A Plea for Book Reviews within Law Journals

by: in Law

Law journals can inform the community about developments in legal science. Journals offer a public forum where networks can be formed and nurtured, growing around the publication of research findings and the discussion amongst peers, ultimately reaching intellectual consensus within a specific discipline.

[1] Journals, therefore, play a paramount role for the development of legal science and can well be considered laboratories where legal theory and practice interact.[2]

These repositories can be considered valuable sources. There, readers can find with ease information they may consider relevant.[3] Further, these periodicals can be considered mirrors of the cultural and social changes that shape society, tracking developments across time.[4] Accordingly, different volumes of law journals can display the evolution of different legal ideas and institutions.[5] It has been even claimed that law journals can disseminate ideas and in that process shape the development of law.[6]

Book Reviews as Platforms
Book review sections offer a platform where the legal community can outreach for new ideas and where it can trace developments in legal science. The attention to the contents of book reviews may help unveil the shifts on legal narratives and readership. In a book review a reader can start to find the answer to the fundamental question of: who does what, where and when?

Book reviews have two clear functions: to be informative and evaluative.[7] They are scholarly entities that generate and disseminate new scientific knowledge[8] while helping to visualize the process by which law is shaped and developed. Book reviews, likewise, keep authors informed of recent developments and can offer a fertile ground for scholarly debate.[9] Further, they can fulfil an important function for the development of library collections, since studies indicate that “there is a positive correlation between the number of book reviews that an individual title receives and the number of libraries that purchase that title for their collections.”[10] Ultimately, book reviews play a role within the scholarly communication process, offering a forum to assess critically new ideas and approaches.[11]

Journals must assist readers by drawing attention to recent publications in their book review sections. Reviewers must evaluate the place of a specific book within the disciplinary literature. Awareness of recent publications is paramount for the development of a discipline, and journals should aim to sample innovative and meritorious works to share with the wider community.

Moving Forward
The presence of book reviews in the field of law merits more attention.[12] These scholarly entities may unveil information by reporting on new scholarly developments that can be of interest for their readership.[13] Much can be learned from looking at book reviews.

Book review sections have been reduced in extension or have even disappeared from a number of journals. They have given way to the exclusivity of articles and case notes. This trend has isolated the journals from other important scholarly works and endeavours. It has neglected attention to the other forums in which scholars can elaborate their legal ideas, without the constraints of word limits and pressing deadlines. Books, when being collective volumes, also offer a space for scholars to engage in academic dialogue. Journals should inform readers of these developments in the different fields of study. Book review sections can therefore offer an easy access point to legal information, hence offering the necessary tools for the development of legal science.

Studies on legal culture can benefit from the existence of digital archives that allow for a holistic approach to the contents of book review sections.[14] Research can now delve into the different narratives at different times, identifying networks of scholars and the circulation of legal ideas. The contents of book review sections offers a playfield where snapshots of law can be taken at different times and places.

Journals should advocate for the proliferation of book review sections. Faculties of law and the legal community at large should value the writing of book reviews. These academic entities should be considered when assessing career promotions and the academic output of scholars. Scholars have the duty to be updated with the developments in their fields and book reviews will be many times a key to that information. Book reviews offer a valuable service to the entire legal community. Legal science can only but benefit from the proliferation of critical and objective book reviews. They can alert on the merits of the vast legal literature that develops daily across the globe. A plea for book reviews is therefore needed and should be endorsed!

[1]. Ylva Lindholm-Romantschuk, Scholarly Book Reviewing in the Social Sciences and Humanities: The Flow of Ideas Within and Among Disciplines 55 (1998).

[2]. Paolo Grossi, Las revistas jurídicas: un vacío historiográfico que es necesario colmar, in La revista jurídica en la cultura contemporánea 21, 24 (Víctor Tau Anzoátegui ed 1997).

[3]. Abelardo Levaggi, El Código Penal argentino de 1922 comentado por el diario La Nación (1917-1924), 82 Revista de Derecho de la Universidad Católica de Perú 9, 10-11 (2019).

[4]. Sebastiaan Vandenbogaerde, They Entered without any Rumour. Human Rights in the Belgian Legal Periodicals, 4 Goettingen Journal of International Law 291, 292 (2012).

[5]. María Rosa Pugliese, Las revistas jurídicas: un instrumento didáctico para el estudio de la evolución del derecho en la Argentina, 25 Academia 75, 79 (2015).

[6]. See generally Sebastiaan Vandenbogaerde, Vectoren van Het Recht: Geschiedenis van de Belgische Juridische Tijdschriften (2018); Sebastiaan Vandenbogaerde, From Mirror to Vector. An Impossible Step?, 37 Cahiers du CRHIDI (2015); and Sebastiaan Vandenbogaerde, Belgian Legal Journals (17th-20th Century). Legal, Political and Cultural Challenges. Introduction, 37 Cahiers du CRHIDI 2015.

[7]. Girolamo Tessuto, Investigating English Legal Genres in Academic and Professional Contexts 231 (2012).

[8]. Amanda Spink et al., Use of Scholarly Book Reviews: Implications for Electronic Publishing and Scholarly Communication, 49 Journal of the American Society for Information Science 364, 364 (1998).

[9]. Id.

[10]. Juris Dilevko et al., Investigating the Value of Scholarly Book Reviews for the Work of Academic Reference Librarians, 32 The Journal of Academic Librarianship 452, 453 (2006).

[11]. Id.

[12]. Tessuto, supra note 7, at 230.

[13]. Id. at 231.

[14]. Sean Latham & Robert Scholes, The Rise of Periodical Studies, 121 PMLA 517 (2006) (referring to law journals).

  • A. Parise

    Agustín Parise (Buenos Aires, Argentina) is Associate Professor of Law and Chair of the Faculty Council at the Faculty of Law of Maastricht University. He received his degrees of LL.B. (abogado) and LL.D. (doctor en derecho) at Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina), where he was Lecturer in Legal History during 2001-2005. He received his degree of LL.M.

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