Wednesday, August 03, 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.


Nando said...

I am adding this to my blogroll. There is a definite class and cultural bias in American "legal education."

It is sad to see many law students of modest means give up their true identity, in order to fit into this supposed "profession." The fact is that "the law" - as an institution - is often a tool of oppression.

Nate said...

This post is interesting to me because I had first-hand experience with “priming the pump” when I served as the Executive Articles Editor of the Florida Law Review. Occasionally a professor would approach me and mentioned an author’s name and said something like “I know this person and s/he is a well-respected.” That didn’t bother me, and most professors who approached me did it that way.

But I had one terrible experience with one of my professors attempting to “prime the pump.” The Editor-in-Chief, Executive Managing Editor, and I were all in his class, and he approached us after I had already rejected the article. Out of courtesy, we took another look at the article and decided that the correct decision was made the first time around. But the professor kept bringing it up to all three of us by email and after class even after we told him that we re-reviewed the article and were going to pass. Since all three of us were in his class, we all felt enormous pressure to publish the piece. We held our ground and stuck to our decision, but he made it extremely difficult.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I sincerely hope all those law profs who want to be fair and thoughtful when it comes to students read this. It really is a completely illegitimate use of power. Thanks for holding firm!