Law Journals

When I was in Law School, I was an editor of one of the legal journals. I also published in it as well. The journal I was part of went through a bit of a transition while I was there. At one point in time, it had been a nationally recognized journal; a first of its kind. At the beginning, it had the possibility as the first on the field to take over as the singular journal for this niche of the law. But, as many things do in academia when left to its own devices, it floundered and lost relevance. By the time I joined on, well… it was not quite what it once was.

The first journal meeting I went to, the originator of the journal from many years ago showed up. They had long since graduated and actually had become a professor elsewhere in no small part due to the esteem of the journal (at least, the esteem at the time they were hired). The originator was a short, sharply dressed woman who dressed and moved like a motivational speaker. She made some vague proclamations about how she was going to be super involved even though she was no longer at the law school and was teaching at another university. As you might guess, I saw her only one other time… ever. She seemingly disappeared 2 months into my 1L year. After a few months, the head of the journal couldn’t get in contact with her by email or phone and she was written off as never coming back. I’m sure if I was really interested I could find her online and figure out the mystery of where she disappeared to… most of us assumed she got a job in another state and moved without telling anyone. At a certain point, we just didn’t care anymore; it would have been easy to communicate via email but she obviously couldn’t even bother to do that. There were probably only about half a dozen people who were actively working on it by the time I joined up. Of those people, there was only really one person who was honestly keeping the journal from falling into obsolescence, the current head of the journal. To give you an idea of the journal’s standing… The journals all shared a very large office, and you could tell the relative importance of each based on the square footage of deskspace allotted. Originally, we had none… and after a great deal of wrangling, I do believe out of the whole office, we got (in toto…) 3 X 2.5 ft of desk, and a chair (but no computer, and no office supplies, and no… well you get the picture — it was a slab-o-desk and nothing more). Although it did have a very shabby pinned label above ‘our’ spot identifying it as the official physical residence of the journal.

The head of the journal had taken it upon himself to attempt to return relevance to the journal. He had gotten the ball rolling to make it a physically published, accredited journal. Actually getting any momentum for a project in academia is the hardest part. Once the project overcomes the static inertia, it starts moving on its own accord. He ended up graduating just in time to see the journal become accredited. The next head of the journal did not make any friends and nearly destroyed the groundwork that had been laid, but that’s often how things go with student run enterprises. The new leader took the reigns and started out by changing the name of the journal, then appointed his best friends to run the journal even though they had no background in the legal niche it was based on or editing at all for that matter. But, that’s a different story.

Gaining accreditation also meant we now had a real faculty adviser connected to the journal. They were decently well known in the outside legal field, and since we were trying to gain more legitimacy for the journal we asked if they would submit something we could publish in it. Initially we were told they would think about it, but behind closed doors the editors were told flatly no. They wouldn’t give us anything to publish because the professor felt the journal was too unimportant and it would tarnish the professor’s brand if they did. Yes, our own faculty adviser had just told us the journal sucked, in nearly as many words, and that’s why he refused to put his name anywhere near it. Worse than that, we were told they had openly expressed that opinion to other faculty so when we approached these others, we got the same response. Nice.

As one of the editors, I had been given a (supposedly) simple task. Since we were now officially recognized and accredited, we were entitled to a (very) small allotment of funds related to publication costs. I had been charged with finding out how much, and getting those funds. It took over 2 years. The truth is, I actually never got the funds while I was in law school… they only finally showed up about a year after I left. Somewhere early during my 3L year, I went to our faculty adviser to see if they could do anything to help speed the process that was going so interminably slow regarding the funding, and then also to talk about the new journal head who was taking it upon himself to fuck everything up with no consideration for how much work others had done before.

The adviser sighed, shut the door to his office, and proceeded to explain the inner politicking of the faculty. You see… there were limited funds. The faculty adviser of the Law Review felt that any other journals watered down the importance of his law review journal by distracting outside attention to lesser journals. So he went out of his way to block disbursement of funds and resources to competing projects. He had an unofficial agreement with the faculty adviser of the Health Law journal, the supposedly second most influential journal at the law school (in line with the imagined importance of the professors themselves.) The Health Law journal would receive unobstructed funding  (effectively so long as it was less funding than the Law Review) and they would both act as a unified bloc when confronting anyone who may threaten to diminish the funds to either. The journals as a whole received a fixed amount of funding, and it was divvied up amongst the multitudes, as it were. So the more journals, the less funding to each one. This meant that a new player on the field was a threat to all, and everyone was immediately allied against you. To make matters ever more petty, both of these journals also had endowments which added to their totals. There were already a small assortment of lesser journals which were an affront to the Law Review adviser’s sensibilities, and the indignity of one more was just too much to bear.

This actually played out identically in tenure hiring as well. An incredibly well liked Tax professor was up for tenure. They had done some amazing work and had started up a truly unique program at the law school. They apparently tipped their hand by presenting an idea for the creation of a whole Tax specialty department at the law school. The other departments were threatened by the possibility of a reduction in their funding, and lo and behold the Tax professor was kicked to the curb by a voting bloc of faculty who were trying to get rid of competition to their meager funding, as opposed to trying to make the law school better. Before you side too much with the ‘meager funding’ crowd, it might be valuable to know these entrenched professors were making over $200K per… so, you know… meager.

Getting back on track though… The adviser then addressed the second issue. He told me he felt the new leader of the journal was not doing a good job. He agreed with my complaints. And he said there was nothing that could be done, because… if a complaint was put forward, it would end up before none other than the faculty adviser of the Law Review, he also just happened to be the Academic Dean who oversaw complaints; who would then seize upon the opportunity to shut down the competition. Our adviser looked at me and said “Go ahead and make a complaint, but know that if you do it will end the journal.” He then thanked me for bringing it to his attention, and that was the end of our conversation. At one point in time, I had held this professor in high regard… not so much thereafter.

My involvement with the journal waned a bit thereafter. I still participated, but I cut my time commitment way, way back.

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