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Boston College Law Review Celebrates 50 Years

by jan wolfe

It was in 1959 that then-Dean of Boston College Law School Robert Drinan created the school’s first major student-run journal, the Boston College Industrial and Commercial Law Review, later renamed the Boston College Law Review. To commemorate hitting the half-century mark, the Law Review has published a fiftieth anniversary issue with a special foreword by Editor-in-Chief John A. Kupiec, ’09, available online now.


John Gordon, Manager of Law Review Publications and himself an editor of the Law Review when he attended BC Law, described publicizing the anniversary as something of a catch-22. “On the one hand, celebrating a fiftieth anniversary draws attention to the fact that we haven’t been around as long as some of the most esteemed law reviews,” he said. “But on the other hand, for a relatively young journal to have come as far as we have, and to be ranked where we are, is worth recognizing.”

Gordon mentioned Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s citation of a Boston College Law Review article in a 2004 decision as a milestone for the publication. The journal has over the years published the work of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Professor Martha Minow, Professor Edward J. Imwinkelried, and John Bogle, the retired CEO of Vanguard Investments.

Attracting more of these high-profile authors is an obvious priority, said Kupiec, because of the prestige and built-in readership these names bring with them. But he added that at this stage in the journal’s history it has much to gain from discovering up-and-coming talent in the legal profession.

“We serve a vital role by publishing these young scholars who are very eager to get their ideas out there,” he said, and it is in the organization’s interest to build a relationship with them at this early stage in their careers.

Kupiec said that the Law Review’s much-debated shift from a “grade-on” admissions system to a hybrid grade-on and writing contest approach last year has paid off. A bigger staff has helped the organization keep pace with its ambitions, he said, and the hybrid approach “captures some students that might not have made the grade cut but have certain important skill sets to contribute.”

In addition to upping the caliber of the scholarship it publishes, the current staff – one of the largest ever – is committed to increasing the sheer number of articles and student notes published in each issue. “The more articles we feature, and the wider the range of topics they cover, the more new readership we reach,” said Kupiec. Because most national rankings of law reviews are based on how often a journal is cited in judicial opinions and law review articles, increasing the number of articles in each issue will have the added benefit of solidifying the Law Review’s place in the top twenty-five, said Gordon.

The dawn of the Internet age has already had a transformative impact on the Law Review. When Gordon worked for the journal in the late 1980s it had roughly 1500 subscribers. Now only 600 people receive the journal in the mail. But as revenue from subscriptions has waned, royalties from online databases like Lexus Nexus and Westlaw have skyrocketed. Gordon said that these royalty checks now sustain much of the journal’s operating budget. “There is already something quaint about all this,” he said while holding up galleys he had received in the mail that day from a printing press. “It’s tantalizing to think about what will happen in the next twenty-five years.”

Kupiec said that his staff is always on the lookout for newly created online databases. “We won’t be able to predict exactly what direction the field is headed in, but if we stay on the forefront of different projects, some of these bets will pay off.”

Despite this sea change in how law reviews disseminate information, the articles themselves have remained relatively unchanged. Gordon does however see a definite trend toward shorter, punchier articles, due in part to the trickle down effects of the Harvard Law Review’s imposition of a word limit on article submissions in the 1990s.  Gordon also said the Law Review is increasingly committed to the symposium format, in which a day-long symposium is accompanied by a special issue of the Law Review on the same topic. The next symposium, on the First Amendment and the Internet, is planned for April.

Whatever direction the journal takes in the future, Kupiec said it must continue to serve as a uniquely beneficial supplement to students' legal education.  “At no other stage in your legal education will you have this chance to be on the cutting edge of thought in one specific area of the law, as opposed to just a general survey,” he said.  “Law review trains you not just to think, but to implement in the future.”

Jan Wolfe is a first-year student at BC Law and former BC Heights Editor.