Through the Looking Glass: Law Journals Unmasked

Student-edited law journals are fascinating creatures, but they are mysterious even to many of the law students who help publish them. What is the tradition behind an intimidating writing competition? Why are associates selected by way of arcane algebra? How does an article move from an academic’s desktop to a law journal’s acquisitions inbox to a certain group of students who chose to publish some articles over others? Where should I begin?

“‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on until you come to the end: then stop.’” What a marvelous idea! So I begin at the beginning, with a brief history of law journals. The student-edited law journal was not an easy thing to start and sustain, and student groups at both Columbia and Albany had failed, when a group of intrepid youth at Harvard Law decided to give it a try in 1887. The students marketed the law journal as a way to increase the school’s publicity and prestige, providing a compilation of student essays and professor-written articles. With the not inconsequential backing of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association, the Harvard Law Review was born.

Luckily for the law journal, the Harvard students approached a professor at a particularly opportune time. Since law schools were no longer rare, professors at top-notch institutions were looking for ways to distinguish their schools. Seeking to enhance the school’s reputation, as well as their own, while adding legitimacy to the institution of the law school (since many lawyers were being trained at law firms in lieu of legal education during the time period, the law school was far from the well-established education institution we know and love today), professors were open to a printed medium that would provide publicity and a link to strengthen their relationship with the very essential alumni, without whom the schools would not be nearly as well-funded. Technological advances in the publishing world that made printing faster and less expensive, and, since all law schools obviously want to be like Harvard, schools all over the country formed their own law journals. Now, almost if not all accredited law schools in the country have law journals, and some have several.

Cornell jumped on the law journal bandwagon in 1915 with the Cornell Law Review, originally known as Cornell Law Quarterly. Now, the Cornell Law Review publishes some of the nation’s finest scholarship on a bi-monthly schedule. It was followed by the International Law Review in 1967, founded by members of the Cornell Society of International Law. It publishes three times a year and hosts a springtime symposium annually in Ithaca. Finally, the Journal of Law and Public Policy (JLPP) joined the ranks in 1991, with its three annual publications quickly making it one of the leading public policy journals in the nation. Now all three esteemed journals are hard at work to make sure these publications come out in a timely manner.

In order to delve more deeply into the history of JLPP, I spoke with Sue Pado, our administrative assistant. Ms. Pado has only been with JLPP since January, but she did let me in on some interesting information. JLPP was founded in 1991 by a young woman named Karen D. Kemble, the very first editor-in-chief. There was no funding available, so Ms. Kemble raised the money to fund JLPP from a bake sale. Originally, the fledgling JLPP had no administrative assistant, so students did all of the work: bookkeeping, preparing the manuscripts, shipping them out to the publisher, etc. After 2000, JLPP shared an administrative assistant with the International Law Journal, and, after January, we now have our own. The original issue of JLPP was published in the spring of 1992, and Volume 1 had only one issue. The printed issues of JLPP used to alternate between green and blue covers, but, in Volume 20, the cover color was changed red in order to look more like Cornell’s other journals. The lucky students who worked on the first JLPP issues were able to join by merely indicating their interest, without participating in the grueling writing competition. Students aren’t nearly as lucky today, and students must participate in the writing competition in order to join, just like the other journals. In order to foster an innovative online community where law scholars could participate in discussion about the latest issues in law and public policy, JLPP started its blog in September of 2010, and the blog has been gaining popularity ever since.

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1 Comment

  1. Awesome Mys, I will be checking this out more.

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