April 22, 2009
The Legal Workshop
Posted by Gordon Smith

The Legal Workshop is a "website providing a single online forum for cutting-edge legal scholarship from the top law journals in the country ... featur[ing] 'op-ed' versions of the articles published by the member journals.* These concise and lively pieces are written for a generalist audience, combining the best elements of print and online publication." (emphasis added)

"Concise" and "lively" are relative terms. A "concise" law review article still has parts and sub-parts. We are not talking about abstracts. And "lively" ... well, I have no idea what that word might mean in this context.

Larry Solum suggests that the site offers a "Reader's Digest" version of law review articles, and Nate Oman tells us why we might want such a thing:

I think that a large part of what counts as thought is simply arbitrage. It is taking ideas from one area and applying them to a new area. This structure, however, means that often the most useful research that you do is unrelated to any research project. Another way of putting this is that new research projects develop when I am thinking and reading about something else and then find a connection.... I need a way of dabbling and dreaming efficiently.... Ideally, ... the Legal Workshop should increase the efficiency of my browsing. What I am hoping is that it will let me consume more ideas than I would get from either skimming SSRN abstracts (broad but shallow) or reading long-form articles (deep but time consuming). I am hoping that it will open me up to more moments of serendipity, which is what I ultimately need."

This is a noble aspiration, and I agree completely with Nate on the value of dabbling and dreaming. But here is what is missing from The Legal Workshop (and from SSRN emails) for that function: a smart filter.

What I really want to know when I am in an arbitraging mood is where are the cool new ideas? I start from the assumption that the number of cool new ideas in law reviews is far less than the total number of articles published. The seven member journals of The Legal Workshop probably contain some of those ideas -- indeed, the articles currently featured on the site are interesting -- but the question is whether I am more likely to encounter one of these precious ideas by reading The Legal Workshop or by doing some other search. Like reading my favorite blogs. Or attending a good conference. Or talking to one of my engaged colleagues, like Nate or Larry. It's hard for me to imagine that The Legal Workshop is efficiency enhancing for this activity.

Much more useful to me would be a recommendation from an expert: you have to read this article! That's the smart filter. And that's why blogs (especially blogs outside of law, like orgtheory) and personal contacts are so valuable.

Something that might be nearly as valuable -- and more broad-ranging -- would be a service like Digg for law review articles. Anyone know if we could customize Digg to perform that function?

By the way, I am not attempting to undermine The Legal Workshop. The organizers of the site obviously have ambitions other than enhancing Nate's and my ability to arbitrage ideas. For example, I am more sanguine about the prospect of The Legal Workshop serving as a hub for scholarly debate. The site promises to give "esteemed academics ... the option of submitting response pieces, which are checked for citations and substance." If Iman Anabtawi and Lynn Stout's article, which is currently featured on The Legal Workshop, attracts such commentary, I might cite it in my current article on Unlimited Shareholder Power. In any event, I applaud the students who established this new site for their energy and dedication to legal scholarship.

* The current member journals are:

Cornell Law Review
Duke Law Journal
Georgetown Law Journal
New York University Law Review
Northwestern University Law Review
Stanford Law Review
University of Chicago Law Review

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