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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Update: YLJ Submission Policy Revealed

I recently posted on a seeming inconsistency in the Yale Law Journal submission policy: They claim blind evaluation but allow submission of a CV.  I assumed that the purpose of submitting a CV was similar to that of the fake crosswalk buttons in New York City, which have no function but are pressed by millions of pedestrians in an effort to feel like they have control over their lives; i.e., I assumed that the YLJ did not read the CV, but let authors submit one if they chose.  However, a number of commenters said that the initial stage of review took into account author credentials.  Thanks to outgoing EIC Dara Purvis, who quickly responded with a couple of emails, we have some answers.  First, some raw statistics.  For Volume 117: 2500 submissions, 150-350 "halfway floats", 100-200 "full floats", no declined offers this year (or, according to the oral tradition, ever).   With, say, 40 published articles per volume, even full consideration by the board means that your paper has less than a 50% chance of an offer.  Dara also explained the role of author identity in the evaluation:

The author's CV is not part of the decisionmaking process: "To be honest, I am not 100% sure when and why the CV uploading capability was made, but I can tell you the only time that I as Editor-in-Chief looked at the CVs was to get contact information  . . . The EIC is actually the only person who can access the CV.  . . .  I can tell you that we all have a very strong commitment to the anonymous review process.   . . . When we finally 'broke the seal' after voting to accept a piece and found out who the author was, there was particular excitement if the author was junior--I would describe the committee's reaction to accepting [Western New England professor] Jill Anderson's piece, for example, as maniacally gleeful."

Dara also explained that the AE's awareness of the author's identity was the result of authors' non-compliance with YLJ policy:

"We ask professors to redact any identifying information.  Unfortunately (and understandably, given that professors are generally submitting to a number of law reviews that don't require anonymity), professors almost universally don't do this--so the first editor with their hands on the piece usually knows the author, but only because the author didn't redact it.  That editor then goes through the piece and rigorously redacts any identifying information, so at either of the later two stages, the submission is sent around in completely anonymous form." 

But:
Only pieces passed up to the next level are redacted.  So, low-ranked authors can avoid discrimination by following the anonymity rule, but there is no penalty for not following it, so high-ranked authors can gain an advantage through noncompliance.  Instead, why not redact everything and hand the piece over to another AE to do the substantive screen?  Why not send the piece back for correction if an author has violated the anonymous submission rule?  The answer:  YLJ is under tremendous pressure to evaluate submissions in time to answer competitor's offers, and the articles staff is already working at full capacity.  Slowing down the process or asking the editors to work harder are not viable options if the YLJ is to get the articles it wants.   

I'm persuaded that there would be substantial logistical difficulties in blind review under the circumstances, and that what YLJ does is a reasonable compromise.  Again from Dara: "
I think we are without question the industry leader, as it were, among law reviews—we have by far the most rigorous commitment to evaluating arguments solely on their merits."  Dara passed along this comment from another editor: "there is a strong culture at YLJ of picking pieces on the merits; even a strong culture of finding 'diamonds in the rough,' just because we know that other journals aren't going to be looking hard at pieces from profs non-elite law schools, whereas the [Famous Law Professor] of the world will get published in Columbia, Chicago, Stanford, or  wherever no matter how bad the piece is when it comes in."

Finally, I asked Dara whether suggestions from respected faculty members or others made a difference.  She said she received many, many emails and calls pushing pieces, but never passed them along to the articles department.

Says Dara: "I hope this answers at least some of the puzzle.  . . .  And thanks for the coverage on PrawfsBlawg; it occupies a vaunted position in my Google Reader!"  Thanks, Dara, for sharing the inside story of YLJ submissions.   

Posted by Marc Miller on May 20, 2008 at 12:22 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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Comments

A "diamond in the rough" is a gem in need of polish, not a gem surrounded by non-gems. YLJ worthy profs at non-elite schools are not "diamonds in the rough," even though they may be surrounded by uncouth roughians. Papers that have great ideas, but need a lot of editing, are "diamonds in the rough." Those surely come from elite and non-elite schools alike.

Posted by: kpj | May 23, 2008 4:24:25 PM

I like how Chin just swallowed the answer whole. Gosh, she replied and offered a justification. They're not so bad, after all.

Chin rightfully notes that professors with lower citation counts, or from "non-elite" (whatever that means) law schools have the incentive to make their articles truly anonymous, under their current system (ostensibly).

Then, Purvis passed along another editor's comment (from which I infer that she agrees with it or at least accepts it): "[T]here is a strong culture at YLJ of picking pieces on the merits; even a strong culture of finding 'diamonds in the rough,' just because we know that other journals aren't going to be looking hard at pieces from profs non-elite law schools. . . ."

So they just said that there is a strong tradition of finding pieces by professors at non-elite law schools.

How's that "blind review" process working out for you, now?

Posted by: Learning Hand | May 22, 2008 3:35:07 PM

YLJ's swipe at competing journals ("the Cass Sunsteins of the world will get published in Columbia, Chicago, Stanford, or wherever no matter how bad the piece is when it comes in") is really uncalled for — especially because one of those journals rejected three separate [Famous Law Professor--JC] pieces this last cycle alone. It's one thing for for YLJ to try and explain why it doesn't follow its own policies, but to do so by baselessly (and falsely!) naming several other journals and accusing them of having low standards is just inappropriate. I expected a classier answer than this.

(And for that matter, highlighting that text in bold really doesn't help, either...)

Posted by: ccs | May 21, 2008 12:23:50 AM

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