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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Underneath the Law Review Submission Process: Part XI More Advice for Law Review Articles Editors

For my final post on the law review submission process, (see intro, part I and part II on timing of submissions,part III interview, part IV interview, part V interview and part VI interview, part VII expedites, part VIII memes, part IX fall submission timing and part X advice for articles editors if you are interested) I am going to share some advice for law review articles editors from two professors that I respect, Ed Cheng (Vanderbilt), former articles chair at Harvard Law Review and Josh Douglas (Univ. of Kentucky), former articles editor at George Washington Law Review.

I found both of these interviews extremely insightful and I hope you all (and your articles editors) do as well. In case you don't take the time to read both interviews, I want to point out two common themes that came out in both interviews.

1. The best articles are well-situated within a field. Creating original scholarship does not mean that an author is the only one who has ever thought of the idea or topic.

2. Blind/anonymous review (no CV, no first footnote) is the best way to go. Articles editors: Be brave. Do it.

A few other things I found to be extremely good tips (from Josh)--make sure to communicate everything to authors, including rejections and let us know why you rejected us (we can take it, see previous part VIII meme if you want proof).  I would add to this, especially if an author makes it to final board review just let them know why you decided to reject the article (this can be brief--this piece is not as clear/well-written/important as others, we already have too many intellectual property pieces, etc.)

First, my interview with Ed Cheng:

SB: What are some considerations you (or other editors at Harvard Law Review) made in deciding which    articles to publish?  (If you want to briefly describe the process if that is helpful you can)


EC: HLR's process, at least back in 2000, was quite involved, and arguably minimized mistakes at the cost of lost opportunities.  All submissions were given an initial read by an editor, who would write a short memo and assign a score from 1 to 5.  Thereafter, articles committee officers would decide whether to take the piece to subsequent stages, which included review by one or two articles committee members individually, full committee read, and finally a full board read.  Prior to the full board vote, we would obtain at least one faculty review and an editor would perform a literature review. 

 Considerations fell along lines that one would expect.  Obviously, we tried to choose the best pieces of the year, meaning seminal pieces that would likely have lasting influence in legal scholarship.  Along these lines, we worried a lot about creativity and originality.

SB: As an accomplished academic, now several years away from your law review experience, how might        you change the criteria you used to select articles?  Do you have a different idea of what makes good scholarship now than you did as an editor?  If so, how did it change?

 EC: The major thing I would change is the perspective that we had on "preemption."  Obviously, no journal wants to publish a mere rewrite of a previous article, but beyond that, good scholarship generally    occurs incrementally, and true jumps are extremely rare.  Indeed, one might argue that a seemingly pathbreaking article is more likely to be doing a poor literature review than to be what it purports. 

SB: What do you think are some best practices for editors as far as the substance of the articles they pick or the process they use to select articles?

EC: Perhaps the most important "best practice" is blind review.  Editors may inevitably want to consider an author's CV in making the final decision (and even here, I would argue against it), but at a minimum, do the first read of the manuscript without expectation bias. 

SB: Any words of wisdom to impart to articles editors?


EC: Enjoy it.  The year you spend as an article editor will give you a picture of the scholarly world that will stay with you for years to come.  For me, the year as articles chair was arguably the most important of my academic career.

And now, my interview with Josh Douglas:

SB: What are some considerations you (or other editors at GW Law Review) made in deciding which articles to publish?  (If you want to briefly describe the process if that is helpful you can)
 
JD: When I was an articles editor we had three basic stages of review.  First, an articles editor would review each piece.  Second, if the articles editor liked it, we would pass it on to the Senior Articles Editor for review.  Finally, if the Senior Articles Editor liked it, he would pass it on to the Editor-in-Chief, and together (in consultation with the original Articles Editor who reviewed the piece), they would make the decision to offer publication.  They also sometimes would ask a GW professor to review a piece if it made it to this stage but the editors were not very familiar with the topic.

Regarding considerations, the main thing we looked for was good legal scholarship that was interesting, well-researched, and would generate citations.  I know that's pretty vague, but there was honestly no magic bullet for us--we just looked for the best possible articles, measured in terms of the quality of the substance and research.  By the way, cover letters and CVs were usually not very relevant to our consideration.

SB: As an accomplished academic, now several years away from your law review experience, how might you change the criteria you used to select articles?  Do you have a different idea of what makes good scholarship now than you did as an editor?  If so, how did it change?

JD: I think I would not put as much focus on the first few pages and the roadmap of the article as we did.  When reviewing an article initially, if it did not catch me by the roadmap I would not pass it on to the next level.  I also would look to the roadmap to tell me exactly what the author was proposing.  That may have been too myopic.  Granted, this was a shortcut to weed through the hundreds of articles we reviewed.  But perhaps I would read the solution part of the article instead of the intro and roadmap--after all, the solution is where authors spend the most time honing their arguments.
 
Regarding good scholarship, I don't think I realized when I was an editor the importance of engaging the current scholarship and placing your work within that scholarship.  I think I was too interested in new solutions to legal problems and not as focused on how the piece fit into the existing scholarship.  I would encourage articles editors not to lose sight of an author's need to bring readers up to speed on current work in the area and the goal of situating the author's piece within that framework.

SB: What do you think are some best practices for editors as far as the substance of the articles they pick or the process they use to select articles?

JD: Staying in close communication with the author, even if it's a rejection, is really important.  It's amazing to me how many journals simply never respond to a submission or an expedite request.  I honestly can't tell you whether we did a good job of this on the GW Law Review, but as an author I know how important it is to know the status of the review at as many of the journals as possible. 

In addition, if an article makes it to the final stages of review but ultimately does not generate an offer, it would be really nice for the editors to tell the author why precisely they passed on the piece.  We're adults--we can take your criticisms if it will help us improve our scholarship.  I'm sure we did not do this on the GW Law Review, but in retrospect I wish we had. 

SB: Any words of wisdom to impart to articles editors?

JD: We know that you have an almost impossible job in reviewing hundreds of submissions in a very short time period.  I remember that spring break week very well--pretty much all I did was read articles.  That said, I don't think I realized back then how opaque the process is from the author's side.  When I was an articles editor I just figured that professors knew exactly what was going on with the review process.  We don't.  Communicate as openly as you can with authors throughout the entire process, even if you ultimately reject the piece.
 
SB: Any thoughts on how to improve the law review submission process generally?

JD: It might be useful to have all journals require anonymous submission.  I will admit that we looked at the "star" footnote to see who the author was, and who the author thanked for reviewing the piece.  If we recognized the names we gave the article a closer look.  Now that I am on this side of things I don't think that's fair.  Many of the "top" law reviews have gone to an anonymous submission process, and I can see the benefits of making this more widespread.

Posted by Shima Baradaran on May 1, 2012 at 10:35 AM | Permalink

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