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Friday, August 23, 2013

Why Are Law Journals' Operating Dates Secret?, or, How Bepress & Scholastica are Making Me Crazy

Yes, this will be a rant.   We have a whole thread here on prawfs--sometimes running to hundreds of comments--whose existence derives mainly from the fact that no one knows when the heck law journals are actually considering submissions.  Can someone explain to me why this information is not readily available, and well in advance, whether on the journals' web site, or (more conveniently) displayed on the submission aggregators' pages? 

Let me take a moment to explain for editors why this is so aggravating.  First, submissions are not free and often are not effortless (while the marginal effort entailed in adding another journal is small, it is not zero, especially in terms of good record-keeping).  I spend a lot of time preaching to authors that they shouldn't waste journals' resources needlessly; I suspect that project would go a lot better if journals took a similar attitude towards authors.    Also, authors frequently need to know which journals are reviewing in order to make meaningful decisions, such as when to submit, or when to agree to give up expedite oppportunities in exchange for a deadline extension. 

That's the practical; there's also the emotional.  It is hard to express how frustrating it is to have no idea whether a journal is even open for business when you are waiting to hear on an expedite.  A great source of my admiration for Columbia for many years was that they always, always, responded to expedite requests.  That professionalism has slipped a bit of late, which I take as a sign of the times.

Bepress and Scholastica are not helping.  I suppose bepress eliminated the "confirm receipt" button because journals didn't like it (and competition from the confirmationless scholastica forced the change).  Authors loved it.  Add a "confirm expedite receipt" button and we'd be swimming in milk.    At a minimum, pushing journals to regularly and accurately update the "Open for Business" sign would be super helpful to us author shlubs.  (And come on, journals, it can't take more than 2 minutes to do that.  It means a lot to us, and might even cut down on the overwhelming pile in your inbox.)  Better yet, how about a "there are n seats left on this plane" display, like the airlines use? 

Posted by BDG on August 23, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Permalink


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My guess is that student editors would be willing to exchange firm public commitments to specific, reasonable deadlines for submission deadlines and decision dates if law professors were willing to do the same for grading of seminar papers and exams. Just a thought.

Posted by: Ross Davies | Aug 24, 2013 7:58:42 PM

I'd dispute that "authors loved" the confirm receipt button. Authors would have loved the button if journal editors consistently pressed it, but they didn't and bepress couldn't make them. What really ended up happening--and would happen in any realistic world that bepress could control--was that whether a journal confirmed receipt had more to do with the idiosyncrasies of the individual editor at an individual journal than whether said journal was in fact reviewing your paper. The confirm receipt button therefore had the entirely baneful effect of giving no useful information whatsoever to veterans in this game (I never bothered to check whether a journal had confirmed receipt), while freaking out newbies when half the journals would fail to confirm receipt. Bepress never did a better thing than to eliminate it.

Posted by: TJ | Aug 23, 2013 5:26:21 PM


Rob from Scholastica here.

I'm sorry to hear that you've had a frustrating experience knowing when journals are open for submissions. While we aren't in charge of when journals decide to open for submissions they have the ability to set their journal to open or closed. Scholastica provides each journal using the system with “About” and "Submission Guidelines" pages to communicate details about their journal to authors. Closed journals often use the latter page to communicate to authors when they will open for submissions.

Two examples are below:

• Arizona Law Review: https://scholasticahq.com/arizona-law-review/for_authors

• Case Western Reserve Law Review: https://scholasticahq.com/case-western-reserve-law-review/for_authors

I also realize how important expedites are to authors. Expedites are integrated into Scholastica so that editors can't miss them.

With Scholastica:

• Editors see and can sort their table of manuscripts by expedite date:
See screenshot: (http://i.imgur.com/TAZqjkM.png). This makes it easy for editors to always be on top of when they need to speed up looking an article. They can also see from this page how many expedite requests an author has made on her article.

• On the "Expedite” page of an article, editors also see a sidebar item that consists of an author's current priority offer. See screenshot: (http://i.imgur.com/EWTvhmh.png). When they go the expedite page the editor very clearly sees the current expedite date, journal, and a list of all previous expedites regarding the manuscript in question.

• In addition to the above, when an expedite request is sent to a journal they also receive an email informing them an expedite request has been made. In a journal's settings they can also specify which editor they would like to receive these emails (some journals call it being on "expedite duty"). Most importantly, as stated in the above points, since everything is in the system editors aren't forced to keep track of things like manuscripts and expedite dates by email which makes it less likely for things to fall through the cracks.

I hope this was helpful. Our help site (http://help.scholasticahq.com/) has a number of user guides and articles that can help authors, reviewers, editors, and even institutional account administrators see how Scholastica works for people occupying different roles.


Rob Walsh

Posted by: Rob Walsh | Aug 23, 2013 4:30:27 PM

The ambiguity might serve a useful function. If journals announced their start dates, it could lead to an incredibly annoying race to open up one week before the competition. Cf, the federal law clerk hiring plan.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 23, 2013 3:20:55 PM

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