The Dark Side: Why bother with law review articles

By David Ziemer

Dolan Media Newswires

MILWAUKEE, WI--I was having lunch last month with a friend who happens to be a law professor, when I remarked that I was finally going to write a law review article that I have been contemplating for some time.

He told me (now this is a law professor, mind you) that writing law review articles is a waste of time.

I suppose he is correct. If you look at the most recent Wisconsin Supreme Court term, you will find that only 13 opinions the court issued included a citation to any law review article.

In some of those cases, the citations were only in dissents. And in others, the articles were written more than 30 years ago, back when law professors still maintained some pretense to being relevant participants in the legal community.

Needless to say, if citations to law review articles are a waste of time when writing a brief in the Supreme Court, it is even more of a waste to cite them to a circuit court judge doing his best to keep up with an assembly line of cases in one of Wisconsin's larger counties.

And the professor I had lunch with isn't the only one who considers them a waste of time.

At the Fourth Circuit's annual conference this summer, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts remarked, "Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, 'The influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria,' or something, which I'm sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn't of much help to the bar."

Some in the academy are up in arms about the comment. University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill responded in a blog post at Concurring Opinions, saying, "more often than not, published law review articles offer muscular critiques of contemporary legal doctrine, alternative approaches to solving complex legal questions and reflect a deep concern with the practical effect of legal decision-making on how law develops in the courtroom."

That's a doozy; she knows very well they do nothing of the sort.

But by now I suppose you are wondering, "Mr. Ziemer, if you have so little regard for law review articles, then why are you going to write one?"

The answer, of course, is that I feel like it (which happens to be the same reason for everything I do). But I'll be doing it on my own time. Unlike the professors, I won't be doing it on the dime of a bunch of poor, indebted law students, and I won't be lying to myself that those students actually derive some value from my efforts.

David Ziemer, our former news editor, recently returned to the practice of law. But fear not, he'll still write The Dark Side for the Wisconsin Law Journal (when he's not wasting his time writing that law review article).

Entire contents copyrighted © 2011 by Dolan Media Company

Published: Thu, Sep 1, 2011

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