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Monday, January 15, 2007

The Long and Short of it...

Just wanted to say "thank you" to all the folks here at prawfs for having me on this extended guest stay.  This semester will be filled with prep for two new classes, finishing an article in the next month, an essay, and work on two books (sleep?  obviously a luxury!).

Before I go, I wanted to ask a final legal scholarship-type question.  We all know that some law reviews impose word limitations, and thus one should therefore try to confine one's verbosity down to 70 pages or so.  But is there any sort of minimum length?  I ask because I am currently working on an essay - developing a hypothetical into a "thought piece" that I'm planning to present at the Second Annual Contracts conference.  To those of you who have had success in placing essays, how long have they been?

Again, thanks everyone!  Ya'll stay in touch! 

Posted by Miriam Cherry on January 15, 2007 at 06:10 PM in Housekeeping | Permalink


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Miriam, thanks so much for the many great posts. Good luck with all your projects this semester.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Jan 16, 2007 6:50:22 PM

The one piece of advice I can offer is to RTFG (read the fantastic guidelines). Many journals particularly flagships print guidelines in every issue (usually in the copyright notice on the back of the issue's title page). I was amazed at the number of case comments and book reviews submitted to the journal at which I was Articles Editor when those guidelines explicitly said "The [flagship journal] does not consider unsolicited case comments or book reviews." That's sort of like submitting an oversized brief without a certificate of length and motion to file an oversized brief.

Although this is a decade out of date, at [flagship journal] the Articles Editors imposed a minimum limit for unsolicited Articles equal to the minimum length required of Notes. And, since that journal's policy was not to print case comments or book reviews, that imposed a de facto limit; all of our solicited articles were for either a special anniversary issue or, in the one case that we really had control over, a courtesy response for an author (the details are inappropriate here) that came close to that minimum anyway. I've been told that the next two boards followed the same policy, but know nothing since that time.

The minimum in question was 30 manuscript pages exclusive of notes (about 5000 words). This was imposed on Notes by the school so that they would meet the writing requirement for graduation. That whole concept seems to me to be rather ill-advised, since most of the time in practice we're struggling with keeping our work below a maximum, not meeting a minimum. I suspect that it's as much a response to the "doctoral degrees require dissertations" meme as anything else. It certainly did not encourage deep analysis, since many (and perhaps most) students chose to take a big topic and cover only one aspect of it to meet that requirement.

Aside: If you're submitting a seminar paper (or other course/graduation requirement work) to a journal at another school, don't put that information in your cover letter! Not only is it irrelevant, but it gives your paper however objectively good it may be the patina of "I couldn't get this printed as a Note at my own school, so it's probably not worth an Articles Editor's time to read." Who said that law doesn't rely on appearances as much as substance?

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Jan 16, 2007 11:28:10 AM

As a not-to-far-removed former (recovering?) Editor in Chief of a flagship law review, there is no such thing in my mind as a "minimum length." (Of course, I never really subscribed to the theory that there's a "maximum length" either.) What's important is that your article, essay, review, abstract painting, or whatever format conveys what it needs to get across. If it takes 70 pages, more power to you, but if it only takes 10 pages, then that's fine too. There is actually a benefit to shorter pieces for law reviews (assuming the quality is adequate) in that it allows the journal to do more with the same space, in terms of manpower and financial restraints.

The obstacle you'll face with a shorter piece (especially if it is significantly shorter than most other articles or essays), is perhaps the built-in bias of the reviewer for longer pieces. Not to generalize too much, but most people--not just article editors--tend to equate quantity with quality, or at least quantity with thoroughness. You could probably get rid of that problem by addressing the unusual brevity of your essay in the cover letter.

Posted by: ng | Jan 15, 2007 6:55:00 PM

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