In the quiet, secret world of people who call themselves legal scholars and public intellectuals, a discussion was had: Is it time to end the misery? Carissa Hessick defends the zombies.
One criticism of law review articles that they are too long. If you can’t make your argument in 25 pages, so the argument goes, you should simply write a book instead. I disagree. I can think of plenty of arguments that cannot be fully supported and defended in only 25 pages.
But then, there are plenty of law review articles that could make their extremely limited point in ten pages, if you cut out the “appreciation” footnote. Assuming the law review article is worthy of publication at all, rather than fodder to fill the empty pages of the multitude of journals every law school produces to give the kids something to put on their resume, most would be more than sufficient at ten pages to state and support their position.
I get it. Prawfs must be very serious. In the one in a million chance their article is read by anyone outside their family, maybe even makes it into an opinion, they want to have it locked up, every I dotted and T crossed. Let no weasel word go unfootnoted. But that’s one of the reasons no one reads law review articles. They’re tedious. Prolix. Long and incredibly boring. The article may have a brilliant idea, but the reader has to live long enough to get to it.
A second criticism about law review articles is that the effort we put into them would be better spent writing in other formats that are more likely to be read by the general public.
Maybe the general public. Maybe lawyers and judges, the vulgarians who do what you see from afar.
Writing a law review article forces you to conduct significant research, think deeply about a problem, and seriously engage with arguments on the other side. In other words, writing a law review article makes you an expert about a particular issue. (Emphasis added.)
No. No it does not. No, no, no. Possessing expertise makes you an expert about a particular issue. Writing a law review article makes you a law review article writer. It may be that a prawf is an expert, to the extent that word applies, about an issue, but it’s far more likely that the academic is little more than a functionary, recounting what others have written, said and done, with plenty of reach but no real grasp.
Academics often fail to appreciate why ideas they believe to be brilliant don’t catch fire, with their never-before-considered paradigm shifts in the foundations of legal doctrine, but those in the trenches see a very different problem. Your brilliance bears no resemblance to reality and no recognition of how law actually happens. You write about unicorns prancing on rainbows. You write about that one tree in a forest you’ve neither seen nor even realized existed. But you believe with all your heart that your one tree is the most important tree, the tree to end all trees, the tree that will change all trees. It’s just a tree.
As Paul Horwitz responded, this isn’t the first time academics have discussed the moribund law review article. Indeed, it’s been discussed many time, most notably after C.J. Roberts let rip that nobody needs an article about “the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria, or something.” Oh, the trauma, the pain, the disrespect.
There are valuable, even important, law review articles. Orin Kerr’s articles on the CFAA are regularly cited by courts, and they matter because they deal with real problems in need of real solutions. That can’t be said of all.
In the grand scheme of allocating scarce resources, how is it possible that lawprofs believe that a dedication of $100,000 toward the completion of such critical scholarship as Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, 104 Mich. L.R. 1523 (2006) is a good use of capital?
Remember, lawprofs get paid a salary while writing this drivel, and that salary gets paid from students’ tuition.
The upshot is that Hessick is both right and wrong. There is a place for scholarship, even if most are experts in nothing more than the use of Microsoft Word. There is a place for shorter, punchier, actually interesting writing as well, where people will actually read it and, perhaps, come away a little smarter than they started. Op-eds. Blog posts, Cosmo articles. Whatever. It may not get you tenure, but it might just help people to understand the issue a little better.
But some deep ideas can’t be fleshed out adequately in a blog post, and Carissa is right that they require a more thorough, more scholarly parsing than can be accomplished in another format. Sometimes, academics have some truly brilliant ideas. Not often, but sometimes.
Most academic writing serves only academic purposes, whether tenure or ego. Calling yourself an “expert” doesn’t make you one, no matter how hard you stomp your feet. As long as you realize that the vast majority of law review articles are the unfortunate murder of words for no intellectual reason, write all you want and come to grips with the fact that no one will read it, no one will care. It’s a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it.
If you want to believe your brilliance matters, on the other hand, then a couple observations. Write about things that matter to the people who do whatever it is you write about. Write about it for real, not from the backs of unicorns. State an actual idea in real words, without the equivocation and with a degree of clarity that makes your idea modestly comprehensible.
And most importantly, be brief. How long should a law review article be? How long should a person’s legs be? But no longer. Not a single word longer. Then again, I’m neither an expert nor public intellectual, so what do I know.