For most of the history of law teaching, the law review article was generally considered the highest form of legal scholarship, at least among academics. Moreover, publications in one of the top journals was synonomous with quality. This was true despite the fact that top law reviews often had a demonstrated bias for taking articles from their own faculty. Nonetheless, it was the system and it was influential. Reputation, tenure, and elevation among the hierarchy of law schools often turned upon the number of law review articles and their placement in top journals.
The digital age has, however, eroded this system, although many are not yet fully aware of this. While placement in a top journal remains di rigueur for academics, it has become less important to those actually relying on the work. To the extent the paper is posted on one of the online services such as SSRN, anyone with a browser can find it, whether its in the Harvard or the Alaska Law Review (published by Duke by the way). Decision makers (judges, legislators, regulators) are less interested in the where of publication and more interested in the what of teh contents (the type and quality of the analysis).
The digital age has also raised another concern with respect to law reviews. In a digital age, they are slow, glacially slow. For those articles designed to be written for the ages, the delay between submission and publication is probably not very important, even in the digital age. The works of a Karl Llewellyn or a Justice Brandeis would likely have the same influence. But for many scholars, the work will likely have a more immediate and short lived impact. In those circumstances, a delay in publication matters.
Blogging has provided some competition. It represents a mechanism in the digital age that allows for rapid analysis in a place that can be easily located. Blogging can involve extensive discussions of cases or issues that rival those in law reviews. (This Blog, for example, often has multiple part series on the same case or development). As a result, blog posts are frequently cited in law review articles and by courts. Although now a bit dated, take a look at the data in Of Empires, Independents, and Captives: Law Blogging, Law Scholarship, and Law School Rankings.
But blogs have disadvantages. For one thing, life on the Internet is a state of nature that Thomas Hobbes would recognize. There are fewer rules and accepted conventions. For another, blog posts do not get the benefit of cite checking and other student provided editing services associated with law reviews. (This Blog, however, does have a student review process for student posts).
Which brings us to what I describe as "Intermediate Scholarship," something most apparent from online journals. We'll pick this up in the next post.