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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Underneath the Law Review Submission Process: Part III Interviews with Those who Reject Us

For this next post on the law review submission process (see intro, part I, and part II on timing of submissions if you are interested), I interviewed a very thoughtful and engaged senior editor from the Stanford Law Review.  I have been extremely impressed in my interactions with the Stanford Law Review (despite—or maybe because of—their decision to take three of my articles to final board review and reject all of them).  So, in order to understand these rejections and learn from them, I thought it would be appropriate for Stanford Law Review to be my first interview.

My first interview is with 2011 senior articles editor, Andrew Prout.  Andrew picked his last article in November and with this year behind him, will answer some questions to help us better understand the process.  I enjoyed this interview and I think it is helpful for law professors who may want some feedback on how to improve their articles and submissions.  I also think understanding Stanford’s semi-blind review process (see below for details on this) is a good model for other law reviews to consider. 

SB: Andrew Prout, welcome back to Prawfsblawg and thanks for helping to further demystify the Law Review submission process.  Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, I wonder what pearls of wisdom you may have gained from the law review submission process that you may be able to share with us.  As professors, we are always trying to stay in touch with our reviewers and would love to hear your perspective on what we can generally do better.  Anything you noticed that you can pass along?

AP: I can't overstate the importance of a clear abstract and a strong introduction.  We want to know why your piece is relevant by the end of the first page.  And we want to know that you are easy to read:  Ideas in law seem complicated enough at times, so we love it when the writing isn't.

SB: If you can address article topic, that would be great.  Some of us believe that for instance, Intellectual property or corporate law pieces do not get as much love from top law reviews as constitutional law or pieces that discuss topics covered in the first year.  Is there any truth to this or do you specifically try to balance the topics and public/private law breakdown.

AP: It's true that con law pieces get a lot of love.  They tend to be the most accessible.  Their topics often come from issues with real political salience, and they also seemed to be some of the best pieces at explaining their relevance very early on.  But because there are so many good con law pieces, we raised the bar for con law articles as the year went on.  It was important for us to remain a "general" law review, so we needed non-con-law pieces.

SB: You started off reviewing articles in February 2011 and continued into November 2011.  Anything change for you during this time?  Did you find yourself focusing on different factors in your selection in November versus in February?

AP: About two months in, we realized we were con-law heavy.  That began a holistic shift to expect more from con law articles while actively promoting other genres in our committee meetings.

SB: We've all received those emails from law review editors telling us that you received thousands of submissions and that unfortunately, there are so many good ones . . . and you unfortunately can't accept ours.  Do you really think that putting a rejection in that context makes us feel better?  Kidding.  That's not the question.  The question is, how many of the manuscripts you receive do you think are of good quality or are from authors that you would potentially consider publishing?

AP: Most submissions were either not especially well-written or on a topic that didn't seem important, or they had a thesis that didn't seem novel.  I'd say about a fifth or so were good pieces, and among those, most of the selection process came down to personal taste.  Every once in awhile, an article stood out as amazing (and the whole committee realized it), but those articles were few and far between.

AP: In your question, you also mentioned "authors that [we] would potentially consider publishing."  The truth is, who the author was didn't matter to the committee's review process.  The way we ran our review, the only person who knew the author's identity was me, and I was the last to vote.  If a committee member happened to know the author's name, it was only because the author didn't follow the submission directions (which say not to include your name on the manuscript).  Otherwise, the committee members couldn't see the CV or cover letter, so they were just looking for articles they liked.

This is the first half of the interview, more on the nitty gritty of submissions in my next post.

Posted by Shima Baradaran on April 11, 2012 at 01:11 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Shima, thank you for this. This was very relevant for me, as one of my pieces went to a full committee read at Stanford, too. I had been under the impression that while the initial cut was blind, the full committee read was not. It is nice to know that even the latter is mostly blind. It certainly helps us authors at non-elite schools.

Posted by: Michael J.Z. Mannheimer | Apr 12, 2012 12:27:08 AM

These posts are very helpful. I was hoping you could also gather/share some info on law review policies regarding article length. I know that several of the top reviews have policies stating a preference for articles below 25K words, and no more than 35K. But if an article is longer, do they even read it? Does it depend on name/letterhead/etc.? Do they anticipate a cushion for length being added during the revision process?

Posted by: Anonymous | Apr 12, 2012 9:44:00 AM

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