Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Durham Statement

The "Durham Statement" has become a meme. And I can't imagine why. I understand the desire of law faculties to want their scholarship widely disseminated - even freely disseminated - but I can't understand why some have determined that this means that law reviews and law journals should cease being printed altogether.

Law journals and law reviews have long histories in legal academe. The quality of scholarship isn't what it once was, nor is the scholarship as important, but it's still the primary place for law professors and scholars to share their ideas and hash out new understandings of the law and our legal system. I think that the quality and importance has suffered partly because of the proliferation of law journals. Many schools have multiple journals with special interests and this has diluted the importance of scholarship. It's rare today for an article to be rejected altogether for publication. This has lead to a situation in which finding legal scholarship has become somewhat like finding cases: there are just too damn many of them to be of much use.

In the end, ceasing to publish in print the-already-too-many-journals is only going to dilute their importance further for two reasons: First, an online-only journal, no matter how you dress it up, will remain an online-only journal with all the cachet of a blog; and, Second, a trend toward online-only journals will most certainly facilitate the creation of new journals, diluting scholarship further.

The bottom line is this: Part of the value of articles published in these journals is that they are a record of a scholar's ideas and thoughts about a legal issue. The ideas may be inspirational, challenging, enlightening, wrong, controversial, revolutionary, evolutionary, or all of the above and more. But, part of the process of scholarship is committing them to "paper", or some medium in which the author can be held accountable and called to defend them. It doesn't necessarily have to be paper. But it must be in a format that is permanent. To date, nothing in any computer format can even begin to approach anything resembling the permanence of a printed book. Until then, an article published in electronic format only will only ever have the status of a blog or a wiki, neither of which, with all due respect, do not yet command the same respect of the printed word.