In 1936, Fred Rodell famously declared that he would no longer publish in law reviews. In Goodbye to Law Reviews, (23 Va. L. Rev. 38 (1936)), Rodell issued his manifesto: "There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.... In the main, the strait-jacket of law review style has killed what might have been a lively literature. It has maimed even those few pieces of legal writing that actually have something to say."
As a junior professor, I dutifully churned out law review articles to fill my tenure file. Some of those articles, I think, may even have contained a few good ideas and a few good lines, but all of them suffered, to one degree or another, from the contraints of the genre. Worse yet, I'm fairly sure that practically no one outside my tenure committee and my mother has actually read the damn things (and I have my doubts about my mom). Not that this makes me unusual: the vast majority of law review articles are read by few people, and cited by even fewer. So... what's it all for?
Now, since I'm devoutly hoping my colleagues won't actually revoke that tenure vote, I'm awfully tempted to echo Rodell and say goodbye to law reviews. From now on: books, absolutely. Magazine and newspaper articles? Sure. Blogs? We're trying. Even, perhaps, the occasional law review symposium piece or essay, since those are fairly harmless. But as for those ponderous, still-much-too-long, ludicrously over-footnoted things we call Articles, with that portentously capitalized "A"? No, no, no.
No more going through perfectly good prose and inserting pointless qualifiers and parentheticals; no more searching for vaguely on point articles and cases to fill out footnotes; no more going through the ludicrous and humiliation rituals of submitting pieces to law reviews then playing the expedited review/trading up game.
It's easy to see the structural reasons law reviews are so bad-- they've been well analyzed by many writers over the years, beginning with Rodell (see Bernard Hibbetts, here and here, for instance. A decade ago, I even tried to write about this myself (Rosa Ehrenreich, "Look Who's Editing," Lingua Franca, Jan/Feb 1996, at 58- not available online). I won't repeat the analysis here, since most readers in the law school world are all too familiar with the problems of law reviews and the strange institutional incentives that compound those problems.
Anyway-- am I crazy? Should someone stop me before I self-destruct? Is there any good reason, post-tenure, not to eschew law reviews for books and other less stultifying genres, on the theory that people beyond my immediate family may then read what I write? I'd be very interested to hear what others think. I'll close with Fred Rodell's words once more:
"The centripetal absorption in the home-made mysteries and sleight-of-hand of the law would be a perfectly harmless occupation if it did not consume so much time and energy that might better be spent otherwise.... It seems never to have occurred to most of the studious gents who diddle around in the law reviews... that neither life nor law can be confined within the forty-four corners of some cozy concept. It seems never to have occurred to them that they might be diddling while Rome burned. I do not wish to labor the point but perhaps it had best be stated once in dead earnest. With law as the only alternative to force as a means of solving the myriad of problems of the world, it seems to me that the articulate among the clan of lawyers might, in their writings, be more pointedly aware of those problems, might recognize that the use of law to help toward their solution is the only excuse for the law’s existence, instead of blithely continuing to make mountain after mountain out of tiresome technical molehills."
[note- post updated 1/18 because I forgot something key when I first posted.]