Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Priming the Law Review Pump.

Over on PrawfsBlawg there is an interesting essay by Jeff Lipshaw about law review placement in the summer. I think he has it right. It's risky because you may have a hard time bargaining up. Plus, from my own experience the information on Expresso about which law reviews are open for business is terribly inaccurate. But if you are satisficer, you may get just what you need.

But his story he has this: "Two weeks after the submission, I received a publication offer from a top 60 law review. This was a law review as to which I did not try to prime the pump - meaning that, in a couple cases, when I saw the receipt notice on ExpressO, I dropped a note to a friend on that faculty asking him or her to put in a plug for me."

As you can imagine, a fair amount of discussion follows. Let's face it, there are many things worrisome about priming the pump -- the old boy system, appeals to authority -- all of which come down to whether the review by law review editors is actually based on the merits of the piece. Guess which law professors are most likely to have friends at other law schools who can help them out. It's those who graduated from the handful of schools that supply the vast majority of law professors. It's strikes me as rigging no more or less than law schools and USN&WR. I do not mean to pick on Jeff. In fact, based on his thoughtful writings, I have great respect for him. He just happened to put in black and white what I assume is commonplace.

Jeff's response to some of the criticism along the lines found here is: "Can I defend the practice? No more than I can defend all the other proxies that student editors use to select articles. A professor says to the editor, "I know so and so, and she is well respected and this seems to be a pretty good piece." Is that any worse than looking at the author's CV as a proxy for the quality of the piece?" This is the part that does surprise me. What does it mean? I think what it means is that law profs do this because they assume everyone else is doing it and, to stay competitive they do it as well. Sounds like the same arguments law schools make when the try to rig the ratings game -- we don't want to do this but we have to. It's a version of the prisoner's dilemma. If everyone would stop -- schools and professors -- the system would be better off. But neither the schools or the professors can take the risk of deviating from a narrow self-interest perspective unless, in the case of professors, they must because they are not part of the elite fraternity.

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