Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Legal Philosophy Journals

A reader writes:

I am wondering whether you can address the issue of legal philosophy journals - what journals are out there; how, if at all, are they ranked; what is the academic politics involved etc. I believe that is an issue that has not been discussed.

I am an informed, though far from neutral, observer on this topic.  I'll acccept non-anonymous comments, below. 

Two high-visibility, and highly selective, philosophy journals publish work in legal philosophy:  Ethics and Philosophy & Public Affairs.  I think those two are probably the most prestigious fora for work in philosophy of law, but they don't publish a lot of it, and many quite important papers appear elsewhere.  Historically, PPA was very much an "insider's" journal, with even bad work by the editors or friends of the editors, being published.  I gather the current editor, Charles Beitz, has improved the editorial practices to make them more impartial and responsible.

There are then four journals with some visbility that publish primarily work in legal philosophy (and sometimes cognate topics):  Legal Theory (which I edit with Larry Alexander and Jules Coleman), Law & Philosophy, Ratio Juris, and Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence.  In addition, the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies (OJLS) publishes a fair bit of work in legal philosophy.  Ratio Juris is, in my judgment, the weakest of these five.  Unsurprisingly, I view Legal Theory as the best, though OJLS is usually just as good when it comes to publishing work in legal philosophy.  But Law & Philosophy has been around longer, and still publishes a lot of good work.  (As some objective evidence in support of my non-objective opinion, let me note that on several occasions articles that Legal Theory rejected appeared in one of these other journals (except OJLS)) 

More recently, USC has created an on-line journal, The Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, which has also been publishing some legal philosophy.  It's too soon to say whether this journal will perform competitively with Legal Theory and Law and Philosophy, but as the title of the journal suggests, they also run quite a lot of work in moral and political philosophy so far. 

Please post comments only once; they may take awhile to appear.  No anonymous comments on this thread.

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I think what you say is entirely correct, Brian--as you know, I too am a paid subscriber to Legal Theory. I know you are no impartial observer of law reviews either. Which do you (and others) see as the best for legal philosophy?

Posted by: Thom Brooks | Oct 19, 2006 4:45:23 AM

In my view, the only *law* review in which one can be pretty-much guaranteed that a paper in legal philosophy (a) will be peer-reviewed by people with significant expertise in the field (b) will not be wrecked by undergraduates (or what are in North America are called "graduates", i.e. JD/LLB students), and (c) will be assessed and appear in a reasonably timely fashion is the *Oxford Journal of Legal Studies*.

This is not to deny that in the good US law reviews, from time to time an excellent article in legal philosophy unaccountably slips through the net and into print more or less intact. (For instance, when the author is on the faculty that publishes the review in question.) All of the elite law reviews in schools with leading legal philosophers have, therefore, published some indispensable articles in legal philosophy.

Disclosure: I have nothing official to do with the OJLS; but I do have something official to do with many of the other specialist journals that Brian mentions as being good, and I also have something official to do with one general law review.

Posted by: Les Green | Oct 19, 2006 9:36:30 AM

This is what I had figured, although one does often find some terrific work in the student-edited law reviews. I suppose that whether or not a particular review published excellent work in legal philosophy may well have more to do with who is serving on the faculty than anything else.

Posted by: Thom Brooks | Oct 20, 2006 8:48:39 AM

The journal _Ethics and International Relations_
publishes, with fair regularity, interesting pieces on the philosophy of international law. (The most recent issue has a very interesting symposium on Larry May's new book on the philosophy of international criminal law, for example.) The majority of what it publishes isn't philosophy of law except in perhaps the most extended sense but such articles are not terribly rare, either, and often quite interesting.

Posted by: Matt | Oct 21, 2006 10:35:04 PM

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