Sunday, March 29, 2015
Why isn't PRSM more popular?
Following the angsting thread this season and reading Dave's thread about professors breaching law review contracts has made me start thinking again about the law review submission process. Everyone, it seems, agrees that the process creates perverse incentives: professors submit to dozens of journals, so that student editors must make decisions on thousands of articles; student editors are forced to make quick decisions in competition with other journals, and so rely on proxies of dubious merit to decide what to read; students at higher-ranked journals rely on the work of students at lower-ranked journals to screen articles. What strikes me, though, is that the Peer Reviewed Scholarship Marketplace seemed to solve all of these problems when it was created in 2009. It incorporates peer-review from subject matter experts (and provides this feedback for authors to strengthen the piece, whether or not they accept a given offer). It takes away the time pressure of the compressed submission season. It protects the freedom of choice for both professors and for student journals; students still decide which pieces to make offers for (after seeing the peer review evaluations), and professors can feel free to decline offers--they are not obligated to take an offer from a journal they don't wish to publish with. When PRSM was created in 2009, I thought it would quickly become the predominant way that law journals select articles. Why hasn't it? Do more journals need to start using it so that authors will submit to it? It seems like they have a pretty good cross-section already, as there are 20 journals listed as members, about half of which are ranked in the top 50 law journals, and some in the top 30. Do more authors need to use it, so that journals will sign on? Or is there something I'm missing--some benefit of the current practice that PRSM fails to replicate?
Friday, March 27, 2015
Breaching a Law Review Contract?
I'm one of Temple Law Review's advisors. Given my views on student-run journals, this is a bit ironic. But the experience so far has taught me how much student editors care about getting it right, and how invested they can be in their journal's success. Or to put it differently, though in theory a goofy academic could generate a hundred more useful ways to spend students hours than law review, it's not at all obvious that any of those alternatives would generate equivalent passion and commitment from students.
The advising process has also recently given me a new perspective on an old problem. Very often, in the insane & dispiriting process that we call the submissions cycle, you hear of professors getting a great (read: higher prestige journal) offer just after they've accepted at a less great (read: lower prestige journal) placement. Counterfactual reasoning sets in -- "if only I'd pushed back against those meddling kids!" - and everyone who hears the story feels a punch in the gut, excepting those who refuse to play the game. Inevitably the question is entertained: what, exactly, is stopping the professor from backing out of the deal with mediocre law review A to accept the offer of awesome law review B? After all, the process is crooked, everyone is just reading expedites, and reliance arguments are weak. Law reviews aren't going to sue for breach of contract -- even if one exists, which might be doubtful. If they did , this is the clearest case of efficient breach possible.
But then norms of professional courtesy typically set in. And, though I've been teaching for over a decade, and heard literally dozens of stories like this, I'd never actually heard of anyone backing out of a law review acceptance until this cycle. Temple just had someone back out. Because that person is junior - and no doubt listening to a more senior mentor's advice - I'm not going to provide more details. I will say that the acceptance/rejection cycle was very dispiriting to the students involved, and it rightly might make them quite cynical. And it did make me wonder whether publication decommitments are more widespread than I'd thought, and whether journals could (or should) do anything to stop them.
Have I just been naive? Is law review conscious decoupling common? Is that behavior, in fact, righteous?
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Open Thread: How do we Stop the Madness?
By "the madness," I mean this. Opaque "submission seasons" and letterhead biases and footnote fetishes and massively multiple submissions (I kinda want to start an MMORPG called "World of Lawcraft," all about getting law review articles published) and all the other crazy pathologies of law review publishing.
As Your GameTheoryBlogger, this seems to me like a classic strategic problem: nobody likes the system, it means huge amounts of work for the students, work that (time for Real Talk(TM)) probably impairs their educations, and most of the real benefit to them is just victory in an insane status arms race in which law review membership is a signal of smartness that law firms respond to; it also undermines the scholarly enterprise to have (Real Talk(TM)) scholarly reputations and their associated benefits depend (yeah yeah only in part post-publication review sure ok) on the judgment of 2Ls with like three minutes to read a paper. Yet we are unlikely to be able to just replace the system whole-hog with peer review, because the individual costs of doing so are so high. (I confess I kinda miss the early days of Prawfs, where Kate Litvak was around and leading the mighty charge for peer review in the comments. Yes, I remember those days, back in like 2005---I think I even remember the first e-mail Dan sent around announcing this blog's existence!)
More broadly, we seem to have lots of collective action problems like this in legal education. Think of the pitiful death of the law clerk hiring plan. And of the way that we all bow and scrape to the almighty, but universally loathed, gods of U.S. News. Can we get better at it? How do we improve our institutional capacity for collective action? All ideas, no matter how crazy, welcomed in the comments.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Submission angsting: Spring 2015
If you are an author or law review editor and want to share information about your submission experience to the law reviews, this is the place to do it. If you have questions about the process, this is the place to do it. Feel free to use the comments to share your information (and gripes or praise) about which journals you have heard from, which you have not, etc. Have at it. And do it reasonably nicely, pretty please.
Why Study Athenian Law?
Monday, November 10, 2014
Washington & Lee Law Review: Exclusive Submissions
The Washington and Lee Law Review is opening an exclusive review program for articles until November 24, 2014, at 7:00 PM EST. The Law Review will extend offers for publication by December 8, 2014. All authors who submit articles to this program agree to accept a publication offer, should one be extended. For more information and submission instructions, visit this description.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Back in June, we learned that at least the Eighth Circuit believes the right to burn a flag is clearly established. I wonder what the Seventh Circuit will think of the right not to have a police officer proselytize and hand-out information about a church in the course of a traffic stop.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Online-only law reviews
It’s well into May, y’all, and well beyond the time that I should bring my April Prawfs guesting stint to a conclusion. For my final post, I thought I’d share my experience doing something new with respect to publication: publishing in an online-only law journal (I'm using the term online-only because many, even most, print journals also publish their articles online--I'm referring to law reviews that don't have a print analog). (The piece, to further conclude my guest stint in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, is “Market Harm, Market Help, and Fair Use,” 17 Stan. Tech. L. Rev. 359 (2014)).
I didn’t have any strong sense that publishing in print journals was the only way to go, it’s just that until recently the alternative had never occurred to me. But the experience was almost exactly the same as it was with print journals in terms of editing schedules and process. And there are a lot of upsides: the article got out there in its final form much sooner, since there was no need to wait for the analog printing process, and there are related green upsides if that’s something you’re into.
I am hard-pressed to think of much in the way of a downside, honestly. The student editing was outstanding, right in the same league as the print journals I’ve worked with. I suppose the most obvious drawback is that there’s no physical circulation for the journal, so your article won’t get into the hands of mail subscribers and libraries (but it is online and on Westlaw and Lexis, which I think is far more important).
One could imagine an argument that people won’t take a publication seriously unless it’s also in print form, but that one just seems implausible to me in this increasingly digital age. The vast majority of articles I read are from digital sources, so I suspect any skepticism about the online-only format will soon be a thing of the past. Having reprints is neat, of course, but that’s a luxury that’s not clearly justified given its costs.
And I guess online-only journals may direct more traffic to their site, and away from SSRN, decreasing the author's downloads, but again--that seems pretty marginal. The important thing is that the work is good and that people read it; SSRN downloads are only a proxy for those much more important considerations.
So having said all of this, and to polemically recast this post as a question to the Prawfs readership, is there any reason to prefer print law review articles? (Archives? Etc.?) Discuss! (And see you all sometime in the guest-blogging future.)
Saturday, February 01, 2014
Redyip's return: Angsting Thread Spring 2014 edition
So I understand Redyip is still waking up from his dogmatic winter slumber but the commenters on the prior thread are clamoring for him to brush his teeth and be on his way, so if you are an author or law review editor and want to share information about your submission experience to the law reviews, this is the place to do it. Feel free to use the comments to share your information (and gripes or praise) about which law reviews have turned over, which ones haven't yet, and where you've heard from, and where you've not, and what you'd like Redyip to bring you for Purim, etc. It's the semi-annual angsting thread for the law review submission season. Have at it. And do it reasonably nicely, pretty please.
If you're interested in asking Redyip questions, BDG might come out of the woodwork too to conduct an interview. Here's the last installation of back and forth.
Update: link to final page of comments here.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Law Review Publication Agreements
It might be useful for folks to have access to law reviews' publication agreements, whether to help with negotiations, compare copyright provisions, or whatever. I've begun a spreadsheet with links to such agreements that are available on the web. If you are aware of other such links, please add them in the comments to this post or email me directly, slawsky *at* law *dot* uci *dot* edu, and I will add them to the spreadsheet.
If this is duplicative of another such effort, please let me know, and I will (gleefully) ditch my spreadsheet and add a link to the other resource.
I am interested in links to any law review publication agreements, whether main journal, secondary journal, peer-reviewed, or student reviewed.
The spreadsheet so far is here:
Update: I included a link in the spreadsheet to the Miami law wiki page on Copyright Experiences. This is a very helpful resource that includes links to information about the copyright policies of a large number of law journals.Update 2: I have now gone through the Miami law wiki and added to the spreadsheet links to the full text of journal agreements presented on the Wiki (as opposed to descriptions of copyright policies). I have indicated which links these are by marking a column in the spreadsheet "Miami Wiki." I will now attempt to augment this list as well as replace, where possible, the Miami Wiki links with links to the publication's web page. Three cheers for the Miami Wiki!
Monday, October 21, 2013
Et Tu, Adam? The Lazy Critiques of Law Reviews Continue
When it comes to media stories on legal education, bashing on law reviews is evergreen content. Why, it was just two years ago that David Segal was offering his own attack on legal scholarship, referring to law review articles as "headscratchers" and quoting Chief Justice Roberts on Kant & Bulgaria. (And this was my response then, in case you missed it!) So here comes Adam Liptak with his version of this tired old story, reciting the quotes & studies that have been trotted out before. I find these critiques to be based on a blend of ignorance, arrogance, and incoherence. Ignorance because they don't really seem to know what's going on in actual law reviews. The CJ's quote is a good example -- it's a caricature of a cliche about law reviews, rather than an actual observation about them. Arrogance because there is always outrage about these "amateurs" and "incompetents" getting to touch the golden prose of scholars. Sure, some journals and some editors are worse than others, but on the whole students know the Bluebook and are respectful yet challenging of authors. I have gotten terrific editing from law reviews, including a set of edits at a specialty journal that I just turned around this past month. Would some peer review be nice? Sure, but (1) there are peer review journals and (2) meaningful peer review comes in the literature to follow. When a huge number of professors do their research on SSRN, which offers no review of any kind (other than download counts), the need for peer review to separate wheat from chaff is overblown. Finally, incoherence -- because the critiques don't fit together. Law review articles are incredibly esoteric and out of touch? Then why are they being chosen by editors who almost all go on to be lawyers themselves? Law blogs are better than law reviews? I don't know where to begin with that one. There are a lot of different tropes and agendas meandering around in these critiques, and they just don't hang together. The critique of internally-placed articles based on Albert Yoon's research does raise real concerns. But this is a much more subtle point than the rest of Liptak's post.
I have a lot more to say about this, some of which I said in "Law Students and Legal Scholarship" over at the Journal of Law. But law reviews are a resource for which law professors should be grateful. I hope more law profs come out of the woodwork to defend these institutions of research and learning, or they just might begin to disappear.
Monday, October 07, 2013
HLR has more women. Discuss.
The Crimson has a story reporting that since the Harvard Law Review adopted a gender consideration for its discretionary slots, the review has almost doubled the number of female admittees to its membership. See here (reporting that women went from 9 to 17 out of roughly 45 people admitted for this year).
Those six of you who have followed this issue with some interest over the years may remember that both Justice Kagan (in her former decanal role) and Professor Carol Steiker (a former President of HLR herself) opposed adding gender to the list of considerations that would figure into the "discretionary" slots. Their stated concern was that it would cast doubt on the accomplishments of those women (including themselves?) who got onto HLR through the "blind" means (writing competition or grades-inflected scores of writing competition). Of course, this is the same rationale often thrown against affirmative action measures for visible minorities, so one wonders a) do they oppose the use of AA for race/ethnicity or other considerations? and b) if not, what are the distinguishing features are of race/ethnicity versus gender? Is it some kind of critical mass theory to the effect that women have without benefit of affirmative action policies still formed roughly 25% of the law review membership? I confess I'm puzzled by these reactions and not entirely sure what I would do if I were in a decision-making capacity on the HLR. Helping or inspiring people to Lean In during law school doesn't seem nearly so sufficient, though it does seem necessary. Am I wrong?
Anyway, here are some other relevant sources: a story on the HLR internal study a decade ago and some of the more recent coverage on Shatter the Ceiling, a project meant to facilitate female achievement at the Law School.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
I do not know Redyip. I did not work with Redyip. Redyip is not a friend of mine. But let's just say that I've entreated him (it?) often enough that I know how to get urgent communications to his aerie. (And no, it's not by tweeting.)
Many of you have questions about the law review process. Who knows? Maybe I can get you answers. Post them here, and let's see what happens. (I also have some small acquaintance with Bla'a K'hole, the mechanical guardian of planet Peer Review. Place your questions for him on a punchcard and I will feed them into the appropriate slot. Warning: answers may be provided in binary.)
Also feel free to pipe in with your own views.
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
The Angsting Thread (Fall 2013 Submission Cycle Edition)
Friends, I have it on good authority that Redyip is not yet visible but he is making preparations for his journey this autumn. You know what that means. Feel free to use the comments to share your information (and gripes or praise) about which law reviews have turned over, which ones haven't yet, and where you've heard from, and where you've not, and what you'd like Santa to bring you this coming Xmas, etc. It's the semi-annual angsting thread for the law review submission season. Have at it. And do it reasonably nicely, pretty please.Oh, one last thing: if you're bored while waiting for him to fly, Redyip whispered to me that y'all should feel free to read and send comments on this little paper.
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
The Poor are Still Losing: Gideon's Empty Promise
This past weekend I spent some time thinking about the future of indigent public defense and what role, if any, defense lawyers can play in a system beset by racism and classism. First, I read a provocative essay by Paul Butler, "Poor People Lose: Gideon and the Critique of Rights," in the Yale Law Journal's most recent issue, which contains over twenty articles (all available for free download) by law professors and lawyers reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright.
Professor Butler makes a strong case for the idea that the focus on rights discourse -- the right to counsel at trial, the right to counsel during plea negotiations, the right to Miranda, the right to a jury trial -- ultimately has little impact on a criminal justice [or juvenile justice] system in which poor people nearly always lose. Why do they lose? Because, as Butler explains, protecting defendants' rights is much different than protecting defendants: "What poor people, and black people, need from criminal justice is to be stopped less, arrested less, prosecuted less, incarcerated less." Providing a lawyer -- especially one who is underpaid, overworked, and under-resourced -- does little to change this calculus. As Butler reminds us, the reason that being poor and African American substantially increases the risk of incarceration has more to do with class and race than with the quality -- or lack thereof -- of the indigent defense system.
So, what do we do about it? That, Butler acknowledges, is the hard part. We certainly don't discourage law students from becoming public defenders, because on an individual level, they do help clients [more on this below]. But what is the alternative? Michelle Alexander has urged defendants to take their cases to trial, putting a stop to the vicious plea mill that has subsumed the adversarial process, and to "crash the justice system." Butler has called for "racially based" jury nullification for nonviolent, victimless crimes as well as decriminalizing or legalizing drugs. I'm not convinced that these specific strategies in and of themselves will catalyze a social reform movement large enough to alter the system, but it's clear that nothing should be discounted, for the situation is dire.
With all of this percolating in my mind, I happened to watch the new HBO documentary, "Gideon's Army," which follows three public defenders working in under-resourced counties in Georgia and Mississippi. The film was engrossing and offered (what seemed to me, at least) a realistic portrayal of the challenging and gruelling nature of indigent defense. The three young PDs -- two women and one man, all African-American -- were dedicated and driven, although one understandably walks away from the job when she can't pay her bills to support herself and her son. The film concludes (perhaps for marketing purposes) with a happy ending -- an acquittal after a jury trial, which made me -- a total sap -- cry as the PD was hugged by her (young black male) client and his (low-income) single mother.
But as the credits rolled, I didn't feel much like recruiting baby PDs for this "army" or donating to the organization that inspired the documentary -- the Southern Public Defender Training Center (SPDTC) (now called "Gideon's Promise"), led by the dynamic (white male) Jon Rapping. Instead, I wanted to crash the system. The film's explicit message is that there's a "battle" going on in which dedicated and hard-working PDs can win if only enough of them sign up, endure slave wages, and get down with representing one poor person of color (and the occasional white poor person) after another, as our prisons only continue to expand.
The director, Dawn Porter, draws clumsy parallels to the civil rights movement (and even offers a cameo by John Lewis who appears at a fund-raising event for SPDTC), but there's no acknowledgement that the lawyers who represented civil rights workers in the south had clear goals and objectives, while these PDs are fighting for...what exactly? By acting as cogs in a broken machine, one that even Rapping admits is "hell," they are not bringing about systemic change. Yes, they may make a difference to an individual defendant, but there is no talk of broader-based action -- such as a demand for a living wage, reasonable caseloads, or enough funding to perform basic investigative tasks and forensic testing. Let's be real -- how could there be this sort of activism? These lawyers are barely hanging on, working 15-16 hours/day and scrambling for change to buy enough gas to get them to the courthouse.
Don't get me wrong -- I was a proud public defender for ten years, and as a clinical professor, I still represent the same client population; I am heartened whenever one of my students enters this field. But I would never suggest that the work of the average PD, like the ones featured in the film and in most offices across the country, actually transforms the populations they serve or that the appointment of a lawyer -- the RIGHT to a lawyer -- helps dismantle the incarceral state.
I would also be reluctant to recruit young lawyers for this work using the pitch championed in the film, because as romantic as it sounds, it will inevitably attract people for all the wrong reasons, such as one of the women who balks when a client feels no remorse for his heinous crime. She thought she was on the "right" side of the war, only to find that the lines are not so easily drawn. As Travis Williams, my favorite PD in the film said, "I don't see how you can do this job for any period of time and not love it. Either this is your cause or this ain't." He's the guy who has tattooed the names of his clients who have been convicted after trial on HIS OWN back. He will be a career PD, and his clients will be truly blessed to have him on their side. He also recognizes, however, that the work is thankless, that the conditions are unlikely ever to change, and that it's more of a marathon than a war. A marathon with no end in sight.
Your thoughts? Please share in the comments.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Baude on Spillenger on Extraterritoriality and the Constitution
More on today's decisions (and perhaps a few more comments on my prosecutorial comment post) when I'm not running to grab a plane (the story of my life). For now, I just wanted to cross-promote a post I have today on JOTWELL, State Boundaries and Constitutional Limits. From the post:
And from the conclusion:
Territoriality is a basic premise of the federal system; everybody knows that the New York legislature can’t just sit down and rewrite all of the laws of New Jersey. This seems like a common-sense requirement of our constitutional structure. But as Clyde Spillenger demonstrates in Risk Regulation, Extraterritoriality, and the Constitutionalization of Choice of Law, 1865-1940, the nature and source of this principle is misunderstood today. ...
By the way, so far as I know, this piece has not yet been picked up by a law journal. Student editors who are reading this: grab it while you can!
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Holes in the dueling submission systems
Redyip has again been sighted. But now, her (his? its?) semi-annual call sends us scurrying to a second main submission system (putting aside the direct-submits). And Corey Rayburn Yung (Kansas) emails Dan and me to suggest that this creates some problems; his email is reprinted in full below (with his permission):
I thought either of you might be interested in posting about a hole in the new submission system with Scholastica and Expresso. If an author receives an offer from a Scholastica journal (i.e., Cardozo, Iowa, USC, or California) and wants to use it as the basis for an expedite request to an Expresso journal, there is a problem. Most, if not all, of the Scholastica journals are no longer listed as sources of offers in Expresso. And an author no longer has the option to just type in the name of the journal that made an offer. As a result, the only option an author can choose is to that he or she did not wish to disclose the identity of the offering journal. Then the author can put the name of the journal in your subject line and body of the email.
That would be fine except for how the new Expresso system looks on the journal’s end. When viewing all expedite requests, the text and subject of the email is not visible. Instead, the journal editor will click on “Details” from the list of expedited articles which will then reveal only that the author chose not to disclose the source of the offering journal. And given that most (if not all) journals will not take expedite requests from unknown journals, the editor will simply reject the article. Until this issue is resolved, I would implore law review editors to look further at those expedite requests with no offering journal listed to see if there really is an offer from a Scholastica journal before disposing of the article based upon policy.
Has anyone else experienced this problem and/or figured out how to resolve it?
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Scholarship and Indemnity Clauses by the Law Reviews
I'm on the AALS Scholarship Section exec board for some reason, and in that capacity, I recently rec'd a great email from Donald Tobin, the associate dean for faculty at Ohio State Law, who writes on an important but frequently neglected issue: indemnity clauses in law review agreements. Specifically, he wrote the following:
I think there is a growing and real problem with law reviews requiring authors to sign indemnity clauses. These clauses require authors to indemnify the journal and university from any costs associated with lawsuits, including, in some cases, costs associated with frivolous cases. The problem with these types of clauses is that they impact the most vulnerable of our faculty and also those writing in controversial areas including human rights, minority rights, equality, etc. I have just finished trying to help one of my faculty members negotiate one of these releases. We came across the following problems:
1) While Universities will defend faculty members who are sued based on their scholarship, many Universities will not indemnify other institutions. For example, the State of Ohio prohibits its institutions from indemnifying other institutions.
2) Insurance protection does not work. I looked at whether the faculty member could purchase insurance through AAUP. The insurance company indicated that it would defend the faculty member, but would not make payments under an indemnity clause.
3) The faculty member is thus stuck. We are placing the burden on the people least able to bear it. From the university to the faculty member and the faculty member has no means of protecting herself.
4) Journals sometimes say, Don't worry; suits are unlikely. But if the suits were so unlikely...why shouldn't journals bear that risk?
5) Journals might also say: the author has the most control to determine if they are committing a tort. But there is no protection for frivolous suits or for suits generated for political reasons.
6) These indemnity clauses, I am led to believe, were standard. I did not think that was the case but I have a list of a number of top journals that had similar clauses.
7) Finally, I was told that the AALS model agreement had an indemnity clause – and it does. So we as an institution are contributing to this mess.
To me, this is what institutions do. They protect academic freedom and they should shoulder the burden of dealing with frivolous suits. They should not then seek payment from an author. It might be different if the author did something wrong – like plagiarized – but the idea that in general authors are on the hook seems very wrong to me. As an institution we should either discourage these types of provisions or we should obtain some type of group insurance that either authors or institutions can buy for protection. When I spoke about this at AALS, most people were unaware of these provisions and there is some indication that even as lawyers we just sign these things, but they pose a real problem for some of our most vulnerable colleagues. Here is a link to a model agreement containing an indemnity clause: http://www.aals.org/deansmemos/98-24.html
The AALS agreement is better than the one my faculty member was asked to sign because it at least doesn’t put the author on the hook for frivolous claims, but it still requires an author to pay the judgment and attorney’s fees.
Thanks for that Donald. So, what is to be done? A collective response by the associate deans for scholarship at the top law schools or even better, more generally, would be helpful. Of course, indemnity clauses are just one obnoxious aspect of law review agreements. Copyright assignments are typically the other!
Friday, February 22, 2013
Wow, That Helps
The one piece of judicial language you don't want popping into your head when you check your email to see if anyone's accepted your article:
"But in America they are miserable merchants of unwanted ideas; their wares remain unsold."
Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, 589 (1951) (Douglas, J., dissenting).
Friday, February 15, 2013
Down the Runway It Goes
As anyone knows who's written an article or even a long paper, there's a discernible cycle in the author's attitude about his work. You have what you think is a good idea, you write up the basics, you get discouraged, you put it away, you get another idea and come back to it. So it goes, on and on, until you decide it's done and it's good and it's polished and it's ready. I was at that stage last night.
Then I watched Project Runway. It's a great, fun show to watch. One of the most interesting parts is watching the designers as they see their work going down the runway. I'm no fashion critic, but it's usually clear enough when someone has done a really bad job. And what's striking is that, more times than not, the designer is absolutely delighted with his work. His smile just yells out, "it's good and it's polished and it's ready."
So OK, so it's hard to be objective about your own work. But what I'm really curious about is when people know that their work is ready for submission. What are your last steps? Another proofread? Another substantive read to see if you just missed something? Another footnote? Another tweak of the cover letter? I ask this both in terms of what you're insistent on as matter of your personal pride in your work -- what you're willing to have editors see -- as well as instrumentally -- what might make the difference between a good submission result and a bad one. What are the last-minute fixable issues that matter? Any thoughts?
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
The Angsting Thread (Law Review Edition, Spring 2013)
Friends, the time has come when Redyip is visible. You know what that means. Feel free to use the comments to share your information (and gripes or praise) about which law reviews have turned over, which ones haven't yet, and where you've heard from, and where you've not, and what you'd like Santa to bring you this coming Xmas, etc. It's the semi-annual angsting thread for the law review submission season. Have at it. And do it reasonably nicely, pretty please. Maybe Redyip will even tweet a little this spring.
Update: here is a link to the last page of comments.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Twitter Census of Law Reviews
I tweet occasionally @derektmuller (feel free to follow) on election law, litigation, baseball, Malibu weather, and Notre Dame football (gulp). And the work by Bridget Crawford at The Faculty Lounge in aggregating a law professors’ Twitter census was an extraordinary and highly useful effort.
One good thing about Twitter is the ability to share and read links in a simple, shareable format. And what better place for law journals to promote their recent publications than on Twitter? Well, so I think. It’s difficult to keep track of what so many different journals are doing (with the notable exception of the excellent work at the Law Review Forum over at Concurring Opinions), so Twitter might be a good one-stop shop to see recent publications. (And both as advisor to the Pepperdine Law Review and one eagerly awaiting the arrival of Redyip, I’m particularly interested in what journals are doing.)
But, I haven’t found (or maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough) a good aggregation of law review Twitter feeds. I thought I’d give it a try.
Below are the Twitter feeds for a handful of law reviews. (And I suppose a “census” is a misnomer, because it’s by no means any attempt to be exhaustive.) I’ve aggregated them to a single list here, if you want to subscribe via Twitter. I couldn’t find a number of them (e.g., Columbia and Virginia), so perhaps they do not exist, or perhaps I simply didn’t look hard enough (notice a theme?). A few have ceased activity (e.g., Michigan). Others have no tweets (e.g., Duke). But, here they are, in a somewhat-random and idiosyncratic order.
Yale Law Journal: @YaleLJournal
Harvard Law Review: @HarvLRev
Stanford Law Review: @StanLRev
University of Chicago Law Review: @UChiLRev
NYU Law Review: @nyulawreview
Michigan Law Review: @michlawreview
California Law Review: @CalifLRev
Penn Law Review: @PennLawReview
Duke Law Journal: @DukeLawJournal
Georgetown Law Journal: @GtownLawJournal
Texas Law Review: @TexasLRev
Cornell Law Review: @Cornell_Law_Rev
UCLA Law Review: @UCLALawReview
Boston College Law Review: @BCLawReview
Boston University Law Review: @BULawReview
UC Davis Law Review: @UCDavisLawRev
Ohio State Law Journal: @OhioStateLJ
Fordham Law Review: @fordhamlrev
Alabama Law Review: @AlaLawReview
Iowa Law Review: @IowaLawReview
Illinois Law Review: @UIllLRev
Florida Law Review: @UFLawReview
Tulane Law Review: @TulaneLawReview
American University Law Review: @amulrev
Pepperdine Law Review: @PeppLawReview
Cardozo Law Review: @CardLRev
Connecticut Law Review: @ConnLRev
George Mason Law Review: @geomasonlrev
Oregon Law Review: @OregonLawReview
Temple Law Review: @TempleLawReview
Denver Law Review: @denverlawreview
Feel free to list additional law reviews in the comments!
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The Competing Claims of Law and Religion: Who Should Influence Whom?
We attract some extraordinary scholars for symposia here at Pepperdine. In case you hadn’t heard, Malibu is a fantastic place for law professors to spend a weekend in January or February. (The forecast for today, January 22, is mostly sunny, 77 degrees. How’re you feeling?)
But it’s also distinct aspects of the law school that attract great symposia. The school’s religious affiliation, for instance, helped prompt an extraordinary conference last winter, “The Competing Claims of Law and Religions: Who Should Influence Whom?” The Pepperdine Law Review has just published the fruit of that conference. (And, as faculty advisor to the Law Review, I’m fond of reading the products of the students’ diligence.)
If you’re interested, check out the work from Abdullahi A. An-Na'im (Emory), Patrick McKinley Brennan (Villanova), Zachary R. Calo (Valparaiso), Sherman J. Clark (Michigan), Robert F. Cochran Jr. & Michael A. Helfand (Pepperdine), Mohammad H. Fadel (Toronto), Chad Flanders (St. Louis), Richard W. Garnett (Notre Dame), John Lawrence Hill (Indiana McKinley), James Davison Hunter (Virginia), Andrew Koppelman (Northwestern), Michael Stokes Paulsen (St. Thomas), Barak D. Richman (Duke), Susan J. Stabile (St. Thomas), Mark Strasser (Capital), and Eugene Volokh (UCLA). (Whew!) You can browse the entire special issue here.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Crystalline statutes and mazelike tours
This fall, I have been covering Kloeckner v. Solis for SCOTUSBlog (case preview here, argument review here). The Court decided the case on Monday, holding 9-0 (per Justice Kagan) that any federal employee who was terminated and also subject to discrimination (a so-called "mixed case") can seek review of a Merit Systems Protection Board decision by filing suit under the discrimination statute in federal district court, rather than having to appeal to the Federal Circuit (which hears MSPB appeals in non-discrimination cases). Lyle Denniston wrote the recap for SCOTUSBlog; I just want to add a few more points.
My prior pieces on this case highlighted the constant refrains about the complexity of the case and of the statutory scheme (oral argument was filled with "say that again?" and "slower, please"). Kagan's opinion does a great job of simlifying the statute and the question, laying out the relevant provisions, explaining how they work together, and insisting that the right answer is "crystalline" from the text itself. The Court is often criticized for clouding the waters; it is nice to see a case that clarifies and produces the simplest approach. In contrast, she rejects (and disparages) the government's "mazelike tour" through the statute; after laying out the government's statutory argument in detail, Kagan says "[i]f you need to take a deep breath after all that, you're not alone."
I have written previously that Justice Kagan is a terrific writer and her opinions are a pleasure to read. This case is no exception--sharp and snappy and, obviously, quite sardonic. She makes a great read out of a case that was always destined to go to the junior-most justice (do you think she's looking forward to President Obama's next appointment?).
Friday, November 02, 2012
Whither the Jewish vote?Has anyone heard or seen much about polls indicating how the Jewish vote is expected to go this time? Jews have historically leaned strongly Democratic, even as they, as group, have gained in socio-economic power (the famous paraprase of Milton Himmelfarb is that "Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans."). In 2008, Obama won around 74 % of the Jewish vote--this despite initial fears over older Jews, which prompted the Great Schlep in which younger Jews were encouraged to go visit their grandparents in Florida to encourage them to vote for Obama. And while the profile and influence of a Jewish conservative movement has risen in the past decade, the numbers have remained fairly stable since 1972. Georgetown's Program for Jewish Civilization sponsored a symposium on the subject last week (videos included); interesting stuff. One of the speakers at the symposium identified data howing Obama ahead of where he was in the polls four years ago.
So I was surprised to learn of one recent, admittedly non-scientific poll: The first-graders in my daughter's Reform Jewish day school (n=37) seem to be about equally divided between Obama and Ryan, with one class heavily for Romney. This presumably means their parents are similarly divided--or my daughter is in a preternaturally conservative and independent cohort. Needless to say, I was surprised; I expected something like a 75-25 split, maybe higher. Predictions that the Jewish vote would change have generally focused on the increasing populations of Orthodox Jews (who, like many religiously observant groups, tend to vote Republican) and of more-conservative immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But neither of those population points explains this result (which admittedly will not make it into the 538 calculations).
Friday, August 10, 2012
The Angsting Thread (Law Review Edition, Autumn 2012)
Friends, the time has come when Redyip is visible. You know what that means. Feel free to use the comments to share your information (and gripes or praise) about which law reviews have turned over, which ones haven't yet, and where you've heard from, and where you've not, and what you'd like Santa to bring you this coming Xmas, etc. It's the semi-annual angsting thread for the law review submission season. Have at it. And do it reasonably nicely, pretty please.
Update: Here is a link to the last page of comments.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
The first of August! My 2L classmates and I are wrapping up our summer jobs, beginning warily to eye our fall course / externship / clinic schedules, and -- in my case, anyway -- helping to get chlorine out of three daughters' hair and tuck them in.
And, mirabile dictu! The first of August: Law professors all over the country are beginning to e-mail me in increasing numbers. They want my attention. They deserve more of it than they will, on average, get. -- But my crackerjack colleagues and I are going to do our best.
I am the Submissions Editor of the Cleveland State Law Review (among other things). I hope this month to offer some perspective as a student and student-editor, with occasional reference to the professional worlds I have known and more than half an eye on the profession I am seeking to join. In addition I have a number of thoughts about proceduralism, institutional identities, and the historic legal event of the summer, the power of which we are only beginning to appreciate. I thank Dan for inviting me to the special occasion that is every day on PrawfsBlawg.
This is the proper place for me to say that the job of Submissions Editor fills me with humility. But in fact, for all of us, receiving cover letters and c.v.'s from highly accomplished people seeking our approval has a sadly predictable opposite effect. We read critically, especially at first: noting to each other before anything else sections that can be profitably cut, and particular footnotes that seem just a tad scanty. -- But with your help, we do become readers; and with your help, perhaps more than anyone else in the profession, we learn from your work.
I am not sure how much it occurs to you that we editors (we callow self-credentializers who, through various wretched historical accidents in the development of legal academia, are perennially granted inordinate power over your career opportunities) -- we editors, I say, even as we seem to hold your work hostage, are a captive audience. We read what you write. And we are grateful for it.
So let me start on that note -- gratitude for the intellectual generosity manifested in the manuscripts we are receiving by the half-dozen.
And let me begin with the first thing I've noticed: cover letters are a tremendous, and often squandered, opportunity to win us over. Much as we care about thorough scholarship, lucid explanation, and practical significance, we are also, like everyone else, apt to slip into motivated reasoning. And decisions get made subconsciously perhaps before they are made consciously. So first impressions matter a lot.
I suggest that you relax us with your cover letters. Write cover letters for the human reader. That first sentence should showcase a little personality, and tell us about the article in casual terms. For example (and I'll use my student Note as an example all month):
"The attached article makes an implicit prediction: In the near future, the Supreme Court will issue an opinion that says to lower courts, in effect -- 'Iqbal, Iqbal, Iqbal. Give it a rest already, now and then, would you?' "
The following sentences then would need to make crystal-clear why such a prediction is, unflippantly, justified (spoiler: it's all about jurisdictionality).
No student will be troubled by the casual nature of that sentence, as long as the heft is elsewhere in the submission to back it up.
There is, in a word, no reason that the staid, methodical writing voice that gives your article scholarly credibility should also constitute your self-introduction. In the cover letter you are speaking to students, not the judge who might eventually be persuaded by your doctrinal advocacy once the article propagates through Westlaw. We students want to like and trust you before and as we learn from you. (And I suspect the judge does too, although she is trained not to need that factor. Even so, it matters, for everyone: surely his style is a big part of the reason everyone defers to Judge Posner so much.)
Allow me to add, before signing off for day one, that this advice is not meant to be easy to follow. There is nothing harder to achieve than effectively casual writing. I believe, in fact, that I spent longer just now on that sample cover-letter sentence than on any single sentence in the main body of my student Note. And yet I am not sure that it works. I should probably sleep on it, and before sending in such a cover letter I would probably scrap and rewrite such a sentence several times.
But this is a blog, and as such ephemera. A blog post is fleeting (isn't it, Dan? I have professional constituencies to be aware of). It's all right if it's disorganized, and essayistically repeats itself...
To recap: The cover letter seeks a certain emotional, not cognitive, effect. Cover letters do not embody the article, but they create the context in which it is read.
I suggest that formal epistolary disquisitions, like painstaking persuasive briefs, have their place; but the cover letter is much more like voir dire. If the jury doesn't like you, personally, after voir dire, you've wasted a golden opportunity, and no amount of motion practice can make up for it.
Please take this item as an invitation to post the best introductory sentences with which you, or someone you know, has introduced a piece of scholarly writing from the outside. The poets call such a text an envoi: an accompanying ambassador, not the monarch herself. It is personable, not stately; it does no work of its own; yet it makes possible the encounters of state.
Update: Having slept on it, I now think a better first opening for my Note cover letter would be
"However imperfectly we understand the case, law students and attorneys generally agree that Iqbal now sets the standard for a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit. In one important respect, this consensus is wrong."
Monday, July 30, 2012
Scholarship for the Courts: A Different Kind of Cert Pool
Via Dave Hoffman's post having to do with the questionable utility of non-elite journal experience for law students, I came across our own Matt Bodie's spirited defense of student participation in the legal scholarship world. And by looking up Matt's article I stumbled upon Ross Davie's new piece for the Journal of Law, entitled "In Search of Helpful Legal Scholarship, Part I." It is written with Ross' characteristically light and perceptive touch and the gist of his "opening remarks" is that there should be some vehicle by which the courts (particularly the SCT) are made aware of the relevant scholarship on an issue, e.g., when the Court grants cert on a particular case. Here's a taste:
Professors should organize a cert pool of a sort for law review articles. They have the knowledge: they know
scholarship, good and bad. They have the know-how: they know peer review, pure and corrupt.
(Peer review of a sort is at the heart of this project.) And they are in position: they have the tenure
that frees them to speak truth not only to power, but also to each other. But rather than
giving the Justices stacks of memos evaluating every single law review article (as the clerks in the cert pool
do with petitions in every single case), the professors should take a different kind of case-by-case approach.
Every time the Court grants a cert. petition or otherwise agrees to hear a case, they should give the Justices
a simple, readably short list of those articles most likely to be helpful in deciding that case. Then the
Justices or their minions can read the helpful scholarship themselves. Each list should be in the form of
(and filed as) an amicus brief – a truly brief “brief of scholarship” rather than a conventional “scholars’ brief.”
I like this suggestion a lot. Ross suggests that the AALS or JOTWELL could do something like this in terms of organizing a cert pool of scholars. What do y'all think? I would guess that the list would be of interest not only to the courts/justices but also the litigants to some extent, especially when the litigants are not as savvy as the usual elite sct bar practitioners.
Btw, if you've not been keeping up with Green Bag or the Journal of Law, some links for the latest issue of Green Bag are after the jump.
Volume 15, Number 3 (Spring 2012)
TO THE BAG
Curtis E.A. Karnow, Similarity in Legal Analysis & the Post-Literate Blitz
David Roe, Little Labs Lost: An Invisible Success Story
Laurence H. Silberman, The Development of “Final Offer Selection”
FROM THE BAG
Unknown, Smashing the Taxicab Racket
Cedric Merlin Powell, Identity, Liberal Individualism, and the Neutral Allure of Post-Blackness
John L. Kane, Jr., The Inmate
Alice B. Richards, Studying for an Evidence Final on a Cold Winter’s Night
Friday, July 06, 2012
Is the (Printed) Law Review a Flower that Should Bloom?
Over at the Atlantic, Walter Olson reprises the claim that law reviews are worthless. Among his reasons, he notes the ready availability of other outlets for law professors to share their views about matters of significance (and in this vein, he has in mind websites like TNR or the Atlantic or law blogs like Volokh or Balkinization or perhaps ahem...). My initial response: let a thousand flowers bloom. If, in addition to writing for law reviews or university presses, prawfs want to write on blogs and do opeds, they should do so. But if Olson's saying, we should get out of the long form scholarship game, I say a pox on his house. I don't think he's actually saying that, although he suggests it by tired references to Chief Roberts' views about Bulgaria and Kant.
Regardless of whether Olson denies the net value of long form scholarship, I think he is wrong to assume that "talented law profs" seek out short form options to present their ideas because that's the first best place to be. I can't speak for others, let alone the class of talented law profs, but I suspect at least some of us hardly desire to go online to do short form writing as such. Rather, it's more a matter of resignation about where the eyeballs might be and what civilians' attention levels are. If 50,000 or 1 million people read the articles on my SSRN page, I would probably never care to write an oped about a legal issue, let alone a blog post. Indeed, I suspect the reason we care about the placement ladder is largely an assumption that if it places in a top journal, it will get read more (by the right demographic). But writing to get the argument right requires patience and diligence. Opeds don't reward that. At best, they're a preview or a trailer of the real thing.
And fyi, Walter, writing for the Atlantic and whatnot is not always easier too. Compared to blogposts, opeds or essays for general mags are more annoying because of the comparative lack of control or slowness of publication. For example, the Times accepted an oped I co-wrote more than a month ago, and we're still waiting to hear (even vaguely) when it will run! Most opinion journal editors act like tyrants because they know they can get away with it. (Not you of course ___, ___, etc!) And compared to law reviews, which are admittedly slower to publication (and this has changed somewhat with the proliferation of online law review addenda/fora/pennumbra etc), opeds or mainstream essays are neither easy to place nor necessarily reasonable about editing. At bottom, I usually enjoy the experience of writing for law reviews more than writing for popular press. Not always, but enough to want to stay in the law review publication game. To the extent I write for the mainstream media, it's more because I think I have an obligation to those who fund my scholarship to try to get the ideas out into the mainstream rather than simply hope for citations within the law review or philosophy/political theory literature. Anyway, I might be an outlier, and maybe Olson's narrower point, that we'd be better off with only online scholarship venues, is true. But, fwiw, I am happily the kind of person who still enjoys looking through the pages of HLR, the Mich LR books issue, and most of the other journals in our faculty lounge.
In any event, Olson's essay focuses on a sideshow. The real problem in law scholarship is not where it appears or how long it is, but whether it is lockboxed. To my mind, every piece of legal scholarship produced should be available online either in final draft or penultimate draft. I actually think scholars have an ethical duty to make that happen, at least in the law context. But that's another blog post.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Heart of Atlanta, Roberts style
Chief Justice Roberts wrote only for himself on the Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper issues, explaining why the law was invalid on those grounds before turning to taxing issue and ultimately upholding the mandate. The key to Roberts's analysis is that the mandate "reads more naturally as a command to buy insurance than as a tax." It therefore had to first be analyzed (and rejected) as a Commerce enactment. It only could be analyzed as a tax through a saving construction, which only is imposed if the law would otherwise be unconstitutional. Only after that saving construction, the Court then could perform the Taxing Clause analysis.
But because constitutional invalidity must come before the saving construction which must come before the Taxing analysis, making the first step necessary to the judgment. And thus the confusion over whether this is dicta and whether there is a five-vote majority for the Commerce analysis.
In Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, SCOTUS upheld the public accommodations provisions in Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Congress had pointed to and discussed two power sources during the legislative debates--Commerce and § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. But the latter would have required reconsideration of The Civil Rights Cases, which held that Congress could not regulate non-state conduct through § 5. The Court upheld Title II on Commerce grounds, without discussing (or feeling it necessary to discuss) § 5.This was despite the following: (379 U.S. at 257)
Congress was also dealing with what it considered a moral problem. But that fact does not detract from the overwhelming evidence of the disruptive effect that racial discrimination has had on commercial intercourse. It was this burden which empowered Congress to enact appropriate legislation, and, given this basis for the exercise of its power, Congress was not restricted by the fact that the particular obstruction to interstate commerce with which it was dealing was also deemed a moral and social wrong.
But under the approach Chief Justice Roberts took today, the Heart of Atlanta analysis arguably would have had to go as follows (with apologies to NFIB, slip op. at 44):
[Title II is concerned with a moral and social wrong.] The statute reads more naturally as [a way to ensure the Equal Protection of Laws] than as a [regulation of commerce among the several states] and I would uphold it as a way to ensure Equal Protection if the Constitutional allowed it. It is only because [§ 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment] does not authorize such a [law] that it is necessary to reach the [Commerce] power question. And it is only because we have a duty to construe a statute to save it, if fairly possible, that [Title II] can be interpreted as a regulation of [commerce]. Without deciding the [§ 5] question, I would find no basis to adopt such a saving construction.
Now, perhaps that would not have been a bad thing, as it would have forced a § 5 analysis and we might have gotten a very different analysis and conclusion than we got 25 years later in United States v. Morrison.
Still, Congress often legislates pursuant to multiple power sources or pursuant to a power source and in light of an outside limitation on power. Are there other instances of the Court insisting that a law must be "read more naturally" as derived from one power than another, such that that power had to be analyzed first and becomes essential to the judgment, even if the ultimate conclusion is to uphold the statute on that other ground? It seems to me that the ordinary (and better) process is to read the statute and accept Congress' asserted power source(s) and evaluate the law under all that may apply. And it ordinarily is (and should be) enough to find one power source on which to uphold it; its invalidity under any other source should not be necessary or relevant to the judgment.
Monday, April 30, 2012
Underneath the Law Review Submission Process: Part X Advice for Law Review Articles Editors
For my final two posts 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 and part IX fall submission timing if you are interested) I am going to leave with some advice for current (and future) law review articles editors. Besides Eugene Volokh's great book (which all articles editors should read) there is not much out there as far as advice for new articles editors.
In this series of posts on the law review submission process, we professors have learned a lot from several articles editors through interviews and comments. We have been (mostly) humble and have tried to learn as much as we can from this process in order to improve our submissions and get a better sense of what exactly goes on after we submit a piece and how generally we can improve the quality of our work.
But of course, we wouldn't be proper prawfs if we didn't get a bit didactic here as well. So, this post is dedicated to teaching articles editors (which I hope will be as humble as we have been) a few things we have learned over the years. As a former editor-in-chief who was heavily involved in article selections (at BYU Law in 2003), I want to share a few thoughts. My next post will be advice from two former articles editors turned prawfs.
Four tips for articles editors:
1. Try to go back to when you used to be an interesting, well-rounded person and not a law student. Now you see your parents' swimming pool as an attractive nuisance, your fifth grade class christmas party as constitutionally suspect, and every school yard fight you ever got into as a tort. This is all good and natural, but as you are evaluating articles, try to get out of your 1L frame of mind and think about things that really matter to the world that might intersect with the law.
In considering an article, think, would this be something I would see reported in a newspaper, magazine or on television? Would I want to share what I learned in this article with a friend? A law professor? Who might care about this article? Before you went to law school, you were a really bright person who thought about ideas, social problems, and various different fields. All of this is great and makes you part of a diverse law student body which can help you recognize the importance of submissions made to your law review.
In your first year of law school you've learned a few really important topics; but these topics are not necessarily the most important ones in the scheme of scholarship or to the legal world at large. Don't let law school suck the interest you may have in a wide variety of topics out of you or narrow your interests into just what we teach you in the first year. Try to think about legal problems, but also think about other unresolved or broader public policy issues and see if the articles you are examining tackle those in any significant way--or help the world think about these issues in a different, but helpful light.
True story: despite my undergraduate premed science education, my major in sociology, research and interest in Africa and Iran, I thought given my successful first year law student transformation that the most important and interesting article that I read as an editor was one about the history of the Lochner court. Not that the Lochner court is not interesting and important, but in the scheme of things, there were a lot more important topics and articles that I came across that I probably thought were not "legal" or "scholarly" enough because they were not constitutional and did not cite cases. My own perception of this Lochner article being the best thing since sliced bread was matched by my fellow articles editors who were also equally brainwashed into thinking that constitutional law was the only true law and the best sort of legal scholarship. This "con law" bias I had has also been confirmed by at least one interview in a previous post, so it is something to beware of anyway. But the overall message is, don't let your idea of good scholarship just be focused on what you learned in law school.
2. Think about whether you really understand what the article is saying. If you can't understand the article, it doesn't mean you are not smart enough. It may just be that the author was not clear enough. If on second thought, you don't actually understand the article, it is probably not as good (or well-written) as you thought it was, and it probably needs to be clarified. The best ideas--and those that end up having a lot of impact in the field are not necessarily the most complex ones. I think articles editors may sometimes not give themselves enough credit and think that they may not have to understand every piece they are publishing. Yes, a piece may be empirical or technical, but you should still be able to understand it. And you should be able to explain the core idea of the article to a friend and they should be able to understand what you are saying.
3. Look into how important the topic really is. Law prawfs may tell you that the topic they are writing about is really important; but do your own work in figuring out how important it really is. To get a sense, you can see what else has been written on the topic by scholars, how or if courts consider the issue (for instance, how often courts do courts consider this issue? Is this "huge problem" something that plagues only 10 cases a year?),, whether the data says this is important (ie how many people/cases/countries/businesses does this impact?), or whether this is a debate in common every-day discourse.
Remember that as articles editors, you help keep law discourse at a level that most people can understand--not law professors alone but lawyers, judges and interested people. If the topic does not seem interesting to large enough group of lawyers, judges, or average citizens, then it probably is not that relevant.
4. Final tip, think about how hard this law review article was to write. Often, I see articles that show an impressive amount of important analysis of statutes, regulations, involving FOIA requests, unique cases or empirical studies of large proportions that do not get the requisite attention they deserve with a favorable placement. So, I would ask law review editors to think about whether this author was the first to find an important historical document and analyze it, whether the author assembled their own nationally or internationally representative dataset, whether the author scoured through mountains of case law, whether the author used unique methods like a randomized controlled trial or qualitative interviews, or whether they just read a handful of cases really closely? A consideration of the difficulty of putting together this article is one factor that you may want to consider. If the article was laborious to write and the database difficult to assemble (and of course if factors 1-3 are met) then this is an article that will likely be extremely important to the field.
Those are my tips. I'm sure others have tips on good scholarship as well, so I look forward to hearing from you on other thoughts or tips for articles editors.
My next post will include two interviews with former articles editors turned superstar academics: Ed Cheng (Vanderbilt) (former Harvard Law Review articles editor) and Josh Douglas (U. Kentucky) (former George Washington Law Review articles editor).
Friday, April 20, 2012
Underneath the Law Review Submission Process: Part VI Interviews with Those who Reject Us
In this next post on the law review submission process (see intro, part I, part II on timing of submissions,part III interview, part IV interview and part V interview if you are interested in interviews with Stanford and Vanderbilt editors), I interviewed two articles editors, Joseph Ballstaedt (JGB) and Ryan Merriman (RM), and the editor-in-chief, Joe Orien (JAO) for 2012-13.
One quick note before the interview. I was really impressed with something that the BYU Law Review articles editors did this year before giving an offer to an author. They did citation counts for authors to see how their previous work has been received by the academy as an indication of how important their future work will be. This isn't necessarily helpful for junior scholars who may not have had time for their work to be cited, but I think it can be helpful for more established professors who may not teach at fancy schools but have written important pieces. And as long as this isn't the sole or primary criteria, I think this could be a good objective measure by which to judge authors and articles.
1. If you can briefly describe how many articles you received in this winter submission cycle, when you received the most submissions (if there were any such peaks in the submission cycle) and generally how you weeded through these submissions.
JGB: We received about 1000 submissions, I believe. We received articles for about a month and half, beginning in early February and ending in late March. It seemed like the flow of article submissions was pretty steady, but did pick up some toward the end of March. At least that is my memory. We had to make quick decisions at times to find articles worth reviewing even further and many articles were quickly cut out based on being too short, not having a clear thesis or engaging introduction, addressing an strange topic (like an article promoting incest), or sometimes based on not having a great publication history. However, we often gave great consideration and even offers to young lawyers and professors if their articles impressed us after a quick read.
RM: Assuming the other four Articles Editors reviewed roughly the same number ofsubmissions this semester as I did, we received somewhere between 900 and 1000 articles. I personally reviewed 189 between late January and about the middleof March. It seems like we were flooded with articles towards the end ofFebruary and early March. Given the sheer volume of submissions, it'simpossible to thoroughly read through each article. The only time I ever rejectan article based on the CV alone is when the author is not a law professor, butI always take a closer look at the article when the author has a strong CV.I'll read the introduction, the conclusion, and skim through the rest if it'sinteresting. My primary goal is always to pass on articles that will generatecitations to our law review. To that end, I look for articles that are not toonarrow, make a theoretical/descriptive contribution to the literature, orpropose a change to some area of the law. A concise, well-written introductionthat clearly states why the article is an important contribution always catchesmy attention.
2. How many levels of review do you have and do you have a vote on each article? If so is it majority or supermajority vote?
JAO: We have three levels of review: an initial prescreen stage, a reading stage, and a final review. A single editor reviews each article at the prescreen. To reach the final review, each article must have been read and accepted by two articles editors. At the final review stage, I first read the article and solicit advice from faculty members. The article is then presented to all of the articles editors for discussion and a final decision. All of our decisions this year were unanimous.
3. How do you determine whether an article should be accepted for publication? What factors are most important to you? Article topic? Author's credibility?
JGB: It was always nice when the author addressed either a topic we were familiar with or had interest in; however, we often had to make judgments on articles addressing topics well outside our expertise. In these situations, a indication that we should make an offer or further investigate an article was how well we understood the topic after reading the article. If an author can successfully introduce me to a new topic and unique proposal within that topic, I am satisfied. To do this, he or she must clearly and simply explain the foundation (the basics) of this topic while still engaging a new aspect of this material in a clear way. If an author cannot do this, it is much more difficult to have confidence in the author's article. Great minds and writers, in my opinion, can explain complex matters in a simple way.
JAO: In my review at the last stage of the process, I focused almost exclusively on the quality of the article and tended to only look at the author's credentials in close cases where we needed to rely on the author's credibility in explaining a complex topic. In judging the quality of the articles, I focused on each article's utility (target audience, relevance of thesis, scope), strength of arguments, writing and organization, and research quality. The best articles obviously excelled in all four areas. For articles deficient in one area or another, my decision rested on whether or not the deficiency could be improved through the editing process (e.g., it's hard to improve an article with a poorly conceived thesis).
RM: In descending order, the most important factors to me are (1) the substantive quality of the article (again, does it make a novel descriptive/theoretical contribution to anarea of the law) (2) technical quality, (3) author's prestige. If I read anarticle with great ideas, polished prose, and it looks like it's already been blue booked, I always pass it on to another editor even if the author isrelatively obscure. In fact, because we lose so many articles from professors at T14 schools to other law reviews, I really make a special effort to look foryoung scholars who've written excellent articles. Additionally, I typically reject articles that seem too narrow, or seem to belong in a niche journal (technical articles on tax or patents that don't seem broad enough for a more general audience; pieces that read more like an econ/polisci/international relations piece than a traditional law review article).
4. Tell me about the cover letter. What is the relative value of the cover letter as opposed to the CV? What were the most effective cover letters you saw?
JGB: I did not put much weight in cover letters. In fact, I only remember reading one or two. This was because we were trained not to read the cover letters and found more use in reading the introduction of the article. I would first review the CV to see whether the author was publishing successfully. Then I would consider the substance of the article, skipping the cover letter and going to the introduction--what any future reader would use to quickly assess the utility of an article.
RM: I'll be honest--After the first 20 or 30 submissions, I stopped reading cover letters. Most of them are generic and sound exactly the same. The cover letters that Ithought were effective briefly describe why the article is important in relation to prior scholarship, but an effective introduction in the article does that anyway. For that reason, I think the CV is definitely more important than the cover letter.
5. Describe (each of you), the top two articles you saw this submission cycle and why you believed they were the best articles.
JGB: My favorite submission was very clean. It did what every law review article does (or tries to do), but did it better and more concisely. It did not develop any tangents or speak too long on any aspect of the topic or area of law. Rather, it gave a clear introduction that told me what the article contained, gave a concise but adequate background of the law concerning this topic, and gave me a clear idea of the author's proposal and addition to this area of law. Essentially, it was your stereotypical law review article. It wasn't fancy. I would have been able to read this article as a beginner to the topic (which I was not) and also as a student of the subject interested in the author's proposal (which I was). I didn't have to read the whole article to find the useful parts because it was organized well. The author did not hide the ball or use long-winded explanations. Other authors usually spoke too long so I was grateful to this author for taking the time to slim his article up.
My next favorite article(s) was any article that did the same. In sum, any article that clearly (and sometimes creatively) made its point and made it quickly.
JAO: My favorite two articles both had excellent writing and organization. When an article has clear organization, road maps, transitioning, topic sentences, summaries and conclusions, and signposts, it makes a world of a difference in how I perceive it. Both of the my favorite articles did this. They were easy to read, and I didn't have to re-read paragraphs several times to figure out what the author was trying to illustrate. And I don't think they were easier to read because of the subject matter (one of them, in particular, dealt with a rather complex topic).
RM: We extended an offer (that was ultimatelynot accepted) on an article that examined the relationship between tort reform and economic activity. While we are sometimes wary of pieces that involveeconometrics (because frankly we’re not qualified to evaluate complex empirical work—we’re barely qualified to evaluate traditional law review pieces), the paper used a unique data set to evaluate untested empirical claims surrounding a highly contentious, high-profile issue. Organization was clear, writing was crisp, and technical quality looked ready to publish.
The other article that really impressed me proposed a thought provoking solution to collective action problems that did not rely on the threat of sanctions or prospect of special benefits to participants. It used some game theory, but in a straight-forward, intuitive way I thought was accessible to a general audience. The author applied her theoretical insights to some areas of the law and proposed some substantive reforms. Organization and writing was easy to follow, citations were already in good shape, so even though the publication history was pretty sparse, I felt comfortable recommending it.
6. What kinds of trends did you identify that we can tell law professors about. For instance, did any authors do anything interesting this year that you wanted to pass on?
RM:I noticed a lot of empirical pieces. Some of them were fairly sophisticated (logit/probit regressions, difference-in-difference estimation, instrumental variables) and others were more straightforward (OLS, simple cross tabs, etc.). Personally, I loved seeing so many empirical papers (full disclosure: I was anecon/polisci undergrad). However, I think in general law students feel a little skittish about accepting complex empirical papers because most have no idea how to evaluate the methodology and results. The best articles evaluated controversial, salient legal issues or challenged long-standing assumptions in the literature. They also focused mostly on presenting the results and discussing their implications and left most of the technical explanation in anappendix.
7. How effective is it when authors are extremely communicative with you with emails and updates? Is this nice or annoying? Do you prefer eager authors who may tell you that they are willing to accept an offer if you give one without expediting or does that not help?
RM:I don’t think I’d communicate much before you’ve been contacted by the law review other than to let us know you’ve received an offer. Given how much we don’t know about many areas of the law, we’re always trying to look for indirect evidence that an author produces influential scholarship that will be cited—publication history, quantity/quality of citations to author’s priorwork, prior work experience indicative of expertise, and of course, offers from other journals. If you let us know that you’re willing to publish with us no matter what, that might lead use to speculate that the article isn’t important enough to generate interest from other schools.
JGB: It is certainly tempting to give more weight to an author who is willing to accept an offer if we make him or her an offer. We as article editors have a lot of work to do, and we would love to have solid articles as quickly as possible. It is somewhat discouraging to know that many of the great articles that we like find offers elsewhere. I am tempted to make an offer to an author whose article might not be quite as amazing but will be accepted rather than 3 or 4 offers to authors with stronger articles but who might not accept an offer.
8. Do you ignore articles that do not come from expedited reviews or try to balance expedited reviews from reviews of regular articles?
JGB: I tried to give equal weight to all articles, and I read all the articles in the order that I received them generally. But as time went on, I did start to favor expedited articles in an attempt to find better articles quicker. it is certainly hard not to read an expedited article with a presumption that it will be good. We read most articles with a presumption to reject, but an expedite automatically changes that. And they are generally better anyway
RM: I will read expedited articles first, but they do not receive more substantive attention than other submissions. In my experience, most expedited articles that we offer end up publishing at a higher-ranked journal anyway.
9. Do you try to obtain a balance in article topics that you are publishing? First year topics v. non-first year topics? Public vs. private law?
RM: Not really. If wealready have two articles on the same topic in an issue, we might be less inclined to extend a third offer on the same subject. But generally we’re mostconcerned with filling up our publication calendar, as are most similarly situated law reviews. That probably changes as a journal’s prestige increases.
JGB: I didn't favor any kind of topic, at least consciously. Rather, I try to find articles that will be read and will be cited. I want to add to current legal discussion, wherever it might be. Sometimes a topic that I found very interesting was not likely to receive attention, so I didn't give it as much weight, despite my own interest in it.
JAO: I tended to favor articles with broad applicability. Although a broad thesis can quickly become unmanageable, I tried to look for foundational articles that would lend themselves easily to further discussion in academic circles. I think a thesis can be too narrow in any area, so I'm not sure how much the subject matter affected my thinking.
10. You have a floor here to advice law professors on their articles. What are some tips that you would give for professors to improve their articles?
JGB: If you co-write an article with a less prominent author, it is still your work. I feel that a few great authors let co-authors use their name, and the resulting article wasn't very impressive. Also, good Bluebooking and removing simple typos can make a great difference for two reasons. 1) We don't want to get your article ready to publish--that means a lot of work for us. We want it to come ready to publish and polish it off. 2) Poor Bluebooking and editing make your article lose credibility. Maybe we as law school students put too much emphasis on Bluebooking due to the many edits we do, but it is still something that we value (unfortunately). And grammar errors and other typos just make it look unprofessional. That goes without saying.
JAO: I'm sure most professors already recognize this, but having student-edited journals (as opposed to peer-edited) means that we are frequently unfamiliar with the law underlying each article. Unless we've taken a course on the material covered in the article, we often rely on the article to explain it for us. So if the article doesn't explain, even briefly, the underlying law, we will naturally find it more difficult to understand than an article that builds the blocks necessary to understanding the analysis. In fact, as I'm sure is the case with most editors, the enjoyable part of screening articles is learning about various areas of the law. I think we will often be drawn (perhaps unconsciously) to those articles that attempt to educate the reader generally.
RM: So many factorsthat persuade me to recommend an article are out of an author’s control by the time they submit an article. Does it matter if you went to Harvard or Yale or clerked at the D.C. Circuit? It certainly doesn’t hurt. But setting those types of factors aside, the bottom line is to make the article as ready for publication as you possibly can prior to submission. So many authors see law review editors as an army of (free) research assistants. If something in your article seems like a pain to edit, we’re not particularly excited about doing it either. If an author is clearly an established expert in his/her field with an impressive CV, or if the substance of the piece is particularly compelling,we’re more willing to take on a difficult technical project. But if a young scholar with a short publication history submits a technically deficient piece, it’s harder to justify taking on the extra work.
11. Feel free to add anything else that you think may be helpful.
JGB: One of the things that I loved to see was an article in the standard (if there is a standard) law review print format. Rather than double spacing and normal formatting, an article in law review publication format looked more like a publishable article. Though this probably shouldn't matter, this format made me feel like the article was law-review bound--rather than any other double-spaced research project that we as students have written and read thousands of times.
RM: I’ll briefly echo what my colleagues have mentioned regarding the importance of laying a little groundwork before launching in to your analysis. As second and third year lawstudents, there’s a lot we don’t know about many areas of the law we’rerequired to evaluate. We rely a lot on the article to establish a foundation.The most effective pieces in my view do several things—(1) provide a briefbackground that orients me to the prior scholarship and existing legalprecedent, (2) identifies a gap/problem/misconception in that area of the law,(3) explains briefly how the article responds to the identifiedgap/problem/misconception. The best pieces lay out all three things in the introduction.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
FSU Law Review announces its Exclusive Submission Window for Volume 40
Adam Kramarow, the senior articles editor at the FSU Law Review, has asked me to pass this along. (Feel free to cc me on your submissions.)
The Florida State University Law Review is now conducting exclusive spring article reviews. Any article submitted to this exclusive review between now and April 2, 2012 will be evaluated and responded to by April 9, 2012. By submitting the article during this window you agree to accept an offer for publication should one be extended. Any articles accepted through this review will be published in Volume 40, which is slated for publication in 2013.
If you have an article which you would like to submit, please e-mail an attached copy of the article and your CV and cover letter to email@example.com with the subject line "Exclusive Spring Article Review." (The character after the k in Adam's email address is a zero, not an "o".) This opportunity also applies to articles you may have submitted to FSU LR earlier this season but you need to resend the piece under the appropriate subject line. If you have submitted an article for review through ExpressO, you will have to resubmit it through this process to be considered under the exclusive review process. We look forward to reading your articles.
Friday, February 17, 2012
The Angsting Thread (Law Review Edition, Spring 2012)
Friends, the time has come when Redyip is visible. You know what that means. Feel free to use the comments to share your information (and gripes or praise) about which law reviews have turned over, which ones haven't yet, and where you've heard from, and where you've not, and what you'd like Santa to bring you this coming Xmas, etc. It's the semi-annual angsting thread for the law review submission season. Have at it. And do it reasonably nicely, pretty please.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Incest, Surrogacy, Abstinence Education Funding, Single Parent Reproduction...or What's Wrong with the Regulation of Reproduction
Should the state permit anonymous sperm donation? Should brother-sister incest between adults be made criminal? Should individuals over the age of fifty be allowed access to reproductive technologies? Should the state fund abstinence education?
One common form of justification that is offered to answer these and a myriad of other reproductive policy questions is concern for the best interests of the children that will result, absent state intervention, from these forms of reproduction. This focus on the Best Interests of the Resulting Child (BIRC) is, on the surface, quite understandable and stems from a transposition of a central organizing principle of family law justifying state intervention - the protection of the best interests of existing children - visible in areas such as adoption, child custody, and child removal.
In Regulating Reproduction: The Problem with Best Interests, coming out shortly in the Minnesota Law Review (the penultimate draft now available on SSRN), I show why BIRC (or if you prefer, child welfare) arguments are a non-starter in justifying most regulation of reproduction, despite their dominance of the discourse. This is the first part of a larger project, and its companion paper Beyond Best Interests will appear in the Minnesota Law Review’s April 2012 issue, and should go on SSRN shortly.
What is the problem with best interests?
Drawing on insights from bioethics and the philosophy of identity (especially Derek Parfit’s work), I show why the BIRC justification, at least stated as such, is problematic both as a normative and constitutional matter: unless the state’s failure to intervene would foist upon the child a “life not worth living,” any attempt to alter whether, when, or with whom an individual reproduces cannot be justified on the basis that harm will come to the resulting child, since but for that intervention the child would not exist. Nevertheless, I show that BIRC arguments are frequently relied upon by courts, legislatures, and scholars to justify these interventions. At a doctrinal level the Article also shows that this reliance on BIRC justifications is in tension with the implicit rejection of similar reasoning by courts unwilling to recognize wrongful life torts.
After demonstrating why the BIRC argument is unworkable as stated, I considers three possible reformulations of the argument that would save it, including one that focuses on population welfare (and non-person-affecting principles). I explain why none of these approaches is persuasive including by discussing their disturbing implications as to enhancement and eugenics.
In the companion paper, Beyond Best Interests, I consider a set of quite different substitute justifications for regulating reproduction – reproductive externalities, wronging while overall benefitting, legal moralism, and virtue ethics approaches – and evaluate their plausibility.
While Regulating Reproduction: The Problem With Best Interests is almost in print (the final version will hopefully make the diagrams a bit more readable), I still have time to work on the companion paper so I welcome any comments on- or offline. I will also blog a bit later this month about a related paper, Rethinking Sperm-Donor Anonymity: Of Changed Selves, Nonidentity, and One-Night Stands, forthcoming in the Georgetown Law Journal, which I will post on SSRN shortly.
This project has been a long time in gestation, so I redouble my thanks to all those of you who have given me comments and invited me to present at your workshops and conferences (hopefully you are all thanked in the paper), since you have helped me improve this work immeasurably.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Should Law Reviews Publish Their Own Faculty? Should Junior Faculty Publish in Their Own Law Reviews
In this post I am interested in the two titular questions. The questions were prompted by a conversation with several Harvard Law Review editors on changes they could make to improve the law review, and the report by one of them that another prof had suggested adopting a rule to this effect, which I found interesting.
A couple of initial caveats/disclosure/prophylactics: I don't have a strong view on the questions I am asking or a dog in the fight, one of the reasons why I am posting on it to get feedback; I've never been the lucky recipient of a Harvard Law Review offer to publish so I am not making claims about what I have done or would do; I do not mean to disparage the quality of anyone who does publish in their own law review, most of what I am interested in are perceptions rather than actuality here. Does where we publish reflect the quality of our pieces or even matter? Enough of us act as though it matters (by calling in expedites) that even if we think of placement as a very imperfect signal of quality, we behave as though it is a signal or at least worry that our peers do, making this a reasonable question on my view.
With those in mind, let's take up my two questions:
(1) Should law reviews adopt a rule that they won't publish their own faculty? Here I am imagining a kind of collective action as many law reviews undertook as to article length.
The argument for: Especially on small faculties, editors will feel pressure to take their faculty's pieces, irrespective of whether the faculty is actually putting that pressure on them. Even if selection was totally blind to the fact that this is the home institution, many on the outside will devalue the placement as an "inside job," and there is at least a spectre of partiality. Law review editors may feel less free to push back in their edits of professors on whom they depend for grades and recommendations than relative strangers.
The argument against: It can be a wonderful opportunity for students to get to know possible mentors on the faculty and perhaps there is more investment among law review editors. Still, as mentioned above this lack of arm's length relationship is not an unalloyed good. Moreover, there may be psychic harm if your faculty routinely solicits an offer from the home school journal only to call in an expedite and pass over those students and their journal.
(2) A separate question: assume the rule remains the same and faculty are allowed to publish in their school's law reviews. Should they? In particular, should junior faculty for whom placements are a bit more scrutinized place their pieces in their own school law reviews? My own anecdotal sense -- but I really want to take the temperature of the blog readers on this since I don't have much data -- is that outside evaluators tend to engage in devaluation of articles placed in the home journal. Now granted, if you are a faculty at Harvard or Yale, etc and the opportunity presents itself to place it in those very highly-regarded journals even with the devaluation it might be worthwhile. But what if you teach at a school with a less highly ranked journal?
Again, no dog in this fight, just curious what people think....
Monday, September 19, 2011
Open Thread for Law Review "Angsting"
Updated and bounced to the front:
Redyip has finally been sighted for the season. The question is: has he departed for good until the spring? Are the law reviews still open for business and making offers?
Since we had such a successful thread this past spring about the submission season, I figured we should start a new thread for a joy/gripe-fest, a place where authors and editors can share stories and offer information about the upcoming submission season. Have at it!
Thursday, August 18, 2011
According to our survey, the approach of September means that a number of law journals are now or will soon be reading submissions again. For some (and I have from time to time counted myself among this unhappy number) this means re-submitting a piece that failed to find a home in an earlier submission season. Not, as George & Jerry would say, that there's anything wrong with that. Still, many folks seem reluctant to talk about resubmission, as if it were somehow either shady or shameful. I don't think it's inherently either one, but that there are definitely practices I view as a little dubious. Of course, I also think it's cheating when a batter pretends he checked his swing -- so, with the warning that my sense of ethics may be a little over-developed, here's my resubmission etiquette checklist for authors -- and editors.
1. Editors, don't judge.
My sense is that a lot of authors take steps to shroud the fact that they are resubmitting, probably on the assumption that there is some negative signal from having failed to secure an earlier offer. First of all, I don't think any negative signal should attach. Journals intentionally create scarcity for most categories of article. In an arrowvian sense, rejection or not is not a stable equilibrium, but instead is contingent on agenda setting. And, relatedly, many journals will stop reading for a season before they get to all their submissions. On the author's side, the revised version may genuinely be better than the old one.
2. Authors, respect the process. Ok, many prior rejections are not "on the merits," or at least aren't very informative about the quality of the resubmission. But journals are entitled to economize on decision costs by giving some preclusive effect to their own earlier decisions to reject. Yes, a different screener might have a different view of the merits. But journals don't circulate each submission to lots of screeners until the article reaches someone who likes it. It seems shady for an author to try to engineer the process to get to that same result. If nothing else, there is something like a horizontal equity argument here: the process could not work if all authors were considered by all screeners. It isn't fair for some authors to help themselves to additional consideration that not all applicants can get.
I do think this norm is different for resubmissions after a new board has taken over. It's less clear there that the presumption is that the new board would want to be bound by the judgments of their predecessors. But still, the better practice is probably to disclose.
3. Want respect, editors? Don't judge, and announce it. Obviously, points one and two are related. Authors are most likely to shroud when they think there is some negative signal. If the journal wants authors to disclose resubmissions, they should announce their policy on resubmissions. Saying there is no negative presumption will produce more disclosure. .
4. More explanation is good for everyone. I think it's helpful for both authors and editors when authors explain how their resubmission differs from earlier versions. Journals can encourage this behavior, too: for example, by admitting that they do have some negative presumption, but that they are open to articles that have been revised with a clear explanation in the cover letter of what's changed.
And, of course, in happy fantasy land journals would explain why they rejected a piece that came close to acceptance, allowing authors to then explain in the resubmission how they had answered those concerns. (Also, while I'm dreaming, the journal's explanations would 1. be internally consistent (difficult, admittedly, when decisions are a group process); 2. give a clear path for revisions; 3. bind the board so that if the author follows the path the article will be accepted; and 4. be delivered on shiny unicorns riding on rainbows).
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Stanford Law Review’s Peer Review Process
As part of our continuing “law review review” features, I spoke with Andrew Prout, a senior articles editor at the Stanford Law Review, about their peer review process. (For background on the peer review process, check out Brian's overview from last week.)
(1) How long has Stanford participated in the peer review program?
My understanding is that this is the third year of the program (i.e., Vol. 62 started this program).
(2) Do you share reviewers with the other schools, or do you find your own?
We use our own reviewers, although on maybe one or two occasions (when we were under a very tight deadline from another journal's exploding offer), we have reached out to professors who we knew had already reviewed the piece for another school.
(3) About how many articles do you send to be peer-reviewed each cycle (spring/fall)? How are these articles chosen?
This year [as of the spring], we've sent around 40 to 50 articles for peer review, and so far we've accepted 12 articles. Usually, we choose to send an article to peer review after several student readers have shown a very strong interest in the piece. We also turn to peer review when we have certain concerns that we feel reviewers can address, or when we discuss the article at the full committee level and decide that we need more information before we can make an offer.
We almost never send to peer review an article that is over our word limit (30,000 words, including footnotes, excluding appendices).
(4) How do the reviewers give their feedback? Do you use a system of categorization or a ratings system?
Their feedback is holistic. We ask reviewers for their perspective on the article's novelty, usefulness, and accuracy.
(5) Have you thought of formalizing the peer-review feedback and providing an (anonymous) copy to the author after the review?
We know that scholars in other fields can receive feedback from their peer reviewers once the process is complete, and we've considered whether we should do the same. Trouble is, many legal scholars writing about a niche topic are familiar with the same scholars who end up providing us with peer reviews. So even if we sent just the text of the review without any name attached, many could tell who had reviewed their article. This in fact happened at least once before when we used to share just the text of the peer review with authors. Because complete anonymity encourages many of our reviewers to be frank with us, we promise that we will never reveal their review to the authors, and we stick to that promise.
We could formalize the reviews, as you suggest, but that would require quite a bit of editing, and frankly, we don't have enough hours in our days to do that. We also are concerned that using a form or otherwise asking for more standardized responses from our reviewers would deter potential reviewers, most of whom we have to ask to respond within a short timeframe due to exploding offers.
(6) Do you always follow what the peer reviewer suggests? In other words, have you ever accepted an article that was given a poor peer review? Or have you ever rejected an article that got stellar peer reviews?
When the reviewers are nearly unanimous in their praise or disdain for a piece, we almost always follow their lead. But that's not always the case. If anything, we err on the side of rejection, so there have been times when peer reviewers liked an article and we rejected the article anyway, either because we changed our mind about how much we liked the article in the first place, or because the content of the review did not alleviate some concerns about the piece even if the reviewer liked the piece overall.
NB: Last year, we withdrew from ExpressO, so all the articles we receive are submitted directly through our website (www.stanfordlawreview.org).
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Peer Review at Student-Edited Journals: Best Practices?
Last week brought news, via Bainbridge, that Chicago is joining Harvard, Yale, and Stanford in regularly using some form of official peer review. (I say “official” because many journals also informally solicit faculty input). Bainbridge is displeased, especially about the short turnaroud. I can’t sign onto the whole rant, but there are a few points about the implementation of peer review he highlights that are worth some more discussion.
First, some stylized facts about current practices. I have a survey out now to journals that have used official peer review in the past, and so maybe soon we’ll have real facts. (Chicago editors should feel free to e-mail LawReviewReview ~at~ gmail.com for a survey of their own.) For now, though, my impressions are that: 1. journals often disregard or weight lightly the advice they get from outside reviewers; 2. reviewer comments are not shared with authors; 3. authors cannot respond to reviewer comments; 4. reviewers are anonymous but free to reveal themselves; 5. reviewers don’t know author identity (except perhaps in the new case of Chicago, which does not use blind review). I think 1 & 2 are significant problems, 3 sucks but is probably hard to fix, 4 needs some tweaks and 5 seems a'ight. After the jump: why.
As Bainbridge points out, giving no presumptive weight to your reviewers is a pretty lousy way to motivate good reviews. You’re asking me to drop everything, simply for the good of mankind, and I’m only going to get a couple of days to collect my thoughts. If my views don’t actually matter that much, why would I bother? There’s a strong norm in other disciplines that editors must make an offer if reviewers recommend publication, and at a minimum I think journals should bind themselves to that position. The same is not necessarily true of reject/revise recommendations, since scholars are by nature a disputatious and suspicious bunch, and there may be legitimate reasons for thinking a piece is publishable despite some skepticism by (let’s say) the author’s intellectual foes.
Next, it’s a major problem that reviewer comments are rarely shared. One EIC was nice enough to pass along some reviewer comments to me once, but I haven’t heard of anyone else who’s ever gotten any (of course, student editors rarely respond to any post-rejection communication of any kind). Again, this is demotivating for reviewers (not to mention aggravating for authors). What is the point of thinking deeply about the issues you’re reviewing, if there is a good chance no one will ever benefit from your thoughts? You could contact the author directly, but generally the better norm is that the author shouldn’t know that you were the reviewer (more on that in a minute). And, incentives aside, scholarship would be better overall if authors did get the opportunity to benefit from reviewer advice, especially junior authors with senior reviewers.
In most peer-review processes, providing reviewer feedback to the author goes hand-in-hand with allowing authors to revise to account for, or at least respond to, the reviewer. Some reviews are just wrong, or miss a key point of the argument (especially those that have to be completed in 5 days...), or are, shall we say, “motivated.” If reviewers have make-or-break power it’s fair to let authors point out possible flaws in the review, or acknowledge its wisdom and make the necessary adjustments. And, as Bainbridge says, circulating responses back to the reviewer gives the desirable incentive to care what the reviewer says. The timing and volume of the student-edited process probably makes this process impractical, especially revisions. But I could see offering an author the opportunity to respond as long as she was willing to commit to wait long enough for the editors to digest her response.
Lastly, I don’t have deep thoughts about author anonymity, but I do think reviewer anonymity is probably a good idea. And not just formal anonymity, but also an expectation that reviewers not reveal themselves. In fact, letting reviewers reveal if they want is probably the worst outcome, since it gives asymmetric incentives. One doesn’t want reviewers who are motivated by the rewards of the authors’ appreciation. But one also doesn’t want reviewers who are motivated by the opportunity to bury an anonymous hatchet in the work of a rival. Revealing everyone eliminates the second but exacerbates the first; shrouding everyone eliminates the first but exacerbates the second, and reviewer option to reveal exacerbates both.
On balance, I’d guess shrouding everyone is the best choice IF it’s combined with giving authors the opportunity to respond, which of course mitigates the hatchet-job dangers. I can’t think of any comparable way of mitigating the problem of over-enthusiastic reviewers, other than just discounting everyone’s views. But then we’d be back to the “why bother?” problem. So, anon + share with author + responses it is.
What do you think?
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?
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Law Review Rankings
Maybe it’s the hundred-degree heat talking, but I think law review rankings are a little bit useful.
As a reader and researcher, I do make some use of an article’s placement as a screen for how close of an initial read to devote to it. When I look at the c.v.’s of two scholars whose work I’ve never read, I’m probably inclined to look more attentively at the work of the one with the fancy cites. Yeah, I said it. Put away the pitchforks, dear readers: I don’t think I’m alone. Satisficing is not going away. And, by the way, perceived prestige is an important motivator for the nonprofit labor force.
It would be nice, then, if there were reliable guides to the signaling value of a given journal placement.
U.S. News gives us a decent if limited signal; since most authors agree that at the pinnacle its rankings are roughly meaningful, we get scarcity. So we can assume that journals at the top are more selective than others. Whether they make good decisions when picking the few from the many we don't know. And in the end, using selectivity as a measure of quality leads us, um, to this. Is there a better way to rank journals?
An under-appreciated problem here is that this throws us back into the problem of defining what is good legal scholarship. Given that journal editors are likely to respond to the incentives of an explicit ranking system, some care has to go into constructing it. An approximation of a value-neutral approach might be to simply rank publications based on the use others scholars make of them. (For a thoughtful review of why that method works and what its problems are, see Russell Korobkin, 26 FSU L. Rev. 851, and Ronen Perry.) Korobkin argues that, basically, citation counts create the least bad set of incentives; usefulness to others seems like a decent result even if it's somewhat distorting of the real scholarly mission (which, of course, is to be completely useless).
Well, the Washington & Lee Law Library, as many readers will know, offers a ranking of law journals based on total citations and “impact factor,” or IF. IF in the larger scholarly world is a widely-used metric of the quality of journal editors’ judgment; it represents the mean number of citations per article per year for the journal. It’s not actually a great measure, since it tells us nothing about the quality of the citing articles, and reputation probably produces IF as much as the other way around.
As weak as IF is in general, W&L’s implementation is particularly problematic.
If you probe the W&L description of their methods closely, you find that they aren’t really calculating IF. What they’re doing instead is counting how many times each journal is cited at least once in a given article. That method tends to shrink the distance between top journals and others (and, probably, to underweight specialty journals), because it gives journals no credit for being cited more than once per article. A real IF would count citations separately for each published article, add them up, and then divide by the number of articles published per year.
Also, there’s gaming, as some have noted around here recently. Thomson Reuters, which compiles IF rankings for non-law subjects and sells the results to journals for their advertising purposes, reports self-citations for each journal. Users can then make up their minds whether they care.
Finally, to be parochial, W&L only uses Westlaw to generate its citation counts, and Westlaw doesn’t include Tax Notes, a major publication for us tax types. (This is also our gripe with Leiter). So tax articles are (sniff) even more under-appreciated.
None of this is to pick on W&L. It’s wonderful that someone has taken on the task of generating information that’s useful to all of us. But hopefully they are open to reform. Another path forward is Thomson to enter the law market.
Either way, what I'd particularly like to see is some kind of quality-weighted influence measure, along the lines of google pageview, as described here.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Who Should be the Audience for Legal Scholarship?
“Modest” is not the first word that comes to most people’s minds when asked to describe me. (“Pasty” and “bald” are popular choices.) That’s pretty common for law professors, in my experience. (That is, the self-confidence, not the baldness.) Nonetheless, this post is in praise of the modesty of contemporary legal scholarship.
Many practitioners, from C.J. Roberts on down, have been heard to complain (read the comments!) about the “irrelevance” of recent legal scholarship to their work. These complaints are, in a sense, factually wrong. There is tons of doctrinal scholarship being produced today, much of it quite fine. But to find it, you probably have to read a journal with “of” in the title, or a general-interest journal from a law school with a relatively low U.S. news ranking. So really, the complaint is that gate-keepers at the most selective journals do not value the same things practitioners do. It’s not an invalid complaint: being able to rely (at least to some extent) on gate-keepers to screen for quality is highly valuable for time-constrained actors.
Perhaps, then, there is a need for some signal of quality for highly practical scholarship. (The ABA’s journals seem a useful step in that direction.) I nonetheless want to defend the status quo in which such scholarship is not highly prized by the academy, and therefore not prized by the gate-keepers who have internalized our norms.
In short, I believe doctrinal scholarship should be viewed with some wariness because, in speaking directly to legal policy makers, it partakes of a perilous immodesty. Purely theoretical scholarship, on the other hand, by whispering in the ears of other ivory-tower dwellers, is better suited to our limited capacity as scholars. Lots more after the jump.
My basic assumption is that law is policy, and choices of legal doctrine have consequences. Much of the modern intellectual trend away from judge-made law rests on those claims. (Though I don’t want to discount the role of ideological efforts to entrench the politically powerful against the threat of litigation, and to diminish the influence of trial lawyers.) While courts have strengths, the fact remains that their judgments typically represent at best an agreement among a handful of smart people. And that’s a problem when the world is as complex as it is.
We could say the same thing about scholarship. Brandeis was brilliant, but on and off the bench he missed a lot of important points, too. (E.g., about that laboratories of democracy business). For any one of us to claim that we’re clearly right about what the law “is” (or, implicitly, should be) just strikes me as overwhelmingly likely to be wrong, or at least perilously incomplete, most of the time. Yet it isn’t clear that this limitation is apparent to policy makers who consume “doctrinal” scholarship – the scholarship that speaks directly to lawmakers and makes claims about legal policy should be.
“Theoretical” scholarship, then – scholarship that speaks to other scholars, and not to a lay audience – is insular, but appropriately so. That is the modest course. (It is also is more consistent with a modern understanding of statistical inference.) We debate with each other because that is how we move closer to a fully-informed truth, or at least to a position we can agree is most defensible given the limited information available to us. Doctrine emerges at the end of this process, in spinning out the consequences of consensus theoretical positions for discrete applications. We do what judges should do, would do, if they had endless time. (I leave for another day the question of whether the optimal institutional design follows the u.s. in joining theorizing to teaching, but separating out judging and lawmaking.)
Of course, sometimes crises demand immediate answers. Sometimes the best guess is better than doing nothing. Sometimes doing nothing leaves in place an existing baseline that is clearly inferior to most other options. But given the stickiness and path dependence of legal choices, in particular, it is often wiser to measure twice and cut once.
To be clear, “doctrine” and “theory” as I’ve sketched them are points at the ends of a continuum. Nearly all legal scholarship is considerably more “practical” or doctrinal than the median of any other major academic discipline. In many ways, I see that as the emerging role for legal scholarship: moving foundational ideas from elsewhere in the academy closer towards some possible real-world implementation. That “translational” task suits our skills as explainers, negotiators, institution-builders, and problem-solvers. But even translators should be cautious.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
On the Training of Editors
On my way back into the LRR office, I tripped over Matt's gauntlet: justify student-edited journals, reform them, or abandon them. I read him to say that, though student-edited journals may have flaws, they may also have strengths, and in any event the institution looks pretty durable at the moment. Instead of just cursing journals for what they're not, why not figure out what they could be?
The comments, all of which are well worth reading, offer some great nuggets of ideas. One I especially liked, from "Jason," suggested offering a 2-credit course on legal scholarship for 2L editors. I'd add that such a course would probably also be attractive to non-editors, especially at schools that regularly produce academics.
Now, look, 2 credits ain't a Ph.D. But it's a lot more than nothing. I'd be interested to hear more detailed thoughts and reactions to the idea. Is it worth doing? Has your school offered such a course, and if so how did it go? (I feel like chicago has -- any others?) What would you teach in it? (I'd probably have a section on methodology/professional norms, and the bulk of the course reading exemplars of important recent intellectual movements.) How would you grade it? (I'd go mostly with weekly response papers, but perhaps the experience of writing original legal scholarship would also be valuable).
What else should we be doing to help student editors help us do our jobs?
Thursday, June 02, 2011
Yes, law students select and create legal scholarship
As the spring submission season winds down, you can hear the collective sigh of relief. No matter whether one is happy or disappointed with the results, all those involved -- from the profs to the students -- probably have a few new gray hairs. The law review submission process is angst-filled for just about everyone. But why?
There are two contradictory proverbs about law review submissions that most of us seem to espouse: (1) placement does not dictate the quality of the article, and (2) it is important to place your article as "high" as you can. This is the acknowledged paradox of the system. Both statements cannot be correct, at least in the long term. If quality was unrelated to placement, then no one would care where the article placed. But if placement actually does signal the quality of the work, then our field is leaving decisions about quality in the hands of students.
It's that second proposition that is the elephant in the room for many prawfs, especially when explaining law reviews to colleagues in other fields. Yes, we submit to student-run reviews. Yes, publication decisions are made by students. Many of us are embarrassed by this, and so we run back to (a): "It doesn't really matter where we publish. The law review is just giving the article a platform." But then why do so many of us care about the platform? If pressed, the junior scholar will likely blame others: "Well, my senior faculty really care," or "The rest of the academy seems to think it's important, so I guess I have to go along with the crowd."
I think we need to work through this contradiction. But rather than taking the traditional route, I'm going to go in the other direction. Yes, students help decide what is good scholarship. Instead of running away from this, I think we should own it and deal with it.Law school students are in something of a strange place in the academy. They are graduate students, and they are getting a "juris doctor." But unlike other doctoral students, the overwhelming majority will not go on to academia -- they go into practice. This places them in an odd position -- doing extensive study in a particular academic field, but not sticking with the field afterwards. So law professors are expected to train not future academics, but rather future lawyers. And we are expected to write for lawyers as well. We're criticized when our research is not useful to, say, a Supreme Court chief justice. As Gordon Smith felt moved to point out, in italics -- "legal scholars often are not writing for practicing lawyers." But even he felt the need to throw in "often."
Legal scholarship and legal education have always been hybrid propositions. Part academia, part professional school. Part theoretical, part practical. And that goes not only for professors but for students as well. Law students are graduate students. They are learning professional skills, but they are also learning an academic discipline.
Law review editors are a special subset of law students. Most of them, too, will go on to practice. But they are even more engaged in the scholarly enterprise than their fellow graduate students. Law review editors not only select and edit legal scholarship -- they write it as well. Law review notes are direct opportunities for students to participate in the scholarly and professional conversations of the field. It has perhaps become less fashionable for academics to cite student notes, and they matter a lot less than they used to for those students who want to be scholars. But notes remain a way for students to write scholarship.
Student control over legal scholarship can be seen as a historical accident, a locked-in network effect, a solution whose time has passed. But rather than being embarrassed that students are involved in legal scholarship, maybe we should embrace it. Yes, our graduate students run many of our most prestigious journals. They are expected to know enough about the field that they can choose the important articles and help to edit them into even better pieces. The luxury, of course, is that we don't just have two or ten or twenty journals that we have to publish in, or else -- we have hundreds of journals, and a good piece can rise to the top of the field even with a lower placement. But we should acknowledge that yes, our graduate students are part of our scholarly conversation. And there are positives to this.
What if philosophy, or economics, or political science journals were run by grad students? It's an interesting thought experiment, and I'd like to hear from folks in those fields about the effects such a change would have. But having students involved in legal scholarship helps keep the field connected to both future academics and future practitioners. Those students working for a journal are reading, selecting, and editing scholarship. They are involved in the scholarly conversation. It helps to keep the field fresh and accessible and connected to the world of practice. In a hybrid discipline, it is a hybrid approach. If we recognize that, it might change not only our perspective on law reviews, but also how we approach things like teaching and curriculum.
That is not to say that peer review is unimportant. We work in peer review in a variety of ways: a small but significant number of peer review journals, the star footnote, top-10 lists, workshop series, the Stanford/Yale junior faculty forum, a note from a colleague, lateral offers, book contracts, tenure. Overall, we need more peer review, not less. But we need not adopt the level of discipline-loathing that completely disregards the contribution of law reviews. Yes, students help choose, edit, and create legal scholarship. And that can be a good thing, too.
If we start taking seriously the notion that our students choose and create legal scholarship, we can stop putting our fingers in our ears and start trying to make the process better. If we want students to be able to do their work more effectively, what can be done to facilitate the process? The most important thing, in my mind, is committing to the notion that law reviews are not necessary evils, or even embarrassing vestiges, but rather partners in the scholarly endeavor. When we start imagining the role of students in law reviews as a legitimate part of legal education and legal scholarship, we will start to think of ways to improve the overall process. But if we cannot commit to that notion, then we should abandon law reviews altogether and move on to a new system.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Solving the Problem (?) of Scarce Slots for Specialty Articles
In our last episode, we ended on a terrifying cliffhanger: few journals in any year have editors interested in any given, esoteric, legal subject. Slots for the "weird" (i.e., not con law or crim law) at those journals are especially scarce because most limit themselves to no more than one of each. FoP Carl confirmed that impression. This led us to ask: if a board feels it's especially interested in some area, why not accept a second or third excellent piece on the condition of publication in the next volume? Especially in the age of ssrn and bepress, many authors would surely accept such an offer.
My proposal to overcome this limitation (I hesitate to call it a "problem," but so far I remain convinced it's a needless cost of existing rules): let current boards make offers to publish articles in future volumes, subject to approval of their full membership. I unpack why this could make sense after the jump.
Journals, I think, limit board authority to the current volume for the same reason states force their officials to balance budgets: to reduce inter-temporal externalities. There’s a useful disciplining effect when the board that accepts a piece also has to edit it (or at least buy beers for and accept dirty looks from the hapless managing editors who do the hard work that results). It’s more fun to work on articles and with authors you’re excited about, instead of stuff your predecessors thought was cool. (Aside to the clerk who inherited my docket: sorry about all those admin cases.) And at some point deferred offers could pile up, to the point where later boards would be unable to offer timely publication to anyone (and, therefore, probably unable to get many offers accepted) -- but current boards have at best indirect incentives to care about that.
Still, there are other solutions that would mitigate the externality problem while also offering more flexibility. As one recent Harvard editor pointed out in comments to one of our prior posts, Harvard will theoretically accept an unlimited number of articles in a year. In practice, though, they almost never do, because they (accidentally?) have an internalization mechanism: their full membership, which presumably includes the following year’s board, votes on all offers. Now, probably Harvard’s practice wouldn’t work for everyone; they publish maybe 8 articles a year, and some places push out three times that many. That’s a lot of editor-hours spent voting (not to mention debating and/or clucking over the choices). And they’re Harvard; they don’t need to hurry to make offers.
But not every article has to go through full-member voting. Boards could give themselves the option to call for a full-member vote in cases where their likely alternatives are reject or defer to the next volume. In other words, the board alone can accept articles for the current year, or, with the approval of the full membership, for the following. There are probably other institutional benefits from giving the 2L membership some limited exposure to the selection process, too. This procedure would give the immediate future a voice in efforts to impose costs on them, while opening more slots for truly sparkling pieces that catch a board's fancy but seem too similiar in subject to other pieces in that volume.
I’ll bet there are lots of other possibilities. Let’s figure it out. Or is this a pseudo-problem? Tell us what you think.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Interview with a law review article submission editor: Carl Engstrom of the Minnesota Law Review
There is a lot of discussion on law professor blogs, including but not limited to this one, about law review submission strategy. And in those discussions, there is a lot of conjecture about how articles editors make their decisions. I say “conjecture” because for some time, a voice missing from this discussion is one that could actually shed light on the selection process rather than having law professors guess at what matters and how to craft submission strategies: law review article editors themselves.
Fortunately, though, there’s been some contribution to this dialogue lately from law review article editors, most recently James Tierney's thoughtful series of posts at Opinio Juris. In order to continue this dialogue, I interviewed my good friend and college classmate Carl Engstrom, who just completed his 2L year and is currently an article submission editor for the Minnesota Law Review.
Carl answered my many questions about the myths and non-myths law professors have about the article submission process, and our discussion appears below. A few quick caveats are in order before beginning. This discussion reflects Carl’s sense of the submission process, to the extent that he’s been through it as an article submission editor exactly once (spring submission season 2011). And this discussion reflects only the views of a single articles editor at a single law review. Obviously, things change from law review to law review, and may also be different at the same reviews as boards turn over. But with that in mind, here we go:
Dave Fagundes: Would you say the school letterhead under which a submission is made is a dominant consideration for articles editors? Law professors certainly seem to think so.
Carl Engstrom: It has some influence, which is probably unfortunate. If a submission comes in from a professor at a fourth tier law school, there is likely some tendency to prejudge the work, so letterhead from lower-ranked schools may make it somewhat harder to get an article accepted.
That said, however, letterhead is never dispositive, and can be easily overcome if the substance of the article is impressive. Minnesota Law Review in particular perceives itself as a journal that tends to be more aggressive in terms of taking articles that have impressive substance even though the author is not from a well-known school. To give some indication, only 6 out of the 18 articles I bumped (i.e., recommended for review by the 5-person articles committee that ultimately extends offers) during the Spring 2011 submission season were written by professors at top-25 schools.
And there’s a countervailing consideration: We take this process seriously, and don’t want to think of ourselves as mechanically reproducing the US News rankings hierarchy, so this causes us to want to resist using a professor’s school as a simple proxy for quality.
The interview continues below the fold.
DF: So what external factors—that is, factors other than the quality of the article itself—do influence the process?
CE: The CV is probably the most important such external factor. The author’s publication record is definitely taken seriously. If they’ve consistently been publishing strong work, that makes a positive impression. The author’s educational background and professional background are also influential. For these reasons, the CV is the first thing I read, usually briefly, before moving on to the article itself.
DF: What about the cover letter?
CE: It’s usually pretty marginal, especially since so few authors include relevant information in it. At the outset of submission season, I took a look at them, but as the season went on and we were crushed by the volume of incoming articles, I started throwing them away entirely unless they seemed to add really important information.
DF: What kind of information in a cover letter would rate as really important?
CE: Any information that indicates how the article has been perceived so far. For example, if an article has been a big hit on SSRN and is getting a bunch of downloads and has been included on lots of big SSRN top-ten download lists, this is relevant because it suggests that the article will be cited heavily when published (and future citations matter to us a lot). Also, if an article has been accepted for presentation at important conferences, this may be helpful information about how it’s perceived by peers. Of course, we don’t necessarily know the significance of various conferences, so if an article has been accepted at a conference that is a big deal, or has received any other honors worth mentioning, authors need to explain that to us so we have a sense of why it matters.
DF: How much does the “sexiness” of the topic matter?
CE: Sexiness matters, but not for the reasons many people think it does. Sometimes it can be a negative to write about a very current issue, because odds are that countless other people in your field are also writing about that issue. For example, it seemed this past submission season that about a quarter of the incoming articles were about the financial crisis. There were so many of them that writing about this subject matter probably decreased authors’ chances of acceptance, despite being very topical.
Subject matter can be a plus if it makes the article more interesting. It’s appealing when an article takes on a topic that affects our daily lives. Probably my favorite piece that I read, and that we will be publishing in next year’s volume, is about knockoffs of high-status consumer items, like a Coach purse, and the extent to which trademark should regulate transactions when people know they’re buying knockoffs (viz., “Veblen Brands and Invisible Hands in the Market for Social Expression,” by Jeremy Sheff). This piece is not topical in the sense of relating to a major recent news event, but is very socially relevant in the sense that it relates to something we see around us every day. This isn’t to say, though, that being current or trendy in any of these senses is necessary to getting published. It helps, but quality is always the dominant consideration. If an author seems to be arbitrarily trying to pique interest by picking a “sexy” topic, but the thesis seems uninteresting or poorly executed, that article stands no chance of going forward in the submission process.
DF: What other factors aside from subject matter and, of course, quality of argument do you find influential when reading a piece?
CE: It’s probably marginal, but formatting can make a difference. Some articles come through cleanly formatted and looking like they were made with a law review template in terms of margins and running header. Others look like standard MS Word documents, and sometimes have weird fonts or other formatting quirks—this doesn’t help make a good first impression. I should emphasize that while an editor would never consciously make a decision on such a basis, on a subconscious level, it’s easier to imagine a piece being in your journal if it is formatted like an article in your journal.
Related, and probably more important, it helps if an author has made an effort to clean up the footnotes. Obviously we don’t expect articles to be perfectly Bluebooked, but some pieces come through where the author has clearly made no effort to Bluebook the footnotes at all. In very close cases, these kinds of articles are less likely to make it through the process.
DF: So now let’s talk about expedites. Lawprofs tend to think they’re hugely important. Is this right?
CE: Expedites drive the process, but don’t guarantee a good result. When the process is at its peak in mid-to-late March, it’s a crisis-driven process, and the articles editors and board are just barely keeping up with the massive workload. Often we’re getting 5 expedites a day, and at its peak this year the articles board was meeting 3 to 4 times a week to discuss at least ten “bumped” pieces at each meeting. However unfortunate this may be, articles that are not on expedite aren’t going to get immediate attention, because there is no time imperative to review them.
So an expedite can get articles editors to look at a piece sooner than they would have otherwise, but this doesn’t mean they’ll be more likely to accept it. For one thing, the source of the expedite matters, probably more than it should. If an author expedites from a specialty journal at an obscure school, that won’t have as much of an impact as an expedite from a mainline review at a peer institution. In fact, I think that an expedite from an obscure journal may actually hurt the author’s chances of getting an offer extended, because subconsciously editors may associate the piece with the source of the expedite. Again, we know this isn’t ideal, and in a world of infinite time we’d certainly ignore these kinds of proxies, but when you have as little time as we do, it’s an unfortunate necessity.
This kind of expediency is also a two-way street. We’re also well aware that lawprofs are often just using us as a step in their own expedite process, and we have to be resigned to the fact that after doing lots of work and getting excited about an article, we’ll make an offer, only to have the author use the offer to aggressively seek to place at higher-ranked journals.
DF: Any thoughts about the ideal time to submit an article?
CE: It’s impossible to pick a date that will be ideal for all journals, since schedules change from year to year, and boards turn over at different times at different schools. But just this past year at Minnesota, I’d say that submitting late February-early March was probably ideal, because while our process tends to be going most actively in mid- and late March, it takes a while to get an article into the queue, so submitting much after mid-March can make it harder to get attention as the board and editors are swamped with looking at the hundreds of articles that were submitted a few weeks before.
DF: OK. Is there a time past which submitting is just a waste of time?
CE: It’s probably a waste of time to submit an article after early-to-mid April, because by then most of the slots are full, fatigue has set in, and it’s probably better to wait until fall. I can speak from personal experience in saying that by mid-April, it was extremely difficult for any article to stand out. My rates of “bumping” pieces plummeted after around April 1st. But in theory, it’s always possible to place an article regardless of when it’s submitted. If we got something in May that was an absolute blockbuster, we would make an offer; it’s just rare that this happens since almost all submissions happen during peak spring and fall seasons.
DF: Is there anything authors do that tends to reduce chances of acceptance?
CE: Well, again, thesis is everything—a persuasive, interesting, well-supported piece will likely succeed regardless of ancillary considerations. But one thing authors do that can cut back against even a persuasive thesis is overstate its importance. Obviously it’s helpful to explain the importance of your claim, but it’s pretty obvious when authors overclaim this, by asserting that their suggested fix to a subset of the habeas corpus statute will cause a foundational re-imagination of the landscape of American law. So it’s great to be ambitious, but don’t overdo it.
I’d also suggest including a CV, for the reasons we discussed above. Some authors include their CV within the cover letter, which can cause it to get lost or overlooked, so don’t do that either. And also as we discussed before, poorly or strangely formatted articles with sloppy Bluebooking are less likely to be taken seriously, though this can be overcome by outstanding content.
Final point on this issue: it’s a joke among our group of articles editors that every other article has the phrase “much ink has been spilt” in the introduction. I’m not sure why this happens to be such a frequently used cliché, but it’s way overused, and I’d suggest avoiding it because it comes off as unoriginal and kind of annoying.
DF: Great, so at a big-picture level, how much of an author’s success in the submission process seems due to status, strategy and gamesmanship, and how much is about the quality and content of the article.
CE: It really is much more about content than anything else, though this depends on the stage of review. At the initial intake stage, especially when the submission season is at its peak and we’re all swamped, ancillary issues like status or formatting might loom larger than at other times. But once an article makes it to the Articles Committee, it’s really all about the article—its relevance, quality of reasoning, and originality.
DF: Any final thoughts for authors?
CE: Yes. A few of us read the lawprof blogs, including this one, and it’s always dispiriting to see how much apparent contempt there is for articles editors, with authors dismissing us as “stupid 2Ls” who don’t know anything about their areas of expertise. For one thing, we’re well aware that we don’t know nearly as much as the professors who are writing and submitting these articles, and because we are aware of our own shortcomings, we work incredibly hard to try and make every decision we make an informed one.
And if a law student has chosen to be on law review, and then opted to be an articles editor, they’re someone who is really interested in legal scholarship, and also look up to the professors whose articles we are publishing. To read these same professors refer to our work, or even our intellect, in such negative terms is quite upsetting. So a little more generosity of spirit toward those of us who give up our time to edit and publish your articles—for free, after all—would be nice.
Thanks to Carl Engstrom for taking the time to answer all of my questions in such detail. I hope this has been helpful to authors of law review articles in getting a better sense of how the submissions process works. I’ve given this link to Carl, and he’ll be keeping an eye on the thread, so if others are interested in posing questions about the process, feel free to continue the discussion with Carl in the comment thread.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Why Is It So Hard to Publish an IP/Tax/Admiralty/WeirdLaw Article?
“We would have accepted this article in February,” one editor-in-chief kindly wrote me not long ago, “but we’ve already accepted a tax article this year.” At the time, I took this as likely an editor’s version of “I have to wash my hair” and tried not to take it too seriously. A couple of weeks ago, though, at the OJ (as previously highlighted by your humble correspondent), a recent Chicago Law Review editor said much the same thing: once his journal takes an article from a “specialty” field, the bar is much higher for other pieces in the same field. Because I enjoy pointless sword fights and extremely bad Scottish accents, I’ll call this the “Highlander effect”: there can be only one specialty article per volume.
It’s easy to understand the institutional dynamic that produces the Highlander effect. (It’s a little harder to understand why you’d cast a fellow with a thick Swiss accent as a Scot, but let’s save that for another post.) Articles editors typically have diverse interests--often by design, in order to maximize the board’s capacity to evaluate a range of topics. Given a limited number of publication slots, some combination of log rolling and feelings of fairness to others’ preferences means that boards will rarely be able to accept multiple pieces that would satisfy some “outlier” preference.
This scarcity has a number of undesirable effects. For one, it produces a race to the “submit” button -- exactly the race lamented by our OJ commentator. It adds significantly to the randomness of placement results, reducing their signaling value. Or, alternatively, it produces repeated submissions of essentially the same piece to multiple boards, another practice rightly decried at the OJ as wasting journal resources (and, y’know, recidivism is pretty annoying for us authors, too). Conceivably it raises significant conflict issues for peer reviewers submitting in the same cycle (or narrows the pool of unconflicted reviewers).
What’s most vexing about this particular Highlander, though, is that it’s driven entirely by the assumption that available slots are limited. Why not just park the second excellent tax article in the next volume? Well, that’s a thornier one. Let’s pause for comment & come back for a Part II.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
They Stole Our Shtick, But Read It Anyway
Insider views from a law review editor, http://opiniojuris.org/tag/law-review-submission-process/. Thanks to the editor, James Tierney of the Chicago LR, for his candor.
Some highlights: "The best articles are those that look as if they might be publishable immediately."
"Once a journal makes an offer on a ... [specialty] law article ... another [same specialty] article will face a higher burden of persuasion."
"Authors might think twice before sending their second, or third [e-mail about an upcoming board review] of the day."
"Including very few footnotes suggests the author wants our editors and staff to complete the library research process."
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Early Results from Our Fall Season Survey
Although we still have fewer than 20 responses to our survey, the preliminary results are interesting enough to be worth passing along. For example, so far it looks like I'm chicken little: most journals report having substantial portions of their slots for articles still open.
There is some concern about selection bias, since potentially journals with more open slots have a stronger incentive to report their availability. Editors, feel free to chime in, even if your book is full. Below the jump: some more results.
We also asked journals whether they had accepted more articles in the spring than they did last year. Again, the answer was pretty resoundingly no:
Most journals reported they would begin reading submissions again in August, with a handful saying they would begin reading after their spring exams end or in June or July. A plurality expect to finish their review in October, but a good third also thought they might finish by the end of September. Only two expected to finish after October.
Most of our respondents so far have been "top-25 general-interest law journals," but we've had a mix of a number of others, as well.