Monday, June 04, 2012
Mission Impossible - Peer Reviewed Journal Version
Alright, while I'm still laughing at Marc's coinage, thinking about Orly's comment to her own post on citology, and considering, as I suggested, the reality that the production of legal scholarship is the primary means by which law professors advance in their chosen field, here's the question I was going to reserve for later in the month. Those (left) are gauntlets I'm throwing down.
A disclaimer first. I'm way out ahead of anybody in my home institution on this. If I or any member of my team is caught or captured, the deans will disavow any knowledge of my actions. But we've been approached, not for the first time, by students who would like to create a secondary, specialized law journal focused on the subject matter of our business law and financial services academic concentration. With my colleagues, I have resisted this in the past, believing that the world doesn't need another student-edited business law review.
But ... there are specialized journals that use students for editing and production, but which are nevertheless edited by law professors, and require that submissions go through blind peer review. The Journal of Law and Religion, which Marie Failinger edits out of Hamline, is a good example.
Here are my questions. If I, my students, and my institution (those are still big "ifs") were willing to step up to the plate and create an equivalent Journal of Law and Business, (a) would there be a market either for authors or readers? (b) if the answer to (a) is no, why not (e.g., topic, other publication outlets, quality of peer review, sufficiency of the present system, lack of significance to tenure committees, general ennui, really stupid idea)? (c) who of you would be willing to become editorial board members, and (d) who of you would commit to do quick blind review turnarounds? (Feel free to answer (a) and (b) in the comments, but you may contact me directly offline with regard to (c) and (d).)
My vision of such a journal includes the following (tentative elements):
- Double blind peer review.
- Quick turnaround (30-45 days).
- Exclusive submission, but timed in the off-season for general law review submissions (i.e. not in the spring or fall).
- A strict word limit, probably 10,000 words.
- Perhaps a mixed editorial board of academics and practitioners (this to address Orly's belief that legal scholarship in this area "can simultaneously do both," recognizing that transactional practice is even less amenable to the kind of doctrinal work that courts might use).
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Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on June 4, 2012 at 08:18 PM | Permalink
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I don't know if there's a market for such a journal but I'm curious how you think you'd get that fast of a turn-around. My impression (and experience) is that would be _very_ fast. There are some peer reviewed journals that make quick decisions on most papers, but mostly by having the editor reject most submissions w/o sending them to reviewers. Even journals with reputations of being quite fast often take 3 months or more for an initial decision, and that's assuming no "revise an re-submit", but as R&R-S is much more common in many fields than a flat acceptance, the time is almost always longer. So, I think you'd have a pretty hard time having such a short turn-around, especially if you'd send out most articles to referees. A few months might be more realistic, but still a lot of work.
Posted by: Matt | Jun 4, 2012 11:30:50 PM
When I started teaching law after teaching econ I dutifully sent out my first article to one journal. Finally someone clued me into the fact that this was different game completely. I think your proposal represents the ideal but I am not sure it is possible to get there from here. First. most of us are wedded to the idea of at least a shot at a high ranking review. So, I assume most of the works eventually submitted would have trickled down. Since everyone would know that, it may be even more difficult to get high quality submissions. Second, I think there is some skepticism about the competitiveness of specialty journals generally. In some cases, this is warranted and in other cases it is not. Third, it is possible that people publishing in law have legitimate concerns about peer review. Even in hard sciences there are "political" disputes between authors and referees. In law, is seems likely that this would be more pronounced. Could law professor referees maintain enough distance to regard a work with which they disagree as a "credible" work? Finally, are law profs really willing give up their institutional authority as required by the double blind submission which, by the way, most editors I have spoken to tell me is the first thing they check. I think a system in which each school had one journal like the one you propose would be great but it would be uphill.
Posted by: Jeff | Jun 4, 2012 11:57:03 PM
FWIW, there is a business law-focused, peer-reviewed publication already in existence, the American Business Law Journal, although it primarily caters to professors teaching law in business schools (not as a rule, I think, but just based on who submits most frequently).
Matt is of course correct that peer review is notoriously slow in other disciplines, but there is no reason that it has to be. Very few of us are so busy that we cannot make time to review an article within 6 weeks of being asked to do so. In my (limited) experience, the American Business Law Journal discussed above was able to turn around a decision based on double-blind, peer review in the 30-45 day time limit you propose.
Posted by: Anonymoose | Jun 5, 2012 8:11:53 AM
Jeff asks, "Finally, are law profs really willing give up their institutional authority as required by the double blind submission which, by the way, most editors I have spoken to tell me is the first thing they check."
The managing editor will still see an author's credentials (and identity) and can make referee assignments and final judgments based on it. (I'm neither endorsing nor condemning this--I'm merely saying it can still occur even under double-blind reviewing, which applies to the author and referee only.)
Posted by: Mark D. White | Jun 5, 2012 8:50:26 AM
No one reads ABLJ because it's behind Wiley's firewall.
The market opportunity is the pent-up demand for a venue for sophisticated (mainly econometric) work that isn't really suitable for student editors, and that would benefit from review by referees. ABLJ seems not to publish any of that (I guess because it's aimed at lawyers whose B. school employers require peer review for tenure & promotion), but you see more & more of it at J. Corp. L., which isn't really equipped for it but is better than most general-interest journals.
For example, I have a piece in mind right now that I would send to such a journal; the alternatives are JELS and JLS, and I'm not sure it would fit at either.
Posted by: BDG | Jun 5, 2012 9:16:42 AM
Thanks Mark, that does complicate things but if the ME simple acts as an administrator and deals all article out to reviewers on the same terms, it would avoid much of the current problems. The LR editors I have talked to say they rely on credentials because they lack confidence about their own abilities to get it right. With referees, that problem should disappear. BTW, I once had a Penn.L.Rev. editor fess up. He said, we like the article but you are not at top flight school nor did you graduate from one. We do not feel qualified to trust your analysis.
Posted by: Jeff | Jun 5, 2012 5:58:04 PM
My impression, Matt, from my experience submitting to refereed journals, is that the bulk of the wait time is consumed by the ME trying to find a referee. Assuming the referees are committed to the mission of the journal, I would think they would be expeditious. When I was in the manufacturing business, this was precisely the kind of cycle time reduction problem we used to work on. The notional "entitlement" is the actual working time times some reasonable multiplier. In most processes, there's a big opportunity to bring the actual cycle time much closer to the entitlement. Seems to me the trick is in eliminating the "find a referee" non-value added time.
To put cycle time reduction in lawyer terms, I had an epiphany in about 1985 when I figured out how to use our word processing systems and the fax machine. If I did the typing myself, and stopped relying on a secretary, I could create, edit, print, sign, and distribute a brief in a fraction of the old time. I never used a dictaphone, but I did handwrite on long legal pads, and actually cut and pasted with real scissors and tape.
Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jun 5, 2012 6:22:18 PM
I should add that there have been many fine articles in ABLJ, a good number of them quite sophisticated in most senses. What I meant was articles that rely extensively on theory that law students don't usually have much exposure to. Having to spend your first 30 pages explaining agency costs, the theory of the firm, and on & on is cumbersome, to say the least, and usually is a guarantee no one will keep reading. but they also won't keep reading if you don't explain.
ABLJ is potentially a good place to avoid that dilemma, but to my eye, at least, they haven't yet capitalized fully on that advantage.
Posted by: BDG | Jun 6, 2012 9:52:30 AM
Thanks to Anonymoose for noting the American Business Law Journal. I think we do fulfill a number of the tentative elements that Jeff Lipshaw identifies in his vision for a peer-reviewed journal.
We have a relatively quick turnaround and blind peer review. (More on each below.) We also have a reviewer pool that includes a mix of academics and practitioners, though as you would expect the academics are in the majority. We don't, though, require exclusive submission and we, nor do we impose any strict word limits.
Our typical turnaround time from submission to notification of publication decision is four to six weeks. Because we don't require exclusive submission, we also do our best to accommodate expedite requests, with a couple of caveats. Because our reviewers are volunteers and performing reviews requires a not insubstantial commitment of time and effort, we don't ask our reviewers to perform expedited reviews in response to the very short, exploding offers that some journals give. Depending on how long the article ha been with reviewers, we will only expedite with a 10 day (for articles the reviewers have had for a bit) to two weeks, and only then if the reviewers can accommodate the request. In addition, we require authors to commit to accepting an offer from the ABLJ should one be made based on an expedited review.
I also wanted to note that my experience as Managing Editor of the ABLJ last year was not consistent with Jeff Lipshaw's impression that the bulk of the wait time after submission at peer reviewed journals is spent trying to find a referee. At the ABLJ we almost always have the manuscripts in the reviewers hands within a week, quite often within 48 hours. But, that is likely the result of giving the reviewers around four weeks within which to do the review. If the deadline were sorter, it would likely be much more difficult to find reviewers with time in their schedules to complete a review (say, in two weeks or less).
Interestingly, at least in part to avoid the concern Jeff and Mark D. White raise regarding political or personal conflicts impacting decision making--but also because we think it's just good, prudent practice--the ABLJ's review process is what we call "triple blind." Not only are reviewers blind to the identity of the author and the author blind to the identities of the reviewers, but the members of the ABLJ editorial board who have any substantive input into publication decisions (i.e., Articles Editors and the Editor in Chief) are blind to the identity of the author until a publication decision has been made. Only the Managing Editor ever knows the identity of the author prior to a decision and takes no part in decisions. In other words, our Managing Editor is an administrative role as Jeff envisions.
Though it's possible a Managing Editor could try to influence the outcome by cherry-picking reviewers he or she thinks would be sympathetic or adverse to a particular submission, my experience suggests that's unlikely for a couple of reasons. First, the Managing Editor job is onerous enough without wasting additional time and energy on mustache-twirling machinations. Second, I'd predict that, even if a ME did attempt to do so, those efforts would utterly fail. My experience with reviewers has been that they uniformly take their role very seriously and attempt to evaluate submissions on their merit, even if they disagree with the manuscript's viewpoint. To the extent that's not true in any given specific example (though I can't think of a single such example in my five years on the ABLJ editorial board), I'd be astounded if each of the reviewers on a article could be counted on to be ringers, so the lack of objectivity would be readily apparent to an Articles Editor.
Finally, I've communicated with Brian (BDG) off-blog. I appreciate his initial comment and his follow-up. Recognizing that blog comments are not the place to require exacting factual accuracy and that overstatement is a well-trod rhetorical device, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that, while the ABLJ is indexed in the Wiley Online Library, it is also available on Westlaw and Lexis. So, I hope folks who don't have access to the Wiley site find the ABLJ easier to access at one of those services.
I also hope it's not true that "no one reads the ABLJ" as Brian stated, because I've invested a lot of time throughout the last five years into the enterprise of producing the ABLJ and would like to think it wasn't fool's errand! In all seriousness, though, the ABLJ has strong citation and impact statistics. Our readership and the level of attention our articles receive are such that we have been consistently ranked among the best refereed law journals (regardless of topic) and among the best business law oriented journals (both refereed and not).
Finally, Brian is also correct that one of our goals (the not the sole goal) is to provide a peer-reviewed outlet for folks in institutional settings that value or perhaps even only accept peer-reviewed publications. That being said, we have published articles utilizing sophisticated quantitative analysis, have a couple in upcoming issues later this year, and hope to continue to do so. There are a couple of impediments to doing that regularly, including (1) we don't get a lot of those kinds of submissions and (2) we could always use more reviewers with expertise in quantitative analysis. Any readers who would like to review articles for the ABLJ, regardless of expertise (but especially those with expertise in econometrics and other quantitative methodologies) should write an e-mail message to Robert Bird, our current Managing Editor, at abljsubmission*at*alsb*dot*org. Include a CV or resume and indicate your areas of expertise.
We at the ABLJ would love to see additional peer-reviewed, faculty-edited journals, such as those described by Jeff Lipshaw. And we hope that you'll consider submitting your work to the ABLJ at the same address in the prior paragraph.
Jamie Darin Prenkert
Editor in Chief, American Business Law Journal
Weimer Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor
Kelley School of Business, Indiana University
Posted by: Jamie Prenkert | Jun 6, 2012 3:22:16 PM
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