Judge Harry Edwards is a distinguished jurist, and he was a distinguished practitioner and then a highly regarded law professor at Michigan. He has long been known for his criticism of law teaching as focusing too much on the obscure and the theoretical to the exclusion of doctrine and practice. See Harry T. Edwards, The Growing Disjunction Between Legal Education and the Legal Profession, 91 Mich. L. Rev. 34 (October, 1992).
The judge has now written an essay entitled Another Look at Professor Rodell’s Goodbye to Law Reviews, 100 Va. L. Rev. 1483 (2014). He concludes this way:
I am not advocating a return to the narrow-minded, provincial doctrinal scholarship that Professor Rodell singled out for criticism. My hope is that law schools will lead the way in valuing the work of all good scholars, those who write articles focused on professional practice, procedure, doctrine, legislation, and regulation, as well those who focus on theory, philosophy, and empirical studies. The law schools and law reviews should consider seriously Professor Rodell’s view that “law is supposed to be a device to serve society, a civilized way of helping the wheels go round without too much friction.” If the status quo remains, our profession may find itself criticized for merely “diddling while Rome burned.” Professor Rodell’s memorable phrase is as apt today as it was when he wrote it in 1936.
Id. at 1511.*
My focus in this post is on law reviews as opposed to law teaching more broadly. With that said, I am in general agreement with Judge Edwards. Most of the time, most law reviews are not helpful to most judges and most practitioners.
Almost 20 years ago, after a lot hard work and in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Nebraska Law Review, I studied the impact of the Nebraska Law Review on the Nebraska Supreme Court over a span of 25 years. I found that over that period, the Nebraska Law Review had little apparent impact upon published opinions of the Nebraska Supreme Court whether measured quantitatively or qualitatively. In response to that finding, I made a detailed suggestion about how that law review might become more valuable to judges and practitioners. See Richard G. Kopf, Do Judges Read the Review? A Citation-Counting Study of the Nebraska Law Review and the Nebraska Supreme Court, 1972–1996, 76 Neb. L. Rev. 710, 734-736 (1997). Stripped of the details (which can be found in the article), I suggested the creation of an editorial partnership between student law review editors and judges whereby judges might play a much more significant role in the selection of some fixed percentage of the articles published each year. I continue to think that is a good way to bridge the practicality gap.
*Professor Michael Dorf has written a particularly pointed critique of Judge Edward’s essay. See Michael Dorf, Judge Harry Edwards Is Still Unimpressed With Legal Scholarship, Dorf on Law (December 15, 2014). You should read it.