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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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The Situation of Law Reviews: May You Cite Check in Interesting Times

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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The paid circulation for Law Reviews has been going the way of the newspaper, dropping 50-70% amongst even the most prestigious journals, as noted by Ross Davies in the Green Bag. See Documenting the Decline of (Print) Law Reviews.

Adding to that is a recent call by the directors of law libraries across the country for law reviews to end print publication and switch to “stable, open, digital formats,” whatever that might mean. From the Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship:

On 7 November 2008, the directors of the law libraries at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, New York University, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, the University of Texas, and Yale University met in Durham, North Carolina at the Duke Law School. That meeting resulted in the “Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship,” which calls for all law schools to stop publishing their journals in print format and to rely instead on electronic publication coupled with a commitment to keep the electronic versions available in stable, open, digital formats.

Particularly now, with growing financial pressures on law school budgets, ending print publication of law journals deserves serious consideration. Very few law journals receive enough in subscription income and royalties to cover their costs of operation. The Statement anticipates both that the costs for printing and mailing can be eliminated, and that law libraries can reduce their costs for subscribing to, processing, and preserving print journals. There are additional benefits in improving access to journals that are not now published in open access formats and in reducing paper consumption.

David Post noted the odd significance of this development in PLOL, or The Slow Death of the Law Review As We Know It

It’s an important development, I believe. It’s true, of course, as those of you who have been or are currently in law school know, that law library directors do not have any direct responsibility for law review publication; as a result, the statement is only of significance as an advisory matter, and it can’t be implemented without a lot of other things happening and a lot of other people on board. Nonetheless, I think it adds an important voice to the debate about the future of the law review, and another hole in the hull of the law review ship, which has been taking on water for some time now.

I would say that it’s not just ‘advisory’ in that law libraries as a group are typically the largest consumers of the print publication of a law review. However, the Durham Statement is not a threatened boycott, a call for law libraries to stop purchasing print versions of the law reviews; rather it’s a slightly more bizarre plea – “Please stop making what we currently pay for so we won’t feel obligated to buy it.”

Post points to the Public Library of Science (PLoS) as the model that would displace the current one. Public Library of Science offers 7 different open access journals in biology and medicine. These things don’t edit themselves, however, and what Post omits is that they charge authors or research sponsors between $1300 – $2850 for each article they publish. Publishing with law reviews is free because a bevy of ambitious law students have made a deal to donate hundreds of hours of bluebooking and citechecking in exchange for the law review credential. Is there another market mechanism to marshal these editing resources? I don’t see a viable path to publication in the offing.

  • Law Review Websites: most law reviews now offer PDF versions of their publication on their website for free. (Top 50 Law Review Websites profiled here)
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2 Responses

  1. [...] Gilman of the Blawgraphy has a great post up on the plight of law reviews, which like most old media properties are suffering right now. Law reviews are in a very precarious [...]

  2. [...] So I am now the proud owner of 3,343 pages of neatly bound legal analysis, which if I read at all, will far more likely be on my computer than in these tomes sitting on the shelf behind me. The Durham Statement is starting to make more and more sense by the day. See my previous post The Situation of Law Reviews: May You Cite Check in Interesting Times. [...]

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