Let me start by congratulating Nance and Steinberg for a
study that is well done and has already sparked quite a bit of discussion and
controversy. I share some of the concerns voiced earlier about various
survey biases and some of the methodological choices, but I think overall it is
a remarkably strong first effort, and a great "first cut" look at a
process that likely needs to be studied from several angles before it can be
fully understood. In particular, it is definitely worth thinking about
the gap between what people (including law review editors) say they do and what
they actually do.
Nevertheless, one of the interesting things about the study's findings is that many of the traditional law professor complaints about law review selection are born out explicitly in the survey responses. The most obvious are the various responses that highlight where an author works or where an author has previously published, but I think the negative responses to ease of editing and the adequacy of the footnotes are also the sorts of criteria that make law review authors wince.
The generic criticisms I hear from law professors about student edited law reviews, however, often strike me as somewhat ironic. Law schools are among the most hierarchical and status-obsessed educational institutions in
Bill makes a good list of the strengths of student edited law reviews, but I'll add two more, somewhat subterranean, ways that student-edited law reviews serve the interests of law faculty. First, there are so many student-edited law reviews that it is not an exaggeration to say that virtually anything a law professor writes that is in English and makes some vague sense can and will be published. This is an enormous comparative advantage for a law faculty member over other disciplines, since a law professor can remain "productive" regardless of whether their work is relevant or even particularly good.
Second, having students edit most of the work means that law professors do not have to. Being a reviewer for a peer-edited journal (let alone being an editor) takes a great deal of time, and is in many ways a relatively thankless pain. The fact that student editors do the bulk of this work is a major benefit for law faculties.
Lastly, I think Bill is on the right track when he asks about the purpose of law faculty scholarship. Similarly, it is worth asking about the purposes of having student-edited law reviews at all. I assume the primary institutional purpose is educational: the students learn a lot by reading and editing faculty scholarship, as well as writing their own notes or comments. Keeping this purpose in mind helps explain why student editors might behave as they do, and should give us pause before criticizing too harshly. Given the educational mission of the law reviews and the challenges students face in selecting and editing faculty work I think they do a good job overall.