Law reviews are biased in favor of publishing their own faculty and that bias hurts the quality of the articles selected for publication. Those are the conclusions of a new article by Albert Yoon entitled "Editorial Bias in Legal Academia," forthcoming in the Journal of Legal Analysis. The paper has three key findings:
- law reviews are systematically biased in favor of publishing articles by their own faculty
- the bias in favor of publishing the school's own faculty results in lower quality articles
- faculty tend to publish their lower quality articles in their own school's law reviews
These conclusions probably will not come as a surprise to many legal academics who have long suspected that a faculty member's own law review tends to become a "home" for unusually low-quality articles. However, suspicion is not the same as evidence, and this paper is valuable because it provides evidence of the bias. Even if you are not shocked by the basic conclusions, however, you will still find a wealth of interesting and surprising information in the paper. For example, it appears that the rank of a school affects the amount of editorial bias toward its own faculty members, but that the effect is not a straightforward linear one. Similarly, it appears that the author's status as tenured or pretenured is related to the degree of bias, in ways that may say more about professors' incentives than editorial bias.
The author concludes with a detailed and thoughtful exploration of the possible causes of editorial bias. Are students being pressured by their home-school professors? Are they seeking to curry favor with their home-school professors? The article discusses these and other potential explanations.
I can't let this opportunity slip by without pointing out the absurdity of not having a mandatory peer review process for legal scholarship. Yes, there are problems with the peer-review process too, but none that compare to the craziness of law review submissions. The paper did examine one peer-reviewed legal journal, The Journal of Legal Studies, and did not find an editorial bias in favor of Chicago faculty. It would be very valuable to have more data on this issue, but there are so few law journals with rigorous peer review that it would be difficult.
Albert Yoon's article is worth a close study by anyone interested in legal scholarship.If you are interested in law review rankings and citations in general, check out my compilation of Google's law review rankings, Google's article rankings, information about Google's law review rankings in general, and the updated Google data here.