The Law Review as a Force for Progressive Change
J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law
In the last issue of Voice, Sam Lam wrote beautifully about “the Irvine Conversation,” and concluded that we at UCI Law must “foster a nuanced, rigorous, and self-aware understanding of what is good about tradition, and what needs to be improved.” He also referred to several “traditional” benchmarks of law school success, including law review.
I agree generally that law reviews often take on a conservative form and function, designed to both produce knowledge and scholarship (for the academic and legal communities, in theory, at least), and to train compliance with legal scholarship and practice norms (for students). Law reviews, as they are constructed at most schools, may often be the paradigmatic symbols of a certain status quo.
But it does not have to be that way.
There are several ways that a law review can be a force for progressive change. One way is by addressing the legitimate critique that law reviews foster elitism. At UCI Law, we have engaged this question in a number of hopeful ways. First, we have created a “flat” executive board, instead of implementing the traditional hierarchical structures in place at so many other law reviews. Second, we have an editing structure that allows us to maximize the number of members who are given opportunities to serve as Lead Article Editor—a position of tremendous personal responsibility—rather than to create rigid role definitions for the entire year. Third, we have implemented a write-on admissions standard, as opposed to the more traditional grade-on or hybrid grade/write policies that many other law reviews use. We can be proud of these efforts, and we can engage further by continuing to discuss ways to adapt and improve.
Another way that a law review can be a force for progressive change is by actively engaging in debate about its role in the production of knowledge for the legal academy. There are arguments on all sides of the question of the extent to which students can or should control the process of, for example, article selection. Many law professors believe that the opportunity is an important one for students to have, and a crucial moment of development for future scholars and practitioners. Others question the extent to which overworked students can realistically benefit from the experience when they are reading hundreds of submissions and making decisions about publication that may have serious implications for authors’ careers, as well as for the development of a meaningful academic discourse.
To the extent that these viewpoints clash, there may be no simple way of reconciling them. While one law review, on its own, may not be in a position to solve the dilemma, it may be in an ideal position to interrogate its situation in the larger system. It can ask important questions that may eventually lead to a rethinking of its role in producing knowledge. It can create a public space for critical legal discourse and foster a role for scholarship in the pursuit of justice.
I have benefited tremendously from my experience over the past year, by exposure to the educational experience of editing scholarship, communicating with highly regarded authors and professors, debating the kinds of concepts that sharpen a legal mind, and working to perfect the tools of the trade (yes, Bluebooking). Law review has helped me to nurture my interest in the debate over how we, as students, can help to advance legal scholarship, focus on the issues that motivate us, and create a solid academic framework for the work we hope to do as practicing attorneys.
Disclaimer: I am writing only in my individual capacity and only to express my own personal views about my motivations for participating in Law Review. I am not writing in my capacity as a member of the executive board of the Law Review, nor am I writing to express the views of the board or its members.