Skip to main content

Like 'American Idol,' online project kicks off unpopular legal arguments

In a radically new interactive approach to legal scholarship, more than 100 leading scholars are debating the fundamental questions of modern criminal law through a law professor's version of the TV show "American Idol."

Professor Stephen P. Garvey of Cornell Law School, along with Paul Robinson of Pennsylvania Law School and Kimberly Ferzan, professor and associate dean at Rutgers School of Law-Camden, are the guiding professors in a 10-month online effort to create a new method of processing scholarship. In this new project, called Criminal Law Conversations, authors of the top-rated essays can defend their ideas against criticism from the judges, who are other law professors. The essays that receive too few votes get kicked off the stage, which in reality is the University of Pennsylvania Law School Web site, which hosts the project.

The selected essays will be included in an Oxford University Press book to be published next year.

"Too often opposing advocates talk past each other," said Robinson, co-editor of Criminal Law Conversations with Garvey and Ferzan. "You could say that this brings peer review to legal scholarship, but it's more like peer-in-your-face."

So far, 120 scholars are participating, nominating several dozen scholarly works for discussion, based on the relevancy and compelling nature of the pieces. The author of a nominated work will produce a 4,000-word core text that summarizes his or her thesis, to which four to 10 scholars will then write 800-word criticisms. The original author will reply to the critiques, with these "conversations" making up the published book.

Any full-time law professor anywhere in the world can join the Web site, nominate his or her own work or the work of others, and volunteer to comment on nominated works.

A visitor to the site can monitor the nominations, the essays and the responses.

Leading topics currently under consideration include:

"We are looking for well-written, accessible arguments about enduring ideas that will have an audience beyond criminal law scholars and will remain interesting to readers for a decade to come," Ferzan said.

"We are doing this in light speed for our business," Garvey said. "Scholars already are excited by the give and take, and the papers and critiques will make these issues more accessible to students and others."

The response has been so positive, Oxford University Press is considering applying this model to other areas of the law and other fields of scholarship.

Media Contact

Nicola Pytell