July 11, 2007
Larry Solum on Peer-Reviewed Journals
Posted by Gordon Smith

Larry Solum uses the announcement of the Journal of Legal Analysis as a springboard for discussing peer-reviewed journals in law. It is a great post and well worth reading. I was particularly interested in the fact that Larry places the onus on existing institutions to develop a critical mass of "generalist peer-reviewed publications." Two questions for Larry (or anyone else who cares to respond):

1. Why do we need "generalist peer-reviewed publications"? General law reviews are dinosaurs, and replicating that publication model in the peer-reviewed world doesn't make sense. Running a generalist peer-reviewed publication would require a much larger collection of editors and reviewers than a specialty peer-reviewed publication, without any obvious offsetting gains. Disciplinary law journals -- such as Legal Theory, Law & Philosophy, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Journal of Law & Economics, American Journal of Legal History -- have thrived, and I suspect that their success rests in (large?) part on the fact that they have a coherent approach that makes administration manageable.

As advanced disciplinary training and the desire for credibility in other disciplines increases among law professors, I expect the demand for peer-reviewed publications to increase. And I see no reason that these publications must be organized around non-legal disciplines. They could be organized doctrinally (like most existing specialty law reviews) or by real-world phenomena (e.g., law and entrepreneurship). But I see no rationale for a critical mass of generalist peer-reviewed publications.

2. Why do we need to rely on existing institutions for the creation of peer-reviewed journals? Larry has a straightforward answer to this question: collective action problems. Larry observes that such problems generally are overcome by professional associations, and the most striking feature of legal scholarship is the absence of candidate institutions:

In any other discipline, one might look to the professional association of scholarsBut there is no professional association for legal scholars!!!!!  Five exclamation points really are not sufficient when noting this dismal fact.  Let me try again: there is no professional association for legal scholars!!!!!  What about the AALS?, you might ask.  Well, the AALS is not the "Association of American Legal Scholars," on the model of the American Philosophical Association or the American Political Science Association.  The AALS is the American Association of Law Schools--it is the trade group for law schools and not the scholarly association for scholars who study the law.  So, the AALS publishes the Journal of Legal Education--a journal about legal pedagogy!!!!!  Don't expect the AALS to address what is obviously the most significant institutional problem with the legal academy in a serious way.

Perhaps our problem is the absence of professional associations? Anyway, given the absence of professional associations, Larry turns to law schools:

Nonetheless, there is surely some hope that Harvard's initiative will get the ball rolling.  Why not Yale, Stanford, Chicago, NYU, and Columbia, next?  And then Penn, Texas, Michigan, and Berkley?  (Obviously, the order here is totally arbitrary.  For all I know Michigan is the most likely "second mover.")  It might happen.  It could happen.  Stranger things have happened!

This makes sense if you are pursuing a critical mass of generalist peer-reviewed publications, but if you believe, as I do, that specialty peer-reviewed publications are the winning horse, then a group of legal scholars who have an interest in a particular field would suffice. See, e.g., the handful of law journals at bepress.

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