To the Editor:
On March 19th, 2007 the New York Times wrote an article under the headline “When Rendering Decisions, Judges Are Finding Law Reviews Irrelevant,” in which it was written, “In a cheerfully dismissive presentation, Judge Jacobs and six of his colleagues on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said in a lecture hall jammed with law professors…that their scholarship no longer had any impact on the courts. The assembled professors mostly agreed…” Well, how about that for having a firm grasp of the obvious! For years law students have voiced their concern that the professors spend much of their time and energy on writing for law reviews, so they can get tenure at good law schools; they were often poor teachers who paid little attention to their paying customers: the students. The professors would often quietly agree with the students; knowing that their articles were read by few people, if anyone, and yet they felt trapped by an academic system that told them to publish or perish, and paid little attention to actual teaching ability.
The New York Times article goes on to state: “Many law professors seem to think they are under no obligation to say anything useful or to say anything well….” Later the same article stated: “[i]n the 1970’s, federal courts cited articles from The Harvard Law Review 4,410 times …. In the 1990’s, the number of citations dropped by more than half, to 1,956. So far in this decade: 937.” Well how about that for a quickly dying, or shall we say dead influence on the legal system.
Yet, poor law school students are still told by the law schools themselves that they should work (without pay) on the many law reviews because the reviews are important, that they are relevant, and that they will help the students to find good jobs (look good on a resume). What rubbish! In 17 years of practicing law, I have never cited a law review article, nor has any other attorney that I was working with or against. Not once. Nor has a Judge ever cited one to us in a decision or ruling, not once. Also, when hiring new lawyers, I have not once seen anyone pay any attention to whether or not someone was on a law review, nor has anyone else in the hiring process brought it up to me. Not once.
So who gains from continuing the waste and fiction of the all powerful law review? Well it benefits those professors who can write that kind of garbage, even when they lack basic teaching skills. It also benefits the administrations of law schools, who can then use it as the basis for hiring and tenure decisions, instead of evaluating real teaching ability, which is far more time consuming and difficult.
Once again, there is an obvious need for the reform of our law schools, especially Harvard Law School. This system of rewarding and punishing professors for publishing worthless articles should be stopped, by Harvard first and foremost. Student evaluations of teachers and their ability (or lack thereof) should be made more dominant in hiring and tenure decisions. Perhaps this might be a good opportunity for our silent Dean of the Law School to actually take the lead on an issue and promote some meaningful reform.
One can only hope that when the New York Times points out to the world, what students have said for ages, then perhaps the Law School administration might finally take some action to benefit the poor overcharged students. Oh yes, one more thing, how about paying students for their efforts on the law reviews; at least then they can claim that at the very least they got something out of the process, instead of merely checking citations until 2 in the morning for a professor that is making hundreds of thousands of dollars at student expense.
Respectfully submitted, Charles Facktor (HLS ’90)