I thought I'd start off by going back to a previous post by Michael concerning trends in law scholarship publishing.
Part of the barrier to empirical work in legal scholarship has been the tradition of student-edited journals. This problem has been partially remedied by the advent of new peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, and an increasing focus in the law and economics journals and other peer-reviewed journals on empirical work.
Having published empirical pieces in both peer-reviewed and student-edited law journals, I have come to the conclusion that student-edited journals can play an important role in improving and promoting empirical legal scholarship. I see three potential advantages to student-edited journals.
First, student-edited journals have an advantage in cite-checking. In many (if not most) cases, this is less important in empirical scholarship than in, say, traditional doctrinal analysis. However, empirical work can turn on the dating of legal change (for example, when did a state adopt an exception to at-will employment?) or the coding of various opinions (was a decision pro-government power or not?). Peer-review rarely involves checks for coding, but focuses on assumptions and methodologies. In contrast, students have both the manpower and skill set to check coding. In the case of a study on case-outcomes, they could randomly sample some cases used in the study and code them themselves to see if the author was honest and careful. Legal changes are often difficult to date (even in the case of a statute, the effective date is often different from the date of passage). The prior law that is being supplanted must also be understood to determine if the legal change is a significant departure. This involves traditional cite-checking and, given the coding issues of many studies, could substantially improve empirical work (or force greater disclosure).
Second, many schools now have empirically-trained scholars (or fellow travelers) on their faculty. Students thus have access to informal peer-review of a sort and could also access scholars from other departments within their school. Of course, students would want to pre-screen papers and send only two or so an issue out for review to avoid burdening faculty. Some peer-reviewed journals offer small honoraria for review, and I see no reason why student edited journals could not do the same. Such an informal process may have drawbacks by increasing the randomness of rejections, but the ability to simultaneously submit offsets this in part.
Finally, the main objection to the publication of empirical work in law reviews is that students miss important technical issues that would not go unnoticed in a peer-reviewed journal. I think that, on balance, this is true and will not be fully remedied by informal review. On the other hand, student journals have an offsetting adavantage: special symposium issues and frequent publication. The Stanford Law Review has a couple famous issues on hot-button topics where scholars have squared off against each other. The equivalent in peer-reviewed journals would be the publication of the referee reports. And in contrast to the famously slow peer-review process (in addition to the publication of far fewer issues), law journals can publish response pieces fairly quickly.
These are just impressions, and I believe that many, if not most, empirical articles are not suited for student edited journals. In the right case, however, the student-editing process presents significant advantages.