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History of the Law Review

If you are a law student, you are familiar with the institution of the law review. All law schools have at least one and many have multiple law reviews. Where did these publications originate? What purpose do they serve? Join me for a quick tour of Law Reviews 101. https://youtube.com/watch?v=37j16kk08mg


What is a law review and why is it such a big deal? A law review is a scholarly journal, usually sponsored and published by a law school. The majority of these law reviews are run by law students who screen and accept articles, edit materials, and oversee the compilation of the journal on a regular basis throughout the school year. Some will print articles on a wide variety of legal topics, while others have a narrow focus on a specialized area of law. All accredited law schools have at least one law review and many schools have multiple journals. As of 2017, there were over 1,500 law reviews in existence. Why so many? In the early 1800s, America was a new, fast-growing country with a new, fast-growing legal system. Legal periodicals began to appear to provide news and case reports. Most of these periodicals were not successful, however. Then The American Law Review began in 1866. It published academic articles from lawyers and scholars, book reviews, and reports on notable legal events. Starting in 1875, more than one law school attempted their own journals, but these publications failed, probably due to a lack of interest and financial support. But in 1887, students at Harvard Law School decided to make their own attempt. They convinced a Harvard Law professor, James Barr Ames, to be their faculty advisor. Crucially, they found interest and dedicated financial support from Harvard Law School alumni. The Harvard Law Review has been in continuous publication ever since. After its success, other schools began adding law reviews at their own institutions. But why? In the last half of the nineteenth century, many lawyers didn’t attend actual law schools. They apprenticed with a lawyer and studied legal treatises and case reports on their own. Law schools were looking for ways to make their graduates desirable for hiring and promotion. Editing and contributing to a law review honed legal writing and analytical skills beyond mere apprenticeship tasks. Among the student body, being chosen for law review was, and still is, a marker of academic excellence and work ethic. Because law schools trained students for legal practice, they were not regarded as academically serious. Law professors at the time were starting to analyze the law in a more research based, rigorous manner like other academic disciplines. Law reviews provided an opportunity for these professors to publish their work and to analyze developments in case law. Most importantly, in the last hundred years, law reviews have helped to shape the development of the law itself. They are a repository of careful scholarly research and argument that can be used by policymakers, practitioners, judges and clerks. Law review articles analyze cases, pose questions, and offer theories that shape the legal landscape.

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