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Monday, May 02, 2005

Ranking Law Reviews: Non-Flagship Journals

There's this rite that we legal academics do, sometimes in the fall and sometimes in the spring.  We send out our sacrifices to our gods and demigods; sometimes they are appeased, and sometimes they are angry and cast down thunderbolts.  Yes, I'm talking about law review submissions. 

It's a process I've gone through myself a few times, and I've also been of counsel to various friends and colleagues submitting papers to the law review gods.  And we always end up spending a lot of time discussing rankings.  That is, "I've got offers from Review X and Review Y.  Which do I take?"

This question is thorny enough dealing with just flagship reviews.  How exactly does one quantify the difference, if any, between E. Carolina L. Rev. and W. Carolina L. Rev.?  But with non-flagship journals, it gets positively gordian.  So I'd like to turn the question over to the Prawfsblawg's readership and see what people think.

I'm wondering how others view non-flagship journals on the pecking order?  How does Harv. J. L. & Pottery compare to E Carolina L Rev?  Which is likely to be higher quality on the editing side?  (Do the top students at a lower ranked school outperform the middle students at a top school?  Or vice versa?). 

And which type of journal looks better on one's CV?  I realize that it's likely to be highly fact-dependent, but are there general rules that govern the outcome? 

Comments are welcome; if you want to make them anonymous, so as not to offend the gods, by all means do so.

Posted by Kaimi Wenger on May 2, 2005 at 01:25 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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You wanna get really weird? Throw online journals into the mix. Is the Stanford Technology Law Review better than the UF Journal of Technology Law and Policy because it's from Stanford, or worse because it's online?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | May 3, 2005 10:14:14 AM

JP, it woudld be great if you sent along to the prawfsblawg gmail account precisely that list your faculty created.

Interestingly George Mason gives bonuses to articles accepted in the top 10 journals (and presumably they had to have a meeting about who fills out the bottom five of that top ten).

As to the query about specialty vs. flagship journals, I know that Dan had some insight into this issue this past year. His piece on the death penalty was accepted at a peer reviewed journal, a top 25 flagship journal, and Harvard CRCL, and he took Harvard CRCL because a) it's viewed as a top 15-20ish place by many faculty and because he thought the editing by HLS students would be better and more thoughtful than the editing down the chain; and the problem with faculty journals is not all of them are widely available on westlaw and you don't have a small army of smart students helping you get your piece right. It's possible that once a writer has a research assistant (or seven), s/he may opt for faculty edited journals, but I'm not sure. I suspect this is increasingly the case for people who write in law and economics.

Conversely, someone I know had a piece accepted at Am. Crim L. R. (published by Georgetown) and opted for Illinois's main journal. This was probably the "right" choice too. Odd...

Posted by: AA2 | May 2, 2005 11:26:18 PM

I am on the faculty of a top-tier business school in the business law department. We really struggle with this issue, because the other business disciplines -- with not a little justification -- are completely befuddled by the legal publishing regime. So, in order to meet their expectations and mimic their regimes by some rough measure, my department has actually ranked (by A, A-, B+, etc.) all (or nearly all) law journals, with the exception of electronically published journals. The results are, in some instances, hilarious. It's tough to justify it on principled grounds. Basically, the list reflects the US News rankings of law schools from around 2000. So, I offer no particular insight to answer your question; however, my experience with an institutional effort to do just what you're asking is that the results are sometimes absurd, especially at the margins.

I will also take exception to one point in your post. That is, I think it's awfully presumptuous to assume that "the top students" staff the "flagship" journals and "the middle students" staff the specialty journals. A lot depends on your metric for determining "top" students. Take, for instance, measuring "top students" by law school grades. In my class at Harvard, using the grade metric, there were certainly many "top" students on the staffs of the specialty journals and a good number of "middle students" on the Harvard Law Review staff. To cherry pick an example, probably the most prolific current legal academic and a Sears Prize winner from my class chose not to join the Law Review staff, but instead worked on the staff of a couple of specialty journals. Perhaps your point still holds true, that the editing process at flagship journals is smoother and more helpful. But, I think assigning the difference to the presence of "top students" vs. "middle students" is wrongheaded. If true, I think there are likely many other plausible reasons for the difference in editing quality (like resources and size of staff).

Posted by: JP | May 2, 2005 10:19:25 PM

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