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Hoping to Revitalize Legal Scholarship

Is legal scholarship on its death bed? The current and former editors of several law reviews suggest it is and they believe they have a way to revitalize it. In what they are calling an unprecedented online collaboration, seven of the most influential U.S. law reviews are collaborating to launch The Legal Workshop, an online magazine featuring plain-English articles based on scholarly counterparts published in traditional law journals. Here is how they describe it:

The Legal Workshop features short, plain-English articles about legal issues and ideas, written by an author whose related, full-length work of scholarship is forthcoming in one of the participating law reviews. But The Legal Workshop does not house a collection of abstracts. Instead, it offers an engaging alternative to traditional academic articles that run 30,000 words with footnotes, enabling scholars to present their well-formulated opinions and their research to a wider audience. In addition to making legal ideas understandable, The Legal Workshop seeks to house the best of legal scholarship in one place—making it easier for readers to find the best writing about all areas of law.

The seven participating law reviews are Stanford Law Review, New York University Law Review, Cornell Law Review, Duke Law Journal, Georgetown Law Journal, Northwestern Law Review and University of Chicago Law Review.

In announcing their non-profit venture, the editors say that law reviews have been losing influence and readership in recent years. "The problem is that most law reviews make little effort to reach non-academic audiences," said Michael Montaño, a Stanford Law Review editor and one of the developers of the new magazine. "And because they still effectively help professors gain tenure -- 'publish or perish' is here to stay -- there is little incentive to innovate. But as a profession we owe it to the public to produce work that is relevant to society as a whole."

The announcement includes praise for the venture from Slate legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick. "It's really the best of both worlds," Lithwick says. "The general public can be better engaged with the latest thinking about the law while knowing that what they’re reading is serious scholarship; not just fad or opinion." And a University of Chicago Law School item about the new publication quotes a member of its faculty, Richard Epstein, offering this scholarly sounding endorsement: "The migration of knowledge from paper to cyberspace is an inescapable part of our intellectual culture. The appearance of the is yet another indicator of that inexorable transition. And it is a benevolent one."

The concept certainly warrants praise. But with introductory articles on such topics as textualism in statutory interpretation, Kelo and private takings, and the public forum doctrine, it seems unlikely that the site will engage any appreciable segment of the general public. What it will do, I suspect, is make some current scholarship more accessible to the general population of lawyers. That, alone, is worth the effort.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 22, 2009 at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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