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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Law Review Placement and Other Rookie Questions

One of my favorite expressions about what it feels like to begin any new endeavor is the so-called Rule of 99: for every one thing you learn, you also learn that there're 99 things you don't know.  I certainly think that's true of law practice.  And I also think it's true about becoming a prof.

I was curious whether other newbies like me (I just started year 2) have questions that they'd like to ask more senior members of the academy under the anonymity-preserving canopy of the net.  I'll start with something very tame, but about which I'm intensely curious: how do you choose where to place law review articles?  I've asked around and received a variety of answers: (1) US News, (2) W&L rankings, (3) US News peer assessment score, and (4) student quality. 


Posted by David Horton on October 5, 2010 at 12:17 AM | Permalink


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A smidge off topic, but as an editor on a secondary journal at a T1 school, I'm curious about the submission process from the author's point of view. Is it standard practice to send articles to absolutely every LR and secondary journal that covers your area of expertise? We received a ton of submissions this season, but when we made offers, many of the authors declined so fast our heads spun. It gave us the impression that some authors submitted to us simply because Expresso makes it so easy, even if they never had any intention of publishing with us. (maybe they were able to use us to improve their chances when expediting)

From our perspective, that's very disheartening. It's hard not to take it personally, even though of course it's just business. If I could make one request of all authors out there, it would be to please not submit to any journal in which you KNOW you would not publish.

Posted by: AstridT | Oct 10, 2010 12:17:58 AM

Part of the disconnect with using W&L v. USNWR is that they seek to measure (albeit imperfectly) different things. W&L seeks to measure the quality (not the prestige) of law reviews by looking at, among other things, impact in the form of citations in other law reviews and judicial opinions. [The same is true of the Eigenfactor rankings where, for example, the Buffalo L. Rev. is ranked #58 overall [including peer reviewed and specialty journals] but Buffalo overall is 3d ter in US News). US News seeks to measure the overall quality of the law school. Like I said before, for a large # of schools, the overall US News rank and the W&L law review rank line up pretty close, but with notable outliers. But, I think Orin's view is widely held and the conservative/default measure for the quality of a placement in a general law review is the US News ranking.

Posted by: Anon0210 | Oct 6, 2010 11:18:42 AM

The W&L rankings sometimes lead to surprising results. I was amused to see that the number one environmental law journal on the W&L rankings is the Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Law. I am sure it is a fine journal but I would be unlikely to choose to publish there over say Ecology Law Quarterly.

I was recently lucky enough to have offers from 4 journals. I asked 4 senior colleagues where to publish and yep, you guessed it, got 4 different answers.

Does publication date really matter that much when you can get your stuff out there via SSRN?

I also wonder if any of you out there choose a journal based on their editing style or process. Some journals just publish the article as it arrived in their inbox editing only for grammar and bluebooking. Other journals take a more indepth approach to their editing and dive into the substance.

Posted by: Jessica Owley | Oct 6, 2010 10:17:24 AM

Anon 11:15 here - I'm still scratching my head a bit over the rationale for preferring US News to W&L. W&L measures citations to articles published in law reviews as an admittedly imperfect proxy for prestige. US News measures primarily LSAT and GPA of law students, as well as library volumes and expenditures per student. But US News is a preferable proxy for law review prestige because many of us operate under the assumption that it is. To me, that sounds like a better candidate for "somewhat odd," not to mention totally circular.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 5, 2010 11:40:13 PM

Orin, random question for you, coming from a soon-to-be academic.

You're obviously a well-known scholar; you blog on a popular site and you're a leading authority in your field. How difficult is it for you to get published? If you send out an article, do you fairly quickly get acceptances from top-25 journals? Do you even need to apply outside the top 25? Would you ever publish in a lower ranked journal, just because you're at the point in your career where journal placement no longer matters? (Can people get to that point?) I've always wondered how life is like for those at the top.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 5, 2010 10:57:24 PM


The problem with W&L is that the number of citations to a journal does not tell you anything in particular about the journal's prestige. In contrast, the U.S. News rankings are widely used in the legal academy as rankings of prestige. Thus the U.S. News ends up as a better proxy of journal prestige than W&L, in my experience. Of course, that will change if everybody follows W&L.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 5, 2010 10:17:55 PM

What do senior colleagues think about pre-tenure colleagues writing books?

Posted by: anon | Oct 5, 2010 7:17:49 PM

David, on this particular question, I'll offer three thoughts without trying to contradict the advice above:
first, I would think your dean/s might have a slight preference for a journal that's on the Yelnosky Roger Williams study:

Second, similar to Secunda's point but a mite different: as between two roughly comparable faculties, which of them would you rather teach on? The faint assumption is that maybe your piece will be looked at by a member on that law school faculty that would be so inclined to help you move there. IT's a *very* attenuated chain of causation, but it's something...

Last, as to USNEWs vs impact: I generally would go with USNews rankings with the exception of some of the specialty journals, which have remarkable history and impact. The RW list I mentioned above has a good list of those: in particular, the Harvard specialty journals are almost all really excellent, and I think my experience having once published on Harv CRCL exceeded my experience having published in a number of top 10 or 20 USNews ranked flagship journals. Obviously, your mileage may vary and different boards every year, etc. But I do think that going to a specialty journal at a top school may help bring the piece into a better position than it would be if it were in a "flagship" journal of a school ranked below the top 20 or so.
Certain areas like int'l and enviro also feel much more enthused about a Harv Int'l LJ or Harv Enviro LR placement than a (say) William and Mary or BC placement. Anyway, this is my four cents...

Posted by: Dan Markel | Oct 5, 2010 5:40:16 PM

One of the things that makes this especially tricky for new scholars is that while there is generally rough corrolation between US News, W&L and my school's in-house top 50, there are a couple of significant outliers. For example, Akron (3d Tier in USNWR) is 39 in "impact" and 58 or so overall in the W&L rankings. One the other side, George Mason which is 42 or so in USNWR is well outside the top 100 in W&L in both impact and overall. As a newbie, I have erred on the side of caution and after considering all the available rankings, gone with the highest ranked in USNWR.

Posted by: Anon0210 | Oct 5, 2010 3:42:33 PM

Coming late to your query: I posted a list using yet another resource this afternoon at Concurring Opinions.

Posted by: Lawrence Cunningham | Oct 5, 2010 2:23:10 PM

Given the widely accepted flaws in the US News methodology, I'm curious to hear from Orin (or others) how US News could be a better proxy that W&L, particularly given that US News does not even purport to measure law review quality.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 5, 2010 11:15:26 AM

All helpful responses--thanks. I feel that process has gotten more complicated and more game-like than it was, say, in 2003. (I say "2003" because that was when I was a law student, on a journal, photocopying hard copies of articles, responding to each individual expedite request, reading by candlelight, etc.). With ExpressO, things move more quickly, and the W&L rankings open up a new hierarchy (that some folks--albeit not Orin--seem to swear by).

Posted by: David Horton | Oct 5, 2010 10:58:24 AM

There are a lot of variables. Think about who your audience will be. Are you trying to reach colleagues in a narrow specialty? Are you interested in pleasing your senior colleagues at your home school? Your dean? Your mother? Find out what will make your important constituencies happy and plan accordingly.

What about timing? Suppose Journal X offers you a reasonably early publication date, but Journal Y offers a much later date. Is Y so much "better" than X that it is worth waiting?

All in all, I would seek out a senior trustworthy colleague
on your own faculty and ask that person how to approach the issue in a way that will fit the mores of your school. Go back to that person when it is time to solve the happy problem of accepting Journal X v. Journal Y.

Finally, let's hope that you produce so many articles and that they are all so marvelous that these little details will become moot.

Best of luck!

Posted by: David Levine | Oct 5, 2010 8:11:28 AM

I suppose the answer is that over time I've developed a ranking in my own mind of what journals are more or less prestigious than others that is not really based on any of these proxies. It's sort of a mix of U.S. News, the quality of articles the journal has published in the last 5-10 years, and the opinion of other professors I have asked over time, all mixed together. The one proxy I don't rely on is the W&L ranking: I think it's a somewhat odd ranking system, and I don't recommend relying on it.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 5, 2010 3:17:38 AM

Hi David.

I think all the factors you suggest come into play when I make a decision. I would also add quality and productivity of the faculty at the law school.

One other point: sometimes it is hard to compare general law reviews to specialty law review. With some notable exceptions, I always urge my junior colleagues to try to place in general law reviews first and then consider specialty journals.

Hope that is helpful.


Posted by: Paul M. Secunda | Oct 5, 2010 3:00:36 AM

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