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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Putting Expresso Out of Business?

John Doyle (the librarian par excellence at W/L) writes:

A new, free, law journal submissions system will be launched by mid-April. "LexOpus" will not simultaneously submit works to multiple journals. Instead, an author selects an ordered list of journals and the system makes the work available to each journal serially on a 7 day exclusive basis. If the current journal rejects, or the 7 days elapse, then the work moves on to the next journal in the author's sequence. A journal whose exclusive period has elapsed may still accept the author's offer, but the current journal has priority until its exclusive offer from the author is rejected or elapses. More information is at http://lawlib.wlu.edu/lexopus/about.aspx
Would authors have any interest in giving up simultaneous submissions?

My sense is that most of us benefit from the simulatenous submissions process so that the answer would be no. But I do suspect Expresso is capturing high fees that another school could undercut with a smartly run program. Thoughts?

Posted by Administrators on March 26, 2009 at 12:03 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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LexOpus sounds to me like a wonderful idea that, if necessary, can be refined over time. The enormous burden on law journals of sifting through thousands of submissions is exacerbated by the current process: Because the chance of acceptance is low, authors submit to more journals to increase the odds, which decreases the acceptance rate...leading to a vicious cycle. Similarly, the burden on authors of submitting to and corresponding with myriad law journals is time consuming and diverts scholarly efforts away from the research and writing process and toward the submissions process. While submitting exclusively to a single law review at a time may be too time consuming, it is motivated by the right premise: reducing the transaction costs of the submission/publication process for both the benefit of both authors and law journals. Even if the effort has not yet resulted in a perfect system, its creator is to be commended for not only drawing attention to the inefficiency and suboptimality of the current system, but doing something about it. --Jonathan J. Darrow, Assistant Professor of Business Law, Plymouth State University

Posted by: Jonathan Darrow | Jun 9, 2009 6:18:37 PM

I'm the EIC of the main journal at a lower-ranked school. Vladimir hits it spot-on: this system would do a lot of good for everyone involved at our level. It would help our journal because we'd get fewer articles submitted as expedite-bait for the authors' real target journals. It would also help authors who submitted to our journal in earnestour assumption under the current system is that the vast majority of submitters want leverage, not publication. We would likely give LexOpus submissions much more serious consideration than we give ExpressO submissions.

Think of each submission as coming with an unwritten promise. The promise under the LexOpus system is, "If you accept, I promise to publish this article in your journal." Simple, clean, and what you might expect if you didn't know how the system currently works. With the current system, it's, "If you accept, I promise to look for someone better than you, but I'll publish with you as a last resort." Most journals would probably prefer the former over the latter, no matter what their ranking.

On the other hand, I don't know how much of a real difference any submission system would make at our level. We solicit most of our articles, and only occasionally do we get articles through unsolicited submissions. There's a very small (verging on nonexistent) sweet spot of submitted articles that are good enough for publication but not so good that we don't have a chance at publishing them. The LexOpus system would eliminate the second category of unpublishable articles, but it wouldn't do anything about the first. So, LexOpus might reduce the amount of time we spend looking at articles we'll never publish (by our choice or the author's), but it may have only a slight effect (if any) on the number of unsolicited articles we publish.

But the real question is not whether authors would voluntarily choose to use such a system. It's whether enough law reviews would give LexOpus submissions preference, forcing authors had to hold their nose and use it.

Posted by: T3 EIC | Mar 28, 2009 1:38:56 AM

C Zorn,

I'm curious, where do you get your conclusion that "At any given time, there are no more papers in law than there are in medicine, engineering, chemistry, etc., and probably a lot fewer."?

Also, note that the question is not how many papers there are, but how many papers there are and how many journals would consider publishing them. When I was in engineering graduate school, each journal was extremely specialized: You didn't have "The Journal of Engineering," or the "MIT Journal of Engineering," but rather the "Journal of Fluid Mechanics" or something like that. So there might be 5 journals total you could submit a paper to, and the only people who would consider submitting a paper to those journals were the very small subset of people in that specific area. In contrast, most law journals are general: They will consider any article with any connection (even if somewhat remote) to the field of law. So instead of 5 possible journals for each article, or 10, or something like that, you would end up with hundreds.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 26, 2009 11:47:57 AM

I just want to make a minor point: Orin says that "In law, unlike as in most areas, there are thousands of submitted articles and hundreds of journals. It could take an author several years to place an article if they can only submit to one journal at a time." But if an author could only submit to one journal at a time, and only 7-10 journals over a cycle, the reviews would have a lot fewer articles to read. So I do think the proposal would have the advantage of giving reviews more time to spend with individual articles.

I think the problem is that there are not 10-30 law reviews, but hundreds. So it's not like a peer-review system or a med school "matching" system where the universe of potential takers is between 5 and 30. How would an author choose the 7-10 journals to send to over a cycle? I think it would exacerbate slotting problems rather than alleviating them. Perhaps if you could only send to 10 or 20 journals for each 2-3 week period, that might make more sense.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Mar 26, 2009 11:44:53 AM

I agree with Orin and Dan. I'd be very, very unlikely to use this system. And I'm sure a sequential submission system would be a terrible idea -- delay, ossification, etc.

Posted by: david hoffman | Mar 26, 2009 10:17:18 AM

At any given time, there are no more papers in law than there are in medicine, engineering, chemistry, etc., and probably a lot fewer. All those fields (and, in fact, every serious field of inquiry) requires single, sequential submission. A single-submission policy at law reviews would simply (and appropriately) shift the burden of responsibility for choosing an appropriate journal from a bunch of 3Ls to the author him or herself. It might also reduce the number of law reviews, which wouldn't be such a bad thing either.

Posted by: C. Zorn | Mar 26, 2009 9:48:08 AM

I'm with Orin on this--the wait would be interminable and we'd be better off just turning to peer review. More to the point, I want to note that contrary to public perception (reflected in Vladimir's comment) there are definitely data points I have (gathered through my own experience and that of others) that the top 10 journals are not simply working off expedites from lower-ranked journals. This cycle alone I know of at least 6 offers from six different "top 10" journals to faculty from schools outside the "top 30." I'm sure others could attest to that too. That's not to say expedites are an important part of the process for many journals and many persons, but it should relieve the sense that it's the only thing that matters.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Mar 26, 2009 8:24:45 AM

This also does not really solve the exclusive v. simultaneous submission or the trade-up concerns from the journals' standpoint. Journal A still could make an offer in Week 4, trumping the offer that the author receives from Journal D that week (whether because of initial selection or from the author trading up).

Also, aone-week exclusivity is unlikely to be sufficient to allow full review by Journal A, given, as Orin notes, the huge number of articles being submitted. Assuming, of course, that "careful consideration" is given to all, something discussed at the Faculty Lounge:


Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 26, 2009 7:10:02 AM

I don't understand why an author would want to do this. I agree that Expresso can be replaced with a cheaper version, but I don't see why an author would want to submit only to one journal at a time when that is not the norm.

As for Vladimir's view that it should become the norm, I think it would replace minor problems with major ones. In law, unlike as in most areas, there are thousands of submitted articles and hundreds of journals. It could take an author several years to place an article if they can only submit to one journal at a time. Also, if the problem now is that journals only read works when they get an expedite, wouldn't this just make it worse? An author wouldn't even have the tool of an expedite to get the journal to read the submission.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 26, 2009 4:27:05 AM

Dan, I'm not sure that "most of us benefit from the simultaneous submissions process." To be sure, it gives us the ability to "trade up." But it's also true that many top journals won't even read one's work until a wanna-be author has an offer from a somewhat lower ranked journal. And the anxiety the whole trading up game produces is significant.

I can also see lower ranked journals getting mighty sick of playing screener for higher-up journals. I could see them insisting that a system such as this one be used. It seems to me that tiered exclusive submissions -- by eliminating gamesmanship on all sides -- are in journals' interest, certainly, and ultimately in ours as well.

The problem with single submissions is simply one of coordination. This computer program service may perhaps solve the coordination problem. If it manages to do so, I think the days of multiple free for all submissions are numbered, and mercifully so. Of course, a 7 day per journal screening process would make the submission process more of a year round thing, replacing the current two short windows a year cycle. That would require journals to adjust (no time off for exams and summer associateships, fellows!). But adjusting, I think, is in everyone's interest, because it only makes sense that the more desired journals get first dibs on articles. The current system of trading up and exploding offers is somewhere between irrational and plain silly.

Posted by: Vladimir | Mar 26, 2009 1:26:15 AM

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