I wrote a little article on this subject back in 1994 called "Who's to Blame for Law Reviews?" 70 Chi.-Kent. L. Rev. 81. I was disagreeing with people who blame the student editors, who, I said were mainly following the lead of lawprofs:
[L]aw review editors have a sense of what a Law Review Article is supposed to look like: a proper ratio of text to footnotes, a reassuring stolidity to the prose, a predictable structure studded with signposts that advertise the existence of that predictable structure, transition paragraphs before every paragraph that contains the approximation of a new idea, transition sentences before every sentence that ventures into the semblance of new territory, transition phrases parasiting on every sentence that might otherwise contain no reminder of what we have been discussing all along, confidence-inspiring, tiny elevated numbers appearing with the frequency of punctuation marks.I really believed, back then, that the short essay form could take over. But in fact, law reviews got longer and longer and more and more unreadable. I'd have been sad if I had known that then, but I'd have been elated if I'd known that blogging would come into being.
If you give these students your attempt at imitating the law review articles that have gone before, they will quite naturally undertake to help you succeed at what it appears you are trying to do - to produce a textual object that really looks like that article stereotype they have in their minds. Chances are they do not have a terrible lot of respect for the form either and they, too, ridicule its pomposity, its leaden seriousness, its circumspect proposals, and its compulsive footnoting. Yet, just as the author sought a job, tenure, a raise, or (for the more lofty-minded) reputation, the students have extrinsic goals in mind. It is their own future, and not the general advancement of legal literature, that tends to motivate law students to add the work of editing a law journal to their already heavy workload. If the law professor has not challenged the limitations of the genre, why would they?
When you see your article after their editing, you are going to be appalled at what they've done. It's going to come back insipidly neutral in tone, deadened into law reviewese. You hate it. Why did they do this to my prose?
Perhaps they have done it because your work seemed to be moving in that direction in the first place. You were writing what was in essence a parody, and they reacted by shifting into an even higher gear parody. It is a joint venture: what we do suggests to them that they ought to do what they do - even though when we see it we find it appalling. We are like the parents who are aghast when their children lash out at them with anger, sarcasm, or words meant to humiliate. Those parents resist perceiving that it is their own manner of speaking that the children have adopted. The children return their interpretation of the language and intonation they have heard. The parents are aghast because they are now on the receiving end. The children are showing them how it looks from the other side. The parent is not the victim but the teacher. Likewise, we, the law review writers, can fancy ourselves the victims of the students, but we are, most assuredly, the teachers.
Our displeasure with student editing should translate into critique of our own writing. The solution is not to complain about students, but to stop writing these parodies.
Orin Kerr responds to Solove with:
Maybe the answer is more lawprof bloggers. Blogging pushes you to write clearly and simply; the format rewards clarity of expression more than traditional law review articles do.That is so right. Blogging sharpens our taste in writing. It makes us impatient with circumlocution and pretentiousness. It makes us expect to see pithy ideas in every sentence.
And let's not resort to blaming law students. I don't think you need to escape into blogging because law reviews hold you back. As I said in 1994, the students learn from us. As we blog and demonstrate the value of concision and clearly expressed ideas, they are learning that it is legitimate to demand these writing values from the lawprofs whose work they publish. They are tipped off that it's okay to be fed up with windy professorial meanderings. Students can revise and restore their journals -- as I've got to think they want to do -- by infusing them with the good writing values blogging demonstrates.