Aside from the relative inexperience of student editors, others have questioned whether a second or third-year law student is equipped with the proper understanding in law to critique, select, and edit legal scholarship that is often penned by academics with decades of experience in the field.
“They are overall really, really smart people who don’t have deep expertise in the subject areas for which they are selecting articles,” said Harvard Law School professor Richard H. Fallon Jr.
However, many are quick to reject this assertion.
Harvard Law School professor Jonathan L. Zittrain said that the presence of student editors poses benefits that other types of editors would lack.
“We benefit greatly by having students as our intermediaries rather than for-profit publishers who often are much more bound to enforce scarcity in what they publish as a way of charging rents to access it,” he wrote.
Dennis Fan, the editor-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review, argued that the responsibilities of editing a law review are not markedly different from the duties these students will take on merely months later.
“Upon graduation, and with little or no work experience, many law school graduates clerk for the nation’s highest courts, often drafting opinions or providing legal advice to those courts’ judges,” Fan wrote in an email.
Moreover, student editors have taken steps to combat this perceived experience gap. The Harvard Law Review and most of its peer institutions solicit the help of faculty from their respective law schools, according to Fallon.
“While Columbia Law Review is not a peer-review journal, it is also not devoid of mechanisms of peer-review,” Fan wrote. “The peer-review/student-run dichotomy is in some ways a false one.”
Others assert that what students may lack in experience they make up for in effort. Student editors spend notorious amounts of time editing submissions—Joel Mallord, the editor-in-chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, estimated that his staff spent “tens of thousands of hours per year” to publish an issue.
“Not only is this work tedious and unpaid, it is also better performed by students,” wrote Mallord in an email. “Students are generally more in tune with citation requirements than practitioners and academics, who tend to lose interest in those requirements shortly after leaving law school.”
Indeed, law professors are unlikely to do such work and little encourages them to do so, some said.
Other than students, “who else has time to check that sources say what the authors claim they say?” Mallord wrote.