Combovers, Push-Up Bras and a Wad of Singles: How to Act Like You’ve Got More Than You Have

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Ross Davies (George Mason) (not pictured above) has updated his study of law reviews, Law Review Circulation, 2009 Green Bag Alm. 164.   His 2010 update,   Law Review Circulation 2009: The Combover,    2010 Green Bag Alm. 419, adds circulation data for law reviews at Texas, UCLA, USC and Washington Univeristy, as well as the Tax Law Review (NYU) and Law and Contemporary Problems (Duke).

In both studies, Davies uses US Postal Service filings to document the total paid circulation for the journals.    He especially takes on the puffery of the Harvard Law Review’s website, noting that the website boasts far greater “circulation” than it reports to the USPS.   As Davies says, one explanation might be that:

HLR‘s circulation is whatever the HLR can convince you it is….The HLR, like all law reviews, operates within a larger world driven in substantial part by USNews rankings and related culture.    It is a world in which some law school leaders: that is, the people in charge of teaching law review editors and otherstudents about the law, its practice, and its values : are committed to being in the elite, to being highly ranked, even if that means also being not fully forthright about the numbers on which rankings are based.

“Combover” is such a great description of the phenomenon, not limited to Harvard, of journals claiming to have more circulations than they actually do!    Major kudos to Ross Davies for that metaphor.   I really did laugh out loud.

The National Law Journal reports here on Davies’ study.   (Unfortunately, the NLJ reporter didn’t seem to get the humor of Davies’s title, or if she did, she didn’t mention it.)   In that article, Davies suggests as possible causes for the drop-off in law review circulation the greater availability of open-source and/or electronic versions of articles  and a decline in appeal/relevance of law review articles to judges and practicing lawyers.

As for me, I know that once I discovered HeinOnLine, I never went back to  reading the print journals.   Electronic versions are the reality of contemporary legal scholarship.   Law reviews should just admit it.   Combovers, push-up bras and flashy wads of singles are so 1990’s.

-Bridget Crawford

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