Law Review

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A law school publication containing both case summaries written by student members and scholarly articles written by law professors, judges, and attorneys. These articles focus on current developments in the law, case decisions, and legislation. Law reviews are edited by students, and students contribute notes to featured articles.

The first law review was established in 1875 as a means for law students to enhance legal scholarship. By 2003, law schools published more than eight hundred different law review titles, and the number continues to grow. The majority of law schools in the United States now produce at least one student-edited law review. With 13, Harvard University produces the most student-edited law reviews and journals, including the Harvard Law Review. Most schools publish general periodicals, covering any topic of current interest. Many produce publications that focus on a particular area of the law. Harvard, for example, publishes 11 special-focus law reviews. Among the most popular topics of special-focus law reviews are international law, comparative law, and environmental law.

The law review is an offshoot of the treatise, which was the principal form of legal writing in the 1800s and was frequently used to teach the law. Legal scholars wrote treatises to discuss legal principles and the cases that illustrated those principles. By the mid-1800s several significant U.S. treatises covered individual topic areas, including evidence, criminal law, damages, and contracts. These treatises became the basis of legal education.

In the mid-1800s it also became important for lawyers to know more specifically how judges were ruling in their own jurisdiction. This need led to the growth of regionally specific periodicals produced by attorneys to discuss the legal issues pertinent to their local area. The American Law Register, started in Philadelphia in 1852, was the first legal periodical that took a scholarly look at the law, rather than the journalistic slant of earlier periodicals. This publication and the American Law Review, from Boston, were the primary inspirations for the student-edited law review.

The first student-edited law review was the Albany Law School Journal, which lasted only one year, through 1875. This law review contained articles, moot court arguments, and a calendar of law school events. The first issue included a student commentary that questioned whether after a lecture it was better for a student to read the cases discussed in the lecture or to read treatises on the topic discussed.

The next law review, Columbia Law School's Columbia Jurist, did not appear until 1885. This publication lasted only three years but inspired the Harvard Law Review.

Established in 1887, the Harvard Law Review is still published today and is among the most prestigious, most emulated student-edited law reviews. Before starting their law review, Harvard students approached the faculty to get support for their new venture. Professor james barr ames became their adviser and mentor, and other faculty members provided articles for publication. For financial assistance the students approached alumnus louis d. brandeis, who provided money as well as the names of others who would contribute. The students also sold over three hundred subscriptions in the New York City area by the time the first issue was published. The first issue included articles, student news, moot court arguments, case digests, book reviews, and summaries of class lectures. The editors also used the law review to promote the new method of instruction that had recently been introduced at Harvard. This method of instruction combined the use of casebooks and Socratic dialogue—quite a change from the traditional method of textbooks and lectures. The Harvard method of instruction is standard in today's law schools.

By 1906 law schools at Yale, Pennsylvania, Columbia, Michigan, and Northwestern all published student-edited law reviews. With Harvard these schools were considered the top law schools in the United States. Because they were publishing law reviews, doing so became a status symbol, and many law schools followed suit. The significance of the law review soon extended beyond the halls of academia as judges began citing articles in their decisions.

Today, the vast number of general and specialty law reviews published around the country cover topics in virtually all areas of practice, from broad areas of law, such as criminal law and intellectual property, to more specialized topics, such as women's issues, air and space law, and computer law. Published pieces range from examinations of legal trends in a particular legal area, to analyses of a single case and its implications, to speeches by and about important legal figures.

As law reviews have grown in number and variety, they have become important sources for legal research. The full text of many recent law reviews is available through such electronic resources as westlaw and LEXIS®. Moreover, many law schools provide either the full text or abstracts of law review articles produced at these schools through the schools' websites. Some publications, such as the Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, are available exclusively in an on-line format.

further readings

Colella, Ugo A. 1995. "Foreword: The Law Review Is Better than Spinach." Tulane Law Review (November).

Shapiro, Fred R. 2000. "The Most-Cited Law Reviews." Journal of Legal Studies 389.

Skilton, John S. 1995. "Seventy-five Years of the Wisconsin Law Review: Turning the Pages." Wisconsin Law Review 1995.

Swygert, Michael I., and Jon W. Bruce. 1985. "The Historical Origins, Founding, and Early Development of Student-edited Law Reviews." Hastings Law Journal 36 (May).


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