Very Funny Inside-Legal-Academy Law Review Article:

Pierre Schlag's My Dinner at Langdell's (2004). An excerpt:

It was one of those cold wet April Cambridge mornings. Too wet for fog, but too indifferent for rain. My head ached. My lips were dry and my tongue felt bloated. The fever had surely come back. Worse -- the laudanum was wearing off.

Tonight would be dinner at Langdell's. To say I was apprehensive does not quite capture my condition. It was to be an important affair. I had been asked to attend. It felt like a convocation of sorts -- though to what end, I remained unaware.

It occurred to me that not everyone is invited to Langdell's for dinner -- certainly not wayward law professors from the provinces. This was an extraordinary opportunity. I took out the engraved invitation from my navy overcoat, just to make sure it was really there. It was, of course -- though having taken it out three or four times previously this morning, the cream-colored paper fibers had begun to separate. The paper felt gummy and the ink was smudged. I coughed and drew my coat around my shoulders. A drink would help.

Langdell, of course, did not know of my present situation. And realistically, how could he? His professional life ended in 1895 when he retired from The Law School. Mine didn't really begin (if I can call it a beginning at all) until 1991. It would be a chance meeting. By the time I started teaching, he had been dead for nearly 85 years.

I realized, of course, that this would make our encounter all the more difficult, all the more awkward. Indeed, you might reasonably wonder how could we meet at all? A fair question. It is not everyday that a fictional narrator can have dinner with a man who's been dead for close to 100 years. The problems from both sides are significant. The literary challenge alone is immense.

bornyesterday (mail) (www):
So, what happened?
3.9.2007 6:13am
blcjr (mail):
You could click on the link, and read it yourself, to find out what happens.
3.9.2007 7:38am
sk (mail):
too much work. can't you summarize it for us?
3.9.2007 8:31am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):

You could click on the link, and read it yourself, to find out what happens.

files aren't working for me on my work computer
3.9.2007 8:52am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
Back home now.

3.9.2007 9:26am
Justin (mail):
While cute, I should point out this was published in the Buffalo Law Review. It begs the question of what the purpose of law reviews are. Certainly, something so fluff and "creative" would never get published in a serious academic journal in any other field.
3.9.2007 9:42am
Dave N (mail):

The purpose of law reviews, as well know, is to provide an outlet for law professors to publish SOMETHING when academia demands "publish or perish."

The added bonus is that, unlike, say the Journal of the American Medical Association, there is no such thing as peer resview so the author can say just about anything.

It is also a way for certain law students to feel self-important and flesh out resumes, all the while learning (the wrong lesson) that turgid prose is GOOD writing.

With those thoughts in mind, even though it was ONLY published in the Buffalo Law Review (I detected a sneer that it was not, heaven forbid, published in either Harvard's or Yale's), I thought it both clever and appropriate.

And yes, I was on a law review.
3.9.2007 10:48am
Dave N (mail):
Law review is also a place where Bluebook and spelling perfection reign, regardless of the imprecise nature of the actual thought.

For example, in my last post, law review editors would note that my first sentence should read in relevant part "as we all know" and not "as well know." Likewise, the misspelling of "review" in the the second full paragraph would cause comment.

What probably would escape notice entirely, however, would be the substance of the message and whether it had any validity.
3.9.2007 11:11am
Current Buffalo Law Review Member:
I was delighted to see that this article was published by my review. The author could have presented his argument in the same dry, formal style which Justin would have preferred, but that have defeated the purpose of the article. It's a critique on the form of the law review and legal argument. Such a topic seems appropriate for a law review.
3.9.2007 11:13am
I was on a top-5 law review (look! I'm self-promoting! pity I'm anonymous on the Internet) and I would have been honored to publish this piece. But it's remarkable how, in his insistence that "real" law review articles must address the same tired topics in the same tired way, the above commentor makes Prof. Schlag's point for him! It's all very meta.
3.9.2007 11:29am
Robert Schwartz (mail):
There are way too many law reviews and not nearly enough productive thought amongst the professoriate.
3.9.2007 3:53pm
Justin (mail):
First of all, I think a couple of people have misunderstood or mischaracterized my point.

My point was certainly not that the Buffalo Law Review was somehow unimportant - indeed, it was the exact opposite, as the premier law journal of an accredited law school. Nor was my point that "the same tired topics" should be covered - quite the contrary, I agree with Posner and others that 99% of what is in law review articles, including this article, is fairly mindless crap.

The point was that publishing something in an academic journal, including a legal journal, should be an act of scholarship, not an act of writing. Lots of non-scholarship writing make points - even clever and important points. But just because Les Miserables makes important social commentary does not make it scholarship. The goal of scholarship should not be something that is fun, or clever. It should be able to provide the reader with a new, interesting, relevant point in a way that is concise and to the point (without sacrificing a logical explanation as to how the conclusion follows).

While I have no problem setting aside a subset of legal academic journals to produce more creative or interesting articles - specialized journals could not only allow this but focus on this - it seems like the point of the "Law Review" or the "Law Journal" is to add to the scholarly debate about the law.

Finally, it is highly questionable in my view whether articles about law REVIEWS are about "the law." I think such topics, no matter how well written, should also be relegated either to "pocket parts" or to secondary journals as well. This article is a lot easier and more fun to read than Holmes's Path of the Law. That doesn't make it better. Just fluffier.
3.9.2007 4:31pm
Current Editor:
Much of this thread proceeds on the assumption that Pierre Schlag's piece "My Dinner at Langdell's" was published as a law review article. But while the BLR does publish a great many orthodox law review articles, "My Dinner at Langdell's" was published as an essay in the
BLR's annual "Essay Issue." Without entering into the substance of this debate, the essays are different from law review articles in at least two relevant ways.

First, rather than being foisted upon a naive editorial board, as several posts suggested, the essayists are invited by the law review, upon the suggestion of the faculty. More than peer-reviewed, these pieces are actually requested by their peers.

Second, the essayists are encouraged to write about what they are thinking, and have not yet decided. Such requests are likely, indeed intended, to produce expressive writing, of which Schlag's piece is a
particularly striking example. Thus the distinction some posts have drawn between putatively objective scholarship and more explicitly subjective, expressive writing, whether valid or not vis-a-vis the law review article, is clearly inappropriate here. We asked for expression,
and expression we have received. For more on what the BLR is trying to achieve by publishing essays, see "Introduction, First Annual Essay
Issue of the Buffalo Law Review", 52 Buff. L. Rev. 629 (2004).

The BLR believes that publishing current thinking, inevitably somewhat subjective, has made a substantial contribution to legal discourse. We have published essays written by a wide range of very important scholars. The essay issue has been very well received. I encourage all of you to send us a request for a copy of one of the essay issues, and we will be happy to do so! Our website can help you reach out to us.
3.10.2007 9:39am
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
See also Note, Good Intentions, New Inventions, and Article V Constitutional Conventions, 58 TEXAS L. REV. 131 (1979) (abstracted here; I'm not sure if it's available online in full text), in which Thomas Jefferson and Yale's late, great Charles L. Black, Jr. conduct an animated conversation about constitutional conventions over a pitcher of beer at Texas' oldest still-operating business, Austin's Scholz Garten.
3.11.2007 6:29am