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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dear Law Review Editors: How to Reject Me


I've finished another publication submission season, and I've gotten a lot of rejections, as I'm sure virtually all law professors have. I don't mind getting rejections. But gosh, student editors frequently seem tortured sending them. To ease the process, I have a few suggestions I'd like to pass along.

First of all, liberate yourself from feelings of guilt. Understand that we don't take rejection personally. Thanks to ExpressO, the law review article submission process has become exceedingly depersonalized – and that's on both sides of the equation. I understand that law reviews are generally getting hundreds of submissions, but law professors are commonly making hundreds of submissions at once, or at the very least scores of them. As an editor of a journal and full-time law student, you've got enough going on. Don't add to that burden by feeling sorry for legal academics.

Now, in terms of the form your rejection communication takes, I urge you to minimize the number of steps rejected authors have to take to find out that you've declined the article. The kindest thing you can do is communicate the gist of the message in the subject line. For example: "Oxbridge Law Review declines 'Existentialist Phenomenology and Utility Easements.'" Just a few journals do this, but I wish more would. It's classy. The WORST thing you can do is say "Please see attached letter." Just put whatever you have to say in the body of the e-mail. I know it probably comes from a place of wanting to treat the author in a dignified manner, but sending an attachment to communicate a rejection is like putting wrapping paper and a bow on an empty box.

In terms of the actual wording of the body of the e-mail, you can skip telling me how many submissions you get. I mean, of course you do. That's ExpressO. (Plus, of course, the fact that your journal is particularly awesome.) The same goes for the fact that you "have to turn down many excellent submissions." I know, I know.

Just keep it short and sweet. Here's my suggested form:

Camford Law Journal declines "Post-Contemporary Approaches to Replevin"

Dear Author,

We have reviewed your article, and we have decided not to make an offer of publication. We thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your scholarship, and we hope you will consider submitting further articles to the Camford Law Journal in the future.

Best regards,

Reed N. Toomutch
Senior Articles Editor
Camford Law Journal
[email protected]

Now, if you actually read the article, and if that leaves you with some personal comment to add, then by all means, feel free. I love getting rejection letters like, "Although we decided to pass on it, our staff really liked your article. We especially appreciated the appendix with law-themed knock-knock jokes. It made us laugh out loud."

Now, if I could only find a home for my 193-page article, "A Comprehensive Empirical Treatment of Puns Involving Latin Legal Maxims" ...

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on April 21, 2011 at 12:05 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I agree that law journal email rejections would be "sweeter" if "shorter." But William and Mary's practice of sending a personalized and signed snail mail letter for rejections has always struck me as classy. The actual letter impresses me as injecting a level of dignity to an otherwise sterile process. That is not to say I wish to see others copy W&M.

Posted by: Derek Black | Apr 27, 2011 1:41:56 PM

I think it's surprising that such rejection notices aren't standard journal practice. When I was EIC of a mid-ranked international law journal (that still received a fair number of submissions), we made it a point to timely notify authors via e-mail that we would not be accepting their pieces for publication.

Posted by: Adam Richardson | Apr 22, 2011 4:51:30 PM

@ Optimist - that's hilarious!

Posted by: anonymouse | Apr 22, 2011 9:43:56 AM

One rejection letter urged me to take the offer I already had. Very nice of the students to provide unsolicited advice, but it made me feel like the editors thought "you're lucky one journal was crazy enough to extend an offer to publish this piece of ****, don't push it!"

Posted by: optimist | Apr 22, 2011 12:32:28 AM

I agree with all of this - and particularly the subject line advice - there's nothing like getting your hopes up and then having them crushed.

Posted by: anonymouse | Apr 21, 2011 6:49:00 PM

Great post! My worst rejection this season was from a journal that wrote to me weeks after my expedite deadline had expired and essentially said "We know you're past your expedite deadline, and we sincerely hope you took the other offer because we're not going to publish your piece."

Posted by: dt | Apr 21, 2011 6:01:03 PM

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