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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Law review submission strategery

Publishing, I've found so far, is, if not exactly like a box of chocolates, kinda like a bag of gummi bears.  Getting published in any journal is pretty good, but mmm, those red ones are tasty.  Also, if you put them in water overnight, they get really huge and gross.  (You think I've lost the thread of this metaphor, but then you've probably never left a box of reprints under a sprinkler.)   

Point is, I'd like some advice about the fall submission season.  My co-author and I have a manuscript we're very pleased with.  We'd prefer not to submit it to journals we wouldn't be very happy to publish with.  This raises the difficulty that in this compressed season, it may be difficult to get the attention of top journals.  Thus, we're considering selecting fifteen or so, and letting them each know that we will accept the first offer we receive from any one of them.  The theory here is that for the near-top journals, this will give them some reason to look at our draft without an expedite.

Thoughts or suggestions (off-line is also ok)?

Posted by BDG on August 7, 2008 at 10:43 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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A colleague of mine tried circa two decades ago. Only, he left a list of schools with his secretary for mailing the article. (Those days were the days of paper submissions.) He was leaving town, so he had her sign the cover letters for him, sight unseen.

Rather quickly, he had an acceptance! The trouble was, it was from the New York Law School Law Review, not NYU, which was the name on his list.

I do not recall the final outcome, except I am pretty sure that he did not publish with either NYLS or NYU.

Posted by: David Kaye | Aug 16, 2008 8:53:40 PM

I do not know when other journals start reviewing for the fall, but HLR is reviewing article submissions as of this week.

Posted by: anon | Aug 13, 2008 4:47:22 PM

I assume X is Cass Sunstein who (even if not Mr. X) has made this practice of his somewhat well known. Of course, there are a lot of things Cass Sunstein can do in submitting to a journal that might not fly among us mere mortals. :)

Posted by: Anon VI | Aug 9, 2008 8:55:06 PM

Orin (or anyone else) when is the "peak window" in the fall anyway?

Posted by: Anon V | Aug 9, 2008 8:52:36 PM

Someone whose name Prawfsblawg readers would likely recognize (hereinafter "X," because I lack permission to identify the person) has been deploying this strategy for years, using a mailing list of 20-25. X told me the strategy almost always works well and on rare occasions will fizzle. What X especially likes about this method is it saves time; X would just as soon not agonize over how to manipulate an offer when it comes.

(I myself have never tried the strategy.)

Posted by: Anita Bernstein | Aug 9, 2008 8:50:56 PM

It seems like less of an incentive to read your article quickly than an expedite, although still an incentive. More if you were Cass Sunstein or Ian Ayres, although in that case you would just submit to the top 15 or whatever. More also for Vanderbilt than Columbia. On the bright side, you'd be treating Suffolk's law review humanely, which is nice. The best part about this is doing it in the fall, when there is not the sheer madness of the early spring.

Actually, the more I think about this, the more I think that if it makes it to committee because someone really likes it, then this will help you get a quick offer/decline. I don't see it helping your article get to committee, or even helping make that step go faster, though.

Posted by: anon IV | Aug 8, 2008 6:43:27 PM

I actually did something like this during last year's fall submission cycle. I had placed a piece with a top 10 journal in the spring and decided to experiment with a different approach in the fall. I sent a piece that I wrote over the summer to the top five (in my estimation) law journals and told them that I was submitting it semi-exclusively to "the top five law journals" for two weeks, during which time I would accept the first offer I received from any of them. Barring any offers, I would send it to other journals and revert to the normal submission process. In terms of it being an effective strategy to get journals to read the piece, it worked--all five read it, and three got back to me within the two weeks (two got back to me a week or so later). In terms of maximizing my acceptance rate, it is hard to say. I was rejected from each of those five. It's hard to say whether that was because of the method or because of the article (though I did eventually place the article at a top 15 journal and get reads at a couple of top 10 journals). In retrospect, I don't think it was a bad strategy in the abstract, but I don't think it was the right strategy for that particular piece at that particular time. I'd agree with Orin--there are pros and cons.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 8, 2008 4:03:17 PM


I didn't mean that as a flaw; I actually think that an editor might see the piece from the blog post. As for the broader strategy, I agree that it has pros and cons. On the pro side, you might get someone to read it more readily. On the con side, it may either come off as cocky or (ironically) as desperate, the latter because it may make it seem like you'll take anything and you're not confident the piece would hit the top 15 on the merits.

Anon's point about the HLR is a good one, although it's a problem with the HLR's timing more broadly. A lot of top 15 journals have moved up their schedule so they can strike quickly: some can make an offer within 24 hours of the piece arriving in their inbox, and when they do they usually give authors only a very short window to decide. In contrast, Harvard usually takes its time. If you're an author and you want to leave open the possibility of a placement in Harvard, the best way is to submit first to them and then wait a few weeks to submit to the rest. But then that's tricky, too, because by waiting elsewhere you often miss the peak window.

The ideal answer would be for Harvard to start accepting submissions several weeks earlier than other journals, like around February 1. That would be in Harvard's best interests: They could genuinely take their pick among the submissions. But then it may be hard for them to do that because the new board isn't ready yet.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 8, 2008 1:24:40 PM

Thanks, commenters, and particularly to Orin for pointing out the largest logical flaw in the whole plan. In our defense on the "cocky" front, we weren't planning to submit only to very top journals; the theory was that we'd submit to those journals we'd be very happy to publish in, and make the offer to our top 15 or so choices among those. But it sounds like the whole idea is largely moot.

Posted by: BDG | Aug 8, 2008 11:25:36 AM

As a recent Executive Articles Editor, I agree with the first anonymous commenter that stating "We submitted this only to the top journals" could easily come off as cocky, which would hurt your chances. Also, saying that you will accept the first offer you will receive gives you no extra leverage unless the editors are worried that they will be unable to fill an open slot quickly enough to meet their deadlines. Depending on how the season is going for them, this may happen late in the season or, more likely, not at all. So I think the strategy you suggest is unlikely to help you and may hurt you. That said, good luck!

Posted by: Anon 2 | Aug 8, 2008 11:14:56 AM

Harvard Law Review (if that's one of the 15) has a slower process than other journals, since acceptance requires a full body vote. As a result, the "we'll take the first" strategy often hurts more than it helps with them. Also, if your cover letter says "We submitted it only to the top journals," you may be perceived as being a little cocky. Could backfire.

Posted by: anon | Aug 8, 2008 9:37:32 AM

If you do this, consider blogging about it on a widely-read legal blog; an editor might see it.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 8, 2008 1:13:03 AM

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