Farewell to the Fall Submission?

Not long ago, the busy month for law review submissions was August, not March.  As anyone who has been teaching law for more than six or seven years can confirm, law faculty worked on their manuscripts during summer break and had shiny new articles to send off as the fall semester approached.  There was a spring cycle as well, with law journal submissions and publication offers split reasonably evenly between the spring and fall cycles, but at one point, the fall was probably the busier one.

It’s not quite yet time to declare the death of the fall cycle for law journal submissions—many journals still will receive and accept a number of articles this month—but we’re getting close.  A nontrivial number of flagship journals didn’t open for business this fall—e.g., Duke Law Journal, Indiana Law Journal, University of Illinois Law Review, and Utah Law Review—each noting on ExpressO that they’ll begin looking at articles next in the spring.  What’s more, many of the journals open for business reserved only a handful of publication slots for this fall from last spring.  Demand during the fall for articles appears to be shrinking.

Why did this apparent shift from fall to spring cycle occur?  My guess begins with the fact that the business of legal scholarship is increasingly competitive on all ends, and after boards turn over during the spring, there are more high-quality articles than ever pouring into journal offices.  So many high-quality articles, in fact, that a top journal finds it difficult to resist filling their entire volume just from the spring submissions alone.  Of course, top journals could resist the temptation, but they may not see the point once they’ve already invested the time to read and decide on a sufficient mass of articles.  They may also fixate on the pieces in front of them rather than assume that stronger pieces will be available in the fall.  This is just a version of the “unraveling of the market” that Dave Hoffman cited to explain why the spring cycle itself seemed to be creeping up earlier and earlier.  All this hinges, of course, on the quantity and quality of spring submissions hitting a critical threshold such that journals tipped from saving slots for the fall to consuming almost all of them in the spring.  By the fall, however, journals feel constrained not to steal even more spots from the subsequent spring, because it would be taking them away from the next board of editors and next volume.

There are at least two significant costs of the migration of publication slots from fall to spring.  The first is that we may, before long, have only one cycle for submissions per calendar year—the spring.  Spring versus fall as a matter of timing isn’t a big deal, but having two cycles per year for submissions versus only one is a big deal.  If you have an article that isn’t quite ready for the spring cycle, then you would need to wait a full year for the next spring cycle to submit it.  The result is increased turnaround time between completion of the average article and its publication date.  Articles therefore become less timely on average, and scholarship takes longer to become widely disseminated in finished form.  This development would cede one relative advantage of student-run law journals over academic peer review journals—speed.

The second cost is that the spring cycle, as the only cycle, would become even more chaotic and random.  I don’t know whether authors have fully adjusted to the shift from fall to spring, but if they do, authors might submit all their work during the spring.  The obvious result is that virtually all article selection for top journals would occur in basically a couple months.  The volume of submissions would place additional stress on articles editors, and time pressures on both articles editors and authors in the competition for articles would speed up.  More articles, more decisions, compressed into a shorter period of time.

You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. JC says:

    What are your thoughts about how the rise of online companion journals do to this? Those are open for submission anytime. Or are they considered sufficiently “non-prestigous” such that most law profs aren’t going to bother to submit to them?

  2. Just a note, not all online companion journals are indeed “open for submission anytime.” Last December, I wrote a piece on the Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act, which had been enacted that same month.

    Because time was of the essence, I wanted to publish it right away, but most of the online journals I submitted it to were “full,” and wouldn’t open for submissions again until the Spring. (Kudos to the Michigan Law Review First Impressions, for publishing the piece and for not being full!)

  3. Peter says:

    Besides the “online companion journals,” there is another set of journals that genuinely are “open for submission anytime” — peer reviewed journals. Of course most will not publish an article right away, and will take longer to render a decision than non-peer-reviewed journals (and most will not permit simultaneous submission). Still, if it’s a question of finishing something in May, and waiting until Feb. to send it out, then you might well get an answer from a peer reviewed journal (and be able to post it online as forthcoming), before the following Feb.

  4. JC says:

    Wm. Baude – thanks. But generally speaking, the online companions don’t hew to the fall/spring submission windows. In fact, many strive (at least in theory) to get quick turnarounds in order to keep the debate timely. Your caveat is appreciated, though.

  5. Anon says:

    Somehow, this post leaves me feeling very old, since I remember the last time people though the Fall submission period was on the wane. Then, as part of the competitive process for obtaining high quality submissions, some law reviews realized they could get higher quality articles if they left more spots open in the Fall. After all, a few top people were still submitting then and some of them accepted with those journals because they were the only ones to make offers. Pretty soon, an equilibrium developed and the Fall became crowded again (both with submissions and reviews accepting submissions), leading more people to submit and more reviews to accept in the Spring and the cycle began again. Sometimes this process has been interrupted with periods of journals moving to early decision/exclusive submission windows just prior to both period. In any case, it is a cycle and, absent some structural change in Law schools (such as year-round school or changes in the timing of board transitions) the Fall submission period will rise once again.