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Obscure, Arcane & Unread: The Literary Life of Law Review Articles - ThinkstockPhotos-123984816-c2.jpg

Obscure, Arcane & Unread: The Literary Life of Law Review Articles

In my day, I’ve sat across from a number of lawyers in their offices, listening to them talk about my assorted legal options in some matter or other. Invariably my eyes are drawn past them, to the sober-looking law review journals neatly aligned row upon row in dignified mahogany bookcases. With their gray and dark brown covers and olde English or stately fonts, they confer enough wisdom on the attorney seated before me that as he outlines some strategy on how I can beat my traffic ticket, I automatically think, “Whoaa. This guy knows sumpin’!”

Except, he doesn’t! At least not from these law reviews, unless “osmosis” is actually deemed to be a legitimate way to absorb information. Because The New York Times has just “torn the cover off” law review journals, revealing them to be the Wizard of Oz of legal tracts: behind the curtain of impressive-looking omniscience lurks clueless gnomes faking the entire enterprise.

These volumes, in other words, are nothing but furniture. Book furniture.

The whole NY Times piece is an Alice-Through-The-Looking Glass look at these legal tomes. After establishing that they’re usually edited by students with a rudimentary grasp of the law, at best, and who sometimes run articles by their professors in hopes of lifting their grades, the Times piece has this mind-bender of a paragraph: “Law reviews are not really meant to be read. They mostly exist as a way for law schools to evaluate law professors based… partly on their success in placing articles in prestigious law reviews.”

To sum up: Know-little editors publish articles for purposes of self-advancement in prestigious journals that nobody reads but which are nevertheless crucial to helping the professor/author rise through the pantheon of university hierarchy.

Sounds like a plan.

If this is Everyday Law, a site designed to make common legal issues intelligible, law review journals are like Never-y-day Law, meant to grind fine legal points completely into dust – and dust bins – as they marinate on shelves, obscure, arcane and unread.

Still, you gotta love the idea of prestigious law reviews that no one reads. It’s like those old Double Mint chewing gum commercials:

“It’s ‘prestigious.’ And – it’s bollocks! It’s two – two – two! law reviews in one!”

You can see the mottos:

“Harvard Law Review. Unread by some of the most brilliant minds in the country.”

“Princeton Law Review: Ignored by a higher class of non-reader.”

“Yale Law Review: Laying waste to trees for no discernible reason for over a century now.”

Articles in law reviews are the large print equivalent of small print disclaimers found under drug advertisements. They’re like fugitives on the lam for 20 years who are found living openly in some small town. Hiding in plain sight.

The article concludes that anyone looking for relevant critiques and analysis of contemporary law issues is “much better off turning to the many (ahem) excellent law blogs.”

Still, say what you will about them, law reviews sure make those attorneys sitting in their offices look smart!

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