Are Law Review Articles Getting Shorter,

in response to some top law reviews' call for avoiding the really long pieces? Orin posted about this some months ago, and said: "We'll get an idea of the answer in a year or two, when the new articles come out and readers can see whether they are on average shorter than the articles in recent years."

Here's an early data point: Jean-Gabriel Bankier of Berkeley Electronic Press's ExpressO submission service -- a service that I use routinely, and much like -- reports that, based on "more than 1,000 unique submissions in both 2004 and 2005," the averages were:

2003-69.1 pages
2004-73.3 pages
2005-64.0 pages
There are obviously all sorts of possible confounding factors -- for instance, as time goes on, presumably the user base of ExpressO shifts from the early adopters to people who are more representative of law professors (and some lawyers and law students) more generally; perhaps that helps account for the change in page count. Still, I thought I'd pass it along, for whatever it's worth.

anonymous coward:
Also, this seems to be average submission length rather than, say, average paper accepted for publication in a top 25 journal.
11.21.2005 7:10pm
Also, authors may use their own font and spacing settings, which could vary significantly from "law review pages"
11.21.2005 9:07pm
anonymous coward unlike the other:
I am an editor in a top-15 law review, and we have wholeheartedly favored shorter articles. To my knowledge, the longest piece we have accepted this year is shorter than the third-longest piece from the previous volume, and some of our articles are as short as our student notes.

I suspect that a big reason why we are so cautious is because we were burned in our 2L year. The previous board selected two very long pieces, one of which was pretty good, one of which was absolutely terrible. As one of the citecheckers who spent the week before exams editing a 180 page monstrosity that had no business being published in any journal, I can think of nothing crueler than subjecting this year's 2Ls to the same fate.

It is possible that future boards, not familar with this recent history, will be less vigilant in picking shorter pieces, but I know I plan on telling next year's board enough stories of the bad old days that they will hopefully not repeat the mistakes of the past.
11.21.2005 10:55pm
JournalEditor (mail):
I can confirm this account. My (top 3) Journal has been receiving shorter pieces this year. Perhaps more importantly, when a piece doesn't come in at a reasonable length, authors understand that they must cut it down (whereas before, they would only "consider" doing so).

Even though this year is an improvement, I can't end this post without saying this: EVERY piece in our Journal would be better if it were 20% shorter. This includes student notes as well as articles. While I think the law reviews have made progress this year, we can all still do better. Go back and open a law review from 20, 30, 40 years ago. Even the "great" pieces are shorter than almost everything that gets published today.
11.22.2005 12:08pm
Recent Grad (mail):
I finished my term on a top-20 law review last year, and I can attest that students - outgoing and incoming - had on their mind that brevity was a virtue. I can also attest, based on conversations with several younger faculty members, that brevity is something on the mind of at least some writers. They of course suggested that the move toward shorter pieces was a good thing in the abstract - mainly to avoid student editors assuming that a really long piece must be good to have so many words, but they admitted they were concerned with writing shorter pieces simply because they thought the current publishing climate meant they needed to write shorter pieces to improve their prospects. I can attest to one instance in which a writer decided to excise an interesting point because he was worried about page length. Maybe it was a tighter piece in the end, I don't know. But it was probably also a little less interesting.

Personally I think the whole idea of counting pages is reflective of how dumb the legal academic publishing realm can be. It seems the problem of longer pieces and the solution of shorter pieces has little to do with examining the individual merit of a particular piece, but setting up a lazy substitute for real examination of the individual piece's value (I don't know what your article is about, but if you can make it 60 pages, we have a deal! We have finals, you know!). I guess in a world where one shouldn't be surprised to see lawyers soon ranked by how much breakfast they eat (American Lawyer's Corn Flakes Per Partner Rankings!), I shouldn't be surprised any time that we use arbitrary numbers to determine merit (Yeah, it was a really great piece - a real groundbreaker, professor, but it was just about ten pages too long! Good luck with the Ave Maria Law Review! )
11.22.2005 7:47pm