I have yet to write a review of a book on contract drafting, and I don’t expect I ever will. Any such review would inevitably be less than a full-throated endorsement. If the author is a friend, they would be disappointed; if the author isn’t a friend, they would likely be more than disappointed; and readers of the review might suspect that I was interested in denigrating the competition.
But it seems that I’m not the only one not writing reviews of legal texts, as opposed to reviews of general-interest or policy-based books about the law. No journal or blog reviewed the second edition of MSCD. And it has been years since I encountered in passing a review of any law book that I would be inclined to consult regularly. Of the few book reviews I do encounter, a large proportion are of the superficial “this is a useful contribution to the literature” variety.
As an objective test, I did an online search for recent book reviews in one likely outlet, the New York Law Journal. It yielded slim pickings.
There are of course Amazon reviews, but they hardly take up the slack.
A serious review written by someone knowledgeable in the field can be valuable. Relying on a legal text is necessarily a leap of faith, and most readers aren’t going to be in a good position to make an informed decision as to which voice they should heed in the clamorous marketplace of ideas. An informed review can reduce the amount of faith required of a reader.
So I think there would be a place for an online review of law books. It would be overseen by an energetic volunteer editor, and the reviews would be written by lawyers at law firms, company law departments, and law schools. Maybe two or three lawyers could write separate reviews of a given text, if it were significant enough.
I’m aware that dwindling reader interest and evaporating advertising revenues have killed off almost all book-review sections in newspapers. But that trend needn’t apply to a review of legal texts: Nothing constrains a general-interest reader from casting aside a novel in favor of television, social media, or browsing at the vast online buffet, but lawyers will always need legal texts, whether in print or online.