Law Journals Band Together to Launch Web Magazine

Law Journals Band Together to Launch Web Magazine
The Legal Workshop Staff
The Legal Workshop
April 22, 2009

A consortium of America’s most influential law reviews today launched The Legal Workshop (www.legalworkshop.org), a free, online magazine featuring articles based on legal scholarship published in the print editions of seven participating law reviews:  University of Chicago Law Review, Stanford Law Review, New York University Law Review, Cornell Law Review, Duke Law Journal, Georgetown Law Journal, and Northwestern Law Review.

The Legal Workshop features short, plain-English articles about legal issues and ideas, written by an author whose related, full-length work of scholarship is forthcoming in one of the participating law reviews.  But The Legal Workshop does not house a collection of abstracts. Instead, it offers an engaging alternative to traditional academic articles that run 30,000 words with footnotes, enabling scholars to present their well-formulated opinions and their research to a wider audience. In addition to making legal ideas understandable, The Legal Workshop seeks to house the best of legal scholarship in one place—making it easier for readers to find the best writing about all areas of law.

“It’s really the best of both worlds,” said Dahlia Lithwick, the Stanford Law alumnus who covers the Supreme Court for Slate in a highly influential column. “The general public can be better engaged with the latest thinking about the law while knowing that what they’re reading is serious scholarship; not just fad or opinion.”

A not-for-profit joint venture, The Legal Workshop was started and is operated by current and former student editors of the law reviews. The idea for collaboration surfaced in 2006 when student editors struggled to identify viable Internet strategies for their journals, and Joe Edelheit Ross, who was president of the Stanford Law Review at the time, came up with the core idea. Rather than attempt to develop and run a stand-alone website, which the law journals at Harvard and Yale have since tried to do, law review editors at Stanford envisioned a web magazine that would offer a wider selection of content culled from several top journals.  Editors at NYU quickly signed on to the idea and joined Stanford editors in taking the lead to create an online legal scholarship magazine.  

Since the 1950s, law reviews have been an influential factor in federal court decisions, in shaping public policy, and in the hiring and tenure of law faculty. For example, a Stanford Law Review article published in 1949 has been cited in 12 major Supreme Court opinions, including the 1965 landmark case Griswold v. Connecticut, which recognized a right to privacy. The University of Chicago Law Review has published innumerable influential articles, including articles written by Justices Brennan, Clark, Douglas, Frankfurter, Scalia, and Stevens; J. Edgar Hoover; and John Rawls; among many other influential scholars.  Unlike in any other academic discipline, law professors are not published by peers—they are published in law reviews that are operated and edited by law students. Many law review presidents and editors have gone on to achieve great success and wield great influence: Barack Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review; former Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor—the first woman Supreme Court justice—was a Stanford Law Review editor; Abner Mikva—former Chief Judge of the DC Circuit and one of Obama’s early advisers—was an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review; and former Solicitor General Robert Bork was an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review.  Other people who have served on the University of Chicago Law Review include a former Attorney General, numerous federal appellate judges, and many law professors.

In recent years, however, law reviews have been losing their influence and readership. Some attribute this steady decline to impenetrable jargon and arcane subject matter. But other factors, such as limited availability and the rapid pace of legal developments in an electronic world, have played roles as well.

“Law review articles are an important part of the law-teaching profession, but few outside of legal scholarship commonly venture through these articles,” said Chris Hagale, the University of Chicago student coordinating the University of Chicago Law Review’s involvement in the project. “The Legal Workshop will help to bring legal scholarship to a wider audience.” 

“We see The Legal Workshop as an innovative new format through which to continue our traditional mission of publishing groundbreaking legal scholarship,” said Garrett Ordower, Editor-in-Chief of the University of Chicago Law Review. “But beyond just being a new format for publication, we also see it as a way to encourage thoughtful dialogue about the law among lawyers, professors, practitioners, students, and the general public. A wide-ranging and informed discussion by these varied constituencies about how the law affects us at the local, national, and international levels will be something very novel, very needed, and very welcome.”

Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School, notes, “The migration of knowledge from paper to cyberspace is an inescapable part of our intellectual culture.  The appearance of the legalworkshop.org is yet another indicator of that inexorable transition. And it is a benevolent one.  Scholarship thrives on criticism and exchange, which the legalworkshop.org helps facilitate for the benefit of us all.”

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