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A prof's nightmare: My student is my editor!

Posted by Christopher Shea  August 19, 2008 05:36 PM

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The relationship between law professors and student law-review editors is like a long dysfunctional marriage: Professors gripe, students occasionally return fire, but no one pulls the divorce trigger. In law -- but in no other field -- fresh-faced 25-year-olds choose which articles by scholars make it into print, order up rewrites from faculty stars, and aren't above doing some heavy-handed rewriting themselves. In return, students resent that their dozens of hours of unpaid labor a week, an all-but-mandatory credentials hoop for landing certain top jobs, goes so unappreciated.

J. Mark Ramseyer, a Harvard Law professor, is heading up an effort to provide an alternative: The first issue of the new Journal of Legal Analysis will appear this fall. It will be peer-reviewed -- most law reviews are not, yet another peculiarity -- and edited by faculty, with Ramseyer as editor in chief. Harvard University Press will publish it twice a year, offering both a free downloadable version and, for a fee, a print one.

What will the journal do that the Harvard Law Review doesn't? "It's difficult for me to say this, because I'm the editor, but I hope we get more intelligent selection of articles," says Ramseyer. "If you are a second-year law student you don't really know what has been said and what hasn't been said."

Ramseyer and four co-editors also plan to shake free from some annoying law-review habits: Articles of near-book length and footnotes for every sentence. (You haven't seen footnotes till you've seen a law review.) "You're much more likely to get people to engage with what you've said if you finish in 20 or 30 pages," Ramseyer says. His co-editors are Harvard Law's Steven Shavell; Stanford Law's Richard Craswell; the UC-San Diego political scientist Matthew McCubbins, and the Berkeley law professor Daniel Rubinfeld.

A few faculty-edited journals do exist, but they tend to cover legal niches. The Journal of Legal Analysis will be aimed at all law professors, although it will also be more open to number-crunching than some other reviews. As Ramseyer sees it, the current law-review regime favors flashy constitutional law over "quiet empirical work that tries to make sense of the world as we see it." The first issue will include articles from Harvard's Cass Sunstein, writing with the Harvard economist Ed Glaeser; Harvard Law's Adrian Vermeule; and Yale Law's James Whitman.

The Terence Considine Fund and the John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business at HLS are helping to fund the project -- but fear not, traditionalists: Student-run law reviews aren't going away. So the faculty whinging will continue.

Larry Solum of Legal Theory Blog had a lot to say about this topic when Harvard first floated the idea of the new journal.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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