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Friday, July 29, 2011

Law Review Submission for Satisficers: A Summer Placement Narrative

This is a narrative about submitting and placing a traditional law review article in a general student-edited law review over the summer, a process I just completed this morning.  With some hesitance about giving TMI on how the sausage gets made, I post it as a contribution to the available data about the process.

Like many people, I have mixed feelings about the system.  On the negative side, the whole process reeks of validation by proxy, and we at third and fourth tier schools undoubtedly suffer by the widely acknowledged "letterhead bias."  (Unless, of course, the system really does sort us well and we are at third tier schools because we are third tier scholars and teachers.  I discount that, but I'm biased.)  It just seems like such a silly way to run a railroad.   It's also why I've published several pieces along the way in blind peer reviewed journals.  Nevertheless, apart from whatever other positives the system presents, I have to admit, in a guilty way, of enjoying the game.  This falls into the same category as liking Barry Manilow music or the movie "Somewhere in Time."  You don't want to admit it to too many people, but I guess the secret is out now. 

I'm also what the psychologists call a "satisficer" rather than a "maximizer."   (See Barry Schwartz, Swarthmore College, The Paradox of Choice for more on this.)  This is relevant to the summer placement narrative.  Most of the time, I make personal choices based on what I judge to be a satisfactory level of utility, rather than to trying to maximize the utility.  The best example I can think of this is how I shop - whether for little stuff or houses.  When I see one I like, I buy it, without worrying too much about whether I would have liked the next one more.   My wife and I have bought six primary residences in thirty-two years of marriage.  We've averaged looking at about four or five before buying.  I never visited the house we live in now before we bought it; I simply looked at the pictures and trusted her judgment that she knew what I liked.  Contrast others in my family who might look at 200 or 300 houses before choosing.

So as you read the narrative after the break, realize that this may not work for different personalities, different career goals, or different faculties.

Here's my narrative.  I began working on the piece Metaphor, Models, and Meaning in Contract Law last September.  By February, 2011, I thought it was ready for submission in the spring 2011 season.  I also thought it would be competitive in the selection process for the Stanford Yale Junior Faculty Forum. I submitted it to the Forum.  I also submitted it in the spring season but only to 25 general law reviews sitting at the top of the USNWR and Washington & Lee lists.   If it were accepted first by one of the law reviews, I'd withdraw if required from the Forum consideration.  If it were first accepted in the Forum, I would advise the law review editors, because this would be a significant proxy.  I was not particularly sanguine about success; both the Forum submission and the "top 25" submissions were "fliers."  The backup plan was to hold the piece for the "early August" submission season, at which point I would expand the submission to "top 100" law reviews.  

Not surprisingly, it didn't get selected for the Forum, and it didn't crack the "top 25" in the spring submission season.  Oh well.

On July 5, I happened to look at which law reviews were then open for submission on ExpressO.   There were quite a few. I decided to submit, limited to "top 100", and made 59 submissions.  I figured even if the reviews did not begin reading until August 1 or August 15, the piece would be there in the stack.  Here's the central consideration in a summer submission: if you get an offer, there may not be as many law reviews to whom you can address the expedite request.  Accordingly, if you are serious,* you should only to submit to reviews the placement at which would be satisfactory, assuming that you only get one offer.  Given that I'm a satisficer, that seemed, well, satisfactory.  (There's also no doubt that placement of an article in a top 100 review is perfectly satisfactory for purposes of tenure qualifications at our school.)

Two weeks after the submission, I received a publication offer from a top 60 law review.  This was a law review as to which I did not try to prime the pump - meaning that, in a couple cases, when I saw the receipt notice on ExpressO, I dropped a note to a friend on that faculty asking him or her to put in a plug for me.  The acceptance period was ten days, and I sent out an expedite request.  (I'm impressed by those who work up the expedite chain from offer to offer, but I've never had that happen.  I'm pretty sure that I've placed the overwhelming majority of my pieces with the law review that made the first offer.)  I also immediately sent withdrawals to all those reviews I knew I would not consider over the offer in hand.  Nevertheless, I would have been perfectly happy with a placement at the offering review.  Several days later, I received a second offer from a "top 80" review, although not as a result of the expedite process.  (One would think that you should either expedite or withdraw once you have an offer.  Mea culpa.  I missed a couple check boxes when I was going down the list.  But I liked the cachet of the second offer and wanted to think about it.)

The point of all of this is to say that there's accepted wisdom about the submission process, but you can fiddle with the accepted wisdom, such as submitting over the summer, and get decent placements, if you accept the limitations and risks involved.  In other words, I think it works for satisficers.

*I don't think much of the strategy of submitting to law reviews from which you wouldn't accept an offer if it were the only one.  That seems unfair to everybody involved.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on July 29, 2011 at 07:29 AM | Permalink


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I find "priming the pump" strategies to be deeply problematic. Among the issues mentioned already, it also privileges those at elite institutions (who have the letterhead advantage already) or those with elite pedigree who know faculty at top schools well enough to ask them to contact their school's law review on the author's behalf.

I also agree that it puts student editors in a very difficult position (e.g., the professor at their school who contacts them might well be their professor in a seminar, where there isn't blind grading and students undoubtedly will feel pressured to follow the professor's wishes). There are already enough pressures on students -- For example, last year, I was at final review stage of a top 20 law review when they telephoned me to say a senior faculty member had indicated an article was in process and wanted to give it to them, and they felt compelled to give their final slot to their professor, even without having seen the article. So, mid-stream, they stopped their review and rejected mine and the other two at final review.

In short, students will feel pressured, so priming the pump is just knowingly taking advantage of that power dynamic and skirting around a more legitimate review on the merits (yes, I know there are other built-in biases, but I vaguely recall someone once telling me "two wrongs don't make a right" and don't recall them saying "except when trying to publish").

Posted by: Anon | Aug 12, 2011 1:35:48 PM

My response to the post and the comments is found at the link below. I sincerely do not mean to pick on Jeff. He has simply been the one to put in black and white what most people know. http://classbias.blogspot.com/2011/08/priming-law-review-pump.html

Posted by: Jeff Harrison | Aug 3, 2011 9:27:31 PM

Thanks for this helpful post. As someone preparing for the 2012 AALS market and trying to establish a publication record in advance, I've been told conflicting things about the summer law review submission process. The latest is that there is no downside to submitting an article in August, because boards turn over in January so you can simply revise and re-submit the article to the same journals, possibly changing the name. Is this true, false, or true-but-frowned-upon?

Posted by: Law Prof Hopeful | Aug 3, 2011 5:11:46 PM

I agree with Ani. More integrity (and less bias) would result if faculty did not offer unsolicited opinions on articles that are under consideration.

Posted by: John | Jul 29, 2011 9:00:36 PM

"Is that any worse than looking at the author's CV as a proxy for the quality of the piece?"

I think it is.

(1) It is rarely objective and sound in terms of an assessment. You may behave differently, but most of the requests I have received afford little or no time for an independent appraisal of the piece. Nevertheless, the author wants the faculty member to vouch for the author and at least implicitly for the piece as well.

(2) The strength of this warrant is likely to exaggerated, because the practice relies on influence. The author may want the professor's imprimatur because the professor is supposedly trusted by the students, or can relay the author's interest in publishing with the journal, but that same professor is also responsible for evaluating the students, recommending them, etc. Basically, this is subject to the same vices as "home" publishing, diluted somewhat -- but also less transparent.

It is much better, in my view, to encourage students to reach out to expert faculty members whenever they feel they need it. To me, this is too like letters of recommendation to public schools (or military academies) from elected officials, and too little like disinterested expert opinion. Just my opinion.

Posted by: Ani | Jul 29, 2011 7:42:21 PM

Ani, it's never gotten me a placement, as far as I know. Can I defend the practice? No more than I can defend all the other proxies that student editors use to select articles. A professor says to the editor, "I know so and so, and she is well respected and this seems to be a pretty good piece." Is that any worse than looking at the author's CV as a proxy for the quality of the piece?

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jul 29, 2011 7:03:55 PM

"This was a law review as to which I did not try to prime the pump - meaning that, in a couple cases, when I saw the receipt notice on ExpressO, I dropped a note to a friend on that faculty asking him or her to put in a plug for me."

Out of curiosity, does anyone defend this practice, save (perhaps) on the ground that it sometimes seems to work? I suppose the theory is that the contacted faculty can vouch for the author and the work, but it seems highly unlikely to produce disinterested recommendations, and comes across as terribly heavy-handed -- both in pressuring the faculty friend, and in pressuring the law review staff.

Posted by: Ani | Jul 29, 2011 5:02:39 PM

For its anecdotal value, this cycle I've been able to expedite up to a specialty journal at a top 25 school after submitting on July 25.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 29, 2011 10:41:30 AM

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