New law review president defends student journals


Joanna Huey ’10, President of the Harvard Law Review

As one former Harvard Law Review chief took the reigns of the country last month, the Review was busy electing Joanna Huey ’10 as its 123rd president. The Record had a few questions for Huey, a 2006 graduate of Harvard College, about her ascension to the prestigious chair and what role student-edited journals play in legal scholarship.

Record: What is a double major in Physics and Math doing at the Law School! What made you decide to attend HLS?

I know-it’s weird. I think the short answer is that, in college, I realized that becoming a research scientist was not a perfect fit for me. My current program (a joint JD/MPP) has given me the opportunity to focus on science and technology policy, rather than on pure research. Also, the general analytical skills that science majors develop are surprisingly transferrable to legal analysis.

President Barack Obama ’91 has been lauded for his smooth transition to the White House. Was the transition in Gannett House just as seamless? What does the transition entail?

Our transition is immediate: as soon as election results come out, the 2Ls start in their new positions. Despite the suddenness, I’ve felt that the process has gone smoothly. In large part, I think that my happiness with the transition stems from the incredible luck of having Bob Allen ’09, Portia Pedro ’09, and Jon Cooper ’09 as the outgoing leadership team. They have been endlessly helpful, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

New presidents of the Review typically offer stock responses about their goals-like “continuing the extraordinary work” produced in Volume 122. Do you have specific ideas about things you’d like to see changed/improved at the Review?

Well, I certainly do want to “continu[e] the extraordinary work” of Volume 122, and I certainly am not going to make any significant changes unilaterally. We’re a democratic organization, and I intend to preserve our primarily consensus-driven model of governance. That being said, my class is in favor of improving the online content and behind-the-scenes technology of the Review, and I’ll be working to support those goals.

What do you envision as its purpose, both for the student-editors and for the broader legal community?

Our primary purpose is the publication of high-quality, well-edited legal scholarship. We intend for our journal to be a useful resource for legal research, and we hope to serve students and lawyers, academics and practitioners. In addition, the Review is a place for students to hone their own editing and writing, both by working on others’ pieces and by publishing their own.

Judge Richard Posner ’62, himself a former president of the Harvard Law Review, has derided the honored place of student-run law reviews in America, stating, “[the] system of student-edited law reviews, with all its built-in weaknesses, has persisted despite a change in the character of legal scholarship that has made those weaknesses both more conspicuous and more harmful to legal scholarship…Because the students are not trained or experienced editors, the average quality of their suggested revisions is low.” Does Judge Posner have a point?

I have little desire to go head-to-head with Judge Posner-though since you’ve quoted him, perhaps I should note that even he has admitted, in a blogged debate with Randy Kozel about the usefulness of student-run law reviews, that the Review provided him with “excellent suggestions” and “a number of very helpful suggestions” on at least two of his pieces. More generally, I think that student-edited law reviews can and do provide a useful service to legal scholarship and that the usual alternative proffered-peer review-is no panacea.

Student editors are able to spend more time and effort on the editing process than I imagine most professors would be willing to do. Given the commitment of our editors, I believe that we can provide a more thorough set of edits and can complete those edits more quickly than most other types of publication.

In addition, having pieces selected and reviewed by student editors may help prevent legal scholarship from splintering into a collection of law-and-something’s that can no longer converse with one another. Although we realize that our editors cannot have the same expertise as professors in the field, that very absence of specialization means that we can provide a space for articles relevant to a general legal audience. Our lack of specialization also may guard against the problems of insular thinking and rigid orthodoxy that might arise within small, specialized communities of scholars.

Peer-reviewed journals still will have problems. Critics of peer review in scientific research journals have noted a variety of flaws in the process: difficulties verifying research, theoretical and methodological biases, subjectivity, and variations in peer review practices at different journals. I think that similar problems exist for peer-reviewed legal publications, and so it’s very unclear to me that all of those publications would necessarily be better than all student-edited publications.

Furthermore, the Review combines the strengths of student-editing with some of the strengths of peer-reviewed journals. Prior to selection, we send potential articles to faculty members for review and comments, and that commentary is used in our decisions of which pieces to accept. In addition, we do not prevent authors from gathering feedback from their peers through conferences or publication of drafts in places like SSRN.

Of course, I have no opposition to the existence or establishment of peer-reviewed publications or other forms of publication that can contribute to our field. For all of these reasons, I believe that there is a place in legal scholarship for student-edited law reviews.

What’s the best reason to work for the Review besides the resumé?

If I had to name one “best” part of being an editor, I’d say it’s the community here. Despite my initial fears about being a joint-degree student with no other 2L editor from my section, Gannett has been an incredibly welcoming place. We do a lot of work, and it’s been extremely interesting and involving-the Review provides an amazing opportunity to delve deeply into the law and have an impact on an important forum for legal discussion. But I’ve had the surprise bonus of discovering that, despite the workload, editors still find time to play kickball (badly, in my case), eat burritos together, or just talk about anything from articles to classes to Top Chef.

What should interested 1Ls do to find out more about the Review?

Come to our information sessions or talk to any of our editors! We’ll be holding our usual joint information sessions with the Board of Student Advisers and the Legal Aid Bureau on February 24th, 26th, and 27th. Later in the semester, we’ll do competition tip sessions and an open house at Gannett-there might even be barbecue. And of course, I’m always happy to chat about the Review and answer questions.

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