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About This Journal

The History of the California Law Review

The California Law Review was founded in 1912. At that time the Review was the first student law journal published west of Illinois. The publication of this, the ninth law review in the country, prompted the venerable Dean Wigmore of Northwestern University to condemn the proliferation of law reviews that was suffocating legal debate.

The original purposes of the Review were modest. The first editor-in-chief, Orrin McMurray (a Boalt professor, and later Boalt’s dean), stated that the Review would concentrate on California law. “It is not expected that the Review will occupy a place by the side of the great national reviews of this country and of Europe, but it is hoped, that it may in a slight degree, meet the needs . . . presented in California and the other Pacific Coast states.” McMurray added that he hoped the Review would take the lead in “the inevitable development of a western type of jurisprudence.”

The impetus for the Review appears to have come from faculty members who desired a forum for their legal articles. The chief architects of the Review were turn-of-the-century California progressives who saw the Review as a vehicle for law reform. Accordingly, early issues focused primarily on critiquing proposed California legislation. As time passed, the faculty board of editors encouraged the Review to adopt a national focus.

From 1912 to 1939, the faculty contributed extensively to the content and process of Review operations. During much of this period, there were more faculty than student names on the masthead. Until 1940, student contributions were limited to short casenotes. The faculty chose Review members solely on the basis of grades, and membership was mandatory. The faculty also solicited and edited all articles. The faculty board of editors was the source of many of the articles published. Faculty and students worked closely in the early years, and before World War II, popular professors such as Roger Traynor (later Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court) spent many hours chatting with students in the Review office and suggesting topics for new Review pieces.

After the war, there was much discussion of new directions for the Review. As Boalt and the Review grew in national prominence, observers and participants worried that the Review was not professional enough (see Nussbaum, 7 J. LEGAL ED. at 381), too professional (see Cane, 31 J. LEGAL ED. 215, 230), too elitist (id.), not elite enough (1976 Review of the California Law Review), too demanding of the editors (Cane, above), and not demanding enough of the editors (see Review, above; Lee, 9 J. LEGAL ED. 223).

Gradually, the editing of the Law Review was completely turned over to the students. As a further change from the practices of the past, one law review member in 1974 undertook to change the selection criteria from grades to a writing competition. Although he received no support from the faculty or, for that matter, from his Law Review colleagues, he took his case to the student body as a whole, which in a poll conducted by the student newspaper, The Suspended Sentence, voted in favor of a writing competition by a 2-to-1 margin.

Since then, the Review has continued to flourish. In independent surveys of attorneys, professors, and judges conducted in 1967, 1975, and 1986, the California Law Review ranked in the top ten journals in the nation in terms of value as a legal research tool. CLR was the sixth most frequently cited review in the country. In addition, several CLR articles were ranked among the fifty most cited legal articles in history. Finally, an exhaustive study conducted in 1986 found that CLR ranked third in state court citations and tenth among all courts, including the United States Supreme Court.

Interesting people who have published with us include California Supreme Court Justices Roger Traynor, Matthew Tobriner, Rose Bird, and Stanley Mosk; United States Supreme Court Justices Harlan Fiske Stone, William O. Douglas, and Chief Justice Earl Warren; Professors Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong, Harriet Spiller Daggett, Derrick Bell, William Prosser, Jan Vetter, Herma Hill Kay, Archibald Cox, Richard Posner, Stefan Riesenfeld, and Mel Eisenberg; and renowned San Francisco attorneys Melvin Belli, Herman Phleger, Max Thelen, and Warren Pillsbury.

Men and women have shared the Review’s masthead since the very first issue. The Review boasts as its alumni Chief Justice Roger Traynor ( former Editor-in-Chief), Chief Justice Earl Warren, Chief Justice Rose Bird, Barbara Armstrong (the first female law professor in the United States), Justice Allen Broussard, and defense attorneys Tony Serra and Michael Tigar.