In gardening and botanical terminology, a volunteer is a plant that grows on its own, rather than being deliberately planted by a human farmer or gardener. Volunteers often grow from seeds that float in on the wind, are dropped by birds, or are inadvertently mixed into compost before it is used.All of which raises the question: Why not switch to all-volunteer law reviews?
Unlike weeds, which are unwanted plants, a volunteer may be encouraged once it appears, being watered, fertilized, or otherwise cared for.
Volunteers that grow from the seeds of specific cultivars do not reliably "come true", and often differ significantly from the parent. Such open pollinated plants, if they show desirable characteristics, may be selected to become new cultivars.
This is a proposal made six months ago by Paul Horwitz. In an effort to mediate MoneyLaw's ongoing debate between Jeff Harrison and Orin Kerr, Anthony Ciolli of First Movers implicitly endorses Paul Horwitz's proposal. In the commentary on Anthony's post, fellow First Mover N.J.L.S. demurs:
Membership in a selective journal -- as opposed to an open membership journal -- signals to employers the applicant is a motivated self starter, with an eye to improving critical skill sets. The application process also signals to employers that the member's written product garners the respect of peers. Both are efficient indicators that employers can and should consider in extending offers to interview.As much as I admire N.J.L.S., whose Urban Law Journal is one of the most thoughtful blogs on law (without regard to professional or student-written status), my instinct is to side with Paul Horwitz on this issue. Paul's analysis is extensive, and any effort to summarize it here will not do it justice. But this one quote from Paul's proposal captures its spirit, given how true the sentiment rings across the entire range of issues that MoneyLaw endeavors to address:
The legal academy . . . is ostensibly reformist in orientation but actually highly conservative, especially when it comes to maintaining those status markers that have served them so well.Ye gods, Paul. I wish I'd written that.
Ultimately, this is a debate that can be settled at relatively little cost. If I had, say, a spare $12,000 or $15,000 in an annual budget, plus the power to grant a law school's institutional imprimatur, I'd set up something called the Volunteer Law Review. True to its name, the VLR would grant membership to any upper-level law student who wants it and is willing to work to keep it. Its open-admission status would guarantee that the VLR lacked the prestige of its selective-membership counterparts among student-edited law journals. On the other hand, the lack of prestige guarantees that the students who show up are doing so strictly for the love of the game. Who knows what this corner of the garden might generate? Perhaps nothing. But for roughly a tenth of a tenured law professor's salary, I sure would like to find out.