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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Underneath the Law Review Submission Process: Part V Interviews with Those who Reject Us

For my next post on the law review submission process (see intro, part I, part II on timing of submissions,part III interview and part IV interview if you are interested), I interviewed three editors from the Vanderbilt Law Review. 

I had the opportunity of presenting a paper at Vanderbilt Law School this year and was extremely impressed with the faculty.  I am now equally impressed with their student editors.  Here is my interview with Jenna Farleigh, Editor-in-Chief 2011-12; Caroline Cecot, Senior Articles Editor 2011-12; and Michaela Jackson, Senior Articles Editor 2012-13.

1. What is Vanderbilt's review process for articles? (how many levels, what is the vote like, etc.)

The articles review process for the Vanderbilt Law Review consists of two levels of review. First, the Senior Articles Editor assigns each article submitted to the Review to an individual articles editor. Where possible, we try to match the topic of the article to the interests and experience of the articles editor. Each editor is responsible for reviewing her assigned articles in sufficient detail to decide whether to recommend the article for Full Committee Review, which is the second and final stage of our process. The Senior Articles Editor schedules recommended articles for Full Committee Review. In Full Committee Review, all nine articles editors read the article in full and then discuss and vote on whether or not to extend an offer for publication.

The process takes time.

Although we would certainly like to send more articles to committee, there is a natural limit to the number of articles that we can review each week. But no news generally means that you are still in the game.

2. What is your acceptance rate for articles?

In the 2011-12 academic year, the Vanderbilt Law Review published seventeen unsolicited articles/essays. For these spots, we received about 2,600 submissions, resulting in an acceptance rate of less than one percent. Already, in the spring selection cycle for 2012-13, the Review received close to 1,600 submissions. From this pool, the journal will publish ten articles.

3. Who receives your expedited reviews and how are they used in the review process? Which are the most helpful?

We receive requests for expedited reviews through ExpressO. Each articles committee member is expected to keep track of the expedite requests on her assigned articles. Sometimes the Senior Articles Editor will remind editors about soon-approaching offer deadlines. We strive to respond to authors before their deadlines lapse; however, that isn’t always possible.

Expedite requests have a different effect depending on where the article is in the process. In the initial review stage, an offer from a comparable journal may induce the editor, at her discretion, to take a closer look at the piece or to speed up review. In the second stage, expedite requests may result in earlier scheduling for Full Committee Review.

4. For Jenna and Caroline, as an outgoing EIC and articles editor, what are some tips (or short-cuts) you gave to your incoming EIC and articles editors? (examples include, don't worry about the cover letters, they are a waste of time, don't consider nonprofessors, don't consider professors from schools in certain rankings)

We don’t provide any specific tips to committee members, as we want to allow each editor to formulate her own review process and opinions.

On the whole, the Vanderbilt Law Review considers all submissions other than those written by outside law students. That being said, we generally publish articles by law professors because those articles tend to be the most well-researched, well-supported, and well-written. The fact that the author is a professor further lends credibility to the piece because we know that professors are bound by institutional research norms, such as obtaining IRB approval when necessary.

While we do not consider the rank of the school at which a professor teaches, we do look at a professor’s past publication record (excluding her student note). That being said, the Vanderbilt Law Review is typically very receptive to emerging scholars; we take great pride in discovering new contributors to legal scholarship. We also encourage articles editors to review cover letters and abstracts, especially if these supplemental documents neatly summarize the article’s argument.

5. Did you find yourself looking more carefully at articles from professors at top 25 schools, versus other schools?

As mentioned above, while we don’t consider the school at which a professor teaches, we do take note of an author’s past publication history during our review process. Due to the weight that law school hiring committees place on publication, we find that impressive publication records are often correlated with faculty positions at highly ranked schools.

6. If you could give professors some advice on the submission process and how to improve the articles they write, what would it be?

We recognize that we are law students, and we do not profess to have any expertise in specific legal fields. But, we are well trained in logic, and thus coherent, well-written arguments with clear roadmaps certainly get our attention. The bottom line is: if we don’t understand it, we don’t publish it. Authors help themselves by highlighting each logical leap that they want the reader to make. Articles also seem to have grown in length lately. While our journal does not enforce a word limit, we are less willing to take on long pieces, especially when the reason for the length is unclear. 

7. Did you find that you had an aversion to any type of article? Did you find that you had a balance of all topics in your books or did you find that you favored certain subjects more than others? What do you think of coauthored articles? Empirical pieces?

The Vanderbilt Law Review has an institutional interest in retaining its generalist reputation. This interest stems from our desire to continue to receive submissions from scholars in all legal fields. Thus, we consider the balance of articles in a particular volume during almost every committee meeting. Year to year, however, as committee interests change, some topic areas may have particularly fervent advocates. For example, last year’s committee had a strong affinity for patent law pieces. This changes every year and is one area where luck enters into the process. That being said, a strong article will be fairly considered regardless of the topic. If you are writing about a popular topic, however, you have to take a unique angle to differentiate your piece from the others.

Empirical pieces are often difficult for law students to evaluate. In recent years, however, the Vanderbilt Law Review has had someone from Vanderbilt’s new Ph.D. program in law and economics on the articles committee to provide some guidance. Even methodically sound empirical articles must contribute to legal scholarship; articles insufficiently grounded in law do not fare well.

While the number of authors on a particular piece plays no role in determining whether we make an offer, we do take notice where multiple authors’ expertise improves the piece.

8. At some stage, article fatigue hits and you are just overloaded with articles (which signals to us prawfs, that it is past the point when we should submit articles). When was this for you and when do you think the ideal time is to submit articles?

Our articles submission process has two cycles. The spring cycle, which opens in early February, fills the following issues: October, November, January, and March. The fall cycle, which opens in the middle of August, fills the April and May issues. Spring fatigue hits our committee by the first week of April. This is also approximately when we fill all of our spring slots. For this reason, we strongly encourage authors to submit to us by late February for the spring cycle. Alternatively, we encourage authors to submit as early as possible during the fall cycle, which tends to be less popular.

9. Did you find that your attitude about articles changed from the beginning of submissions to the end? For instance, did you first think that all of the articles would be the next big thing from Laurence Tribe and soon realize that those types of pieces were few and far between?

At the beginning of each committee’s tenure, most editors feel that selecting “the best” articles from thousands of submissions is near impossible. As time goes on, the task gets easier because the committee develops a sense of what constitutes good scholarship. That being said, committee members don’t always agree on the merits of a specific piece.

10. Anything you want to add that you think may be helpful to professors bewildered by this process?

We would simply like to reiterate that, in general, student editors work tirelessly to both select articles and edit them into their best possible form. While we do not purport to be legal experts, we are experienced readers and know how to think about the law—you taught us that. We agree that the process isn’t perfect. Perhaps if it was, we would all get a little more sleep. But, the system is what it is, and we are dealing with it as best we can. With that in mind, please know that kind and understanding words in cover letters, emails, and the blogosphere go a long way. You’d be surprised how often appreciative emails from authors are forwarded around to the staff—and how many people remember how great it was to work with those authors. On the margin, both good and bad interactions can make a difference.

Next interview, BYU Law Review...

Posted by Shima Baradaran Baughman on April 18, 2012 at 11:48 AM | Permalink


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Is the author's identity known to all of the editors at all stages of the process, or is there any part where review is blind or quasi-blind?

Posted by: Will Baude | Apr 19, 2012 3:35:47 PM

This is more of a question for the Vandy folks, really just a quick followup:
You mentioned the # of pieces ultimately published and the # of pieces submitted but I bet people want to know also how many offers you extended. Put differently, what's your yield on offers to acceptances?

For some reason, Shima's having trouble posting the response but here's the answer we got on the yield question:

Dear Professor Markel:

Regarding your question about the number of offers made, the figure
varies wildly from cycle to cycle. Small changes, such as when spring
break is scheduled in a given year, can have a major impact on the
offer and yield rate. As we do not distribute offers through ExpressO,
we do not have historical data on the number of offers given in each
cycle. Instead, our editors simply grant as many offers as required to
fill the books. That being said, however, during this past cycle we
had about a 75% acceptance rate from authors. But, last year, that
rate was closer to 50%. I hope you find that helpful.


Jenna Farleigh
Vanderbilt Law Review, 2011-12

Posted by: Dan Markel and Shima/Jenna | Apr 18, 2012 12:01:15 PM

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