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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Problem with August Submissions?

First, I want to thank Dan for inviting me to blog here this month.  I am a regular reader of Prawfs, and I am excited to join the conversation.  Over at The Faculty Lounge and on my own blog, Democracy and Distrust, I have been doing a series of posts (here, here, and here) designed to help new and untenured law professors become productive scholars and faculty members (read: get tenure).  Along these lines, a former articles editor from the University of Chicago Law Review is taking questions about the law review submission cycle over at Concurring Opinions.  Many people have asked great questions, ranging from what editors are looking for to whether it makes sense to submit off season.  So, in keeping with the spirit, I want to ask a question about law review submissions to the broader prawfs community. 

For a few years now, the general consensus seems to be that the August submission cycle is starting to disappear.  There is a lot of discussion on the blogs about this, although the anecdotal evidence tends to be mixed about the success of placing an article during the Fall cycle.  I am wondering if the August season is disappearing because it has become a trial run of sorts. 

So this is what I suspect is happening. 

Most professors have a written product in some form by the end of the summer, but for many, it is still a fairly rough draft that has not been workshopped extensively, if at all.  A lot of professors, particularly those who are tenured, do not need to invest the same amount of time in a piece as a younger professor, but for most of us, getting comments on drafts and workshopping a piece is an important part of the process.  Nonetheless, it seems to me that, since the boards of most law reviews will turn over in February, profs have nothing to lose by submitting a rough piece to law reviews in August in hopes of getting a bite.  If nothing happens, they can resubmit the piece in February to an entirely new board.  Here is the problem: Editors, realizing this to be the case, choose to fill most of their volumes in February-March because they suspect that not only will there be fewer pieces in August, but the quality of the pieces will also be significantly lower.

Am I right about this?  I often hear stories about there being fewer submissions in August, but I also wonder if there may be a quality difference as well.  I recognize that there are profs who wait until August to submit because they did not get a satisfactory placement in February.  So it seems to me like they will be the ones most injured by the practice of other professors of submitting first drafts in August.  Or alternatively, they may be helped by this practice because the competition will be weaker?  Its not clear to me which scenario has the most credence. 

There are also profs who happen to have a polished piece completed at the end of the summer and are faced with the choice of whether to wait until February or submit in August.  For new professors in particular, this is a tough choice because you want to get the best placement possible, which might mean submitting in February, but you also want to get pieces placed to show your faculty that you are writing and engaged in your respective field, which might mean submitting in August.  And submitting in August might also result in a better placement because there is less competition ... unless there is a presumption that August pieces are significantly lower quality.  Any thoughts?                 

Posted by Franita Tolson on August 9, 2011 at 11:36 AM in Law Review Review | Permalink

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Comments

I don't see August submissions dying at all. Seem to be alive and well.

Posted by: anon | Aug 9, 2011 11:47:51 AM

My personal experience is that August submissions are going strong. I've submitted and placed satsifactorily each of the last few Augusts. I haven't submitted yet this year, but know of two colleagues that submitted, received offers, and are currently in the expedite process.

Posted by: prawf | Aug 9, 2011 1:37:40 PM

How late into August (or even September) should you bother submitting? Or per Franita's "trial run" theory, is it sort of a deal where there is no downside to submitting even well into September because you can always just resubmit in the spring?

Posted by: Aspiring prawf | Aug 9, 2011 1:55:31 PM

Also, my experience is that some journals end up having an unexpectedly-large number of slots open in the Fall. They might make offers to a bunch of pieces in the Spring and lose them to expedites, or they might just have been unable to settle on whether the stuff they saw in the Spring was the best they would see all year. Those journals were then willing to take solid pieces they might otherwise have passed on in the fall, because they had a volume to fill. So it might be higher variance.

Posted by: WPB | Aug 9, 2011 3:56:55 PM

We didn't see August submissions as weaker at all - in fact, I thought a lot of them looked great. Honestly, I suspect a lot of LR editors aren't going to have profs' writing schedules in mind and won't think about whether these articles are rougher than spring submissions - they'll just take the submissions as they come. Given my LR's place in the food chain, actually, I think we hoped that August submissions would work in our favor, since fewer journals take August submissions and therefore we might not lose as many to expedites (we were a top-50 journal and we kept losing awesome articles to top-20 journals).

That said, the year I was involved, we didn't take any August submissions just because we were lucky enough to fill our volume by that point. (I think our successor board might be looking for one article for a variety of weird reasons - they were full, but I think someone had to back out.) Our big fear was not getting enough good pieces, so that was what drove us to offer often and early, and we didn't need anything in August.

Posted by: anon former LR editor | Aug 9, 2011 7:54:40 PM

My sense is that the ratio of open slots to good articles tends to be slightly lower in the fall than in the spring, mostly because a lot of journals fill up most of their slots in the spring when the editors are new. This makes the fall a good time for journals to snag good articles, but a relatively difficult time for good articles to get top placements.

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