from 2006 or Fred Rodell’s classic essay “Goodbye to Law Reviews” published in 1936!) This troublesome trend is now spilling over into the domain of abstracts. Most law professors upload their papers on SSRN (the Social Science Research Network), which requires authors to post a short abstract of their work. But we have noticed that many of these so-called “abstracts” are quite lengthy and tedious themselves, often approaching a 1000 words or more, with multiple paragraphs. By way of example, the abstract of this fascinating work in progress by Nicholas R. Parrillo (Yale Law School) is over 600 words and takes up five separate paragraphs. But then again, I suppose 600+ words is not too bad, especially when compared to 91 pages and 478 footnotes–the total number of pages and footnotes in Professor Parillo’s paper!

Image result for average number of footnotes in law review articles

Credit: Douglas A. Berman (note: HLR = Harvard Law Review)

This entry was posted in Academia, Bayesian Reasoning, Game Theory, Law. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why are abstracts of law review articles so damn long?

  1. Craig says:

    Like the length of baseball games, can this not be attributed to (lax enforcement by the governing authorities) x (evolving norms of excellence)? Here, I see an isomorphism between ever-lengthening abstracts and throwing to first base far too many times to make a difference in terms of holding the runner, or with SAT prep courses that inch the student ever closer to 1600 without making a difference in his/her acceptance rate. In each case, there is a keeper of the status quo (i.e., the persons who protect their own institutional authority) whose institution is recognized as authoritative, and as such attracts increasingly competitive, recognition-hungry participants. In each case, the participants feel compelled to stretch the norms, to go to extremes, in order to stand out and call attention to themselves. At least that is one, admittedly-crude and somewhat-long hypothesis. I hope it stands out, Enrique, and that you dont delete this post as being too long, tedious and boring for this blog! 🙂

    • That’s a great analogy. I have also noticed how football and basketball games (especially the last few minutes) are also interminable. This is why is like soccer: no time outs! Going back to the baseball, at least MLB is considering some steps to shorten the length of baseball games, and at least most games end after nine innings. I see no hope in the domain of law …

  2. LOL because it is law and it has to appear as if it is more important than everything else…

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