Does Pre-Publishing on SSRN Promote or Reduce the Chances of Law Review Acceptance?

Brian Tamanaha has a useful post on Balknization arguing that we should fight the power of super-elite law review placement.

Once we accept this reality, it becomes clear that the only solution for the “unfairness” in the process (though “unfairness” is the wrong word) is to come to a collective recognition that the placement of an article is not itself a measure of its quality. Law professors often say this, but deep down they don’t really believe it because elite journals have magical names.

A good, thoughtful, comment thread emerged from this post. Malla Pollack, of the Barkley School of Law, dissents from the (common) idea that putting works up on SSRN promotes the likelihood of acceptance, writing:

“Lower ranked” professors commonly believe that pre-publishing a piece on line (SSRN or their own home page) kills the chance of placement in a journal. They publish on SSRN only after receiving a bid from a law review and getting the review’s approval.

I hold the opposite view, and know of only one or two journals that believe publication on SSRN is pre-emptive (and to those journals I say: nuts to you.) But it is an interesting question whether folks generally think that SSRN retards publication or promotes it. Take a poll, and let’s find out what a not-so-random sample of the academy thinks.

When (and How) Do You First Post Articles on SSRN

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7 Responses

  1. FWIW, I posted a draft of a short piece on SSRN last fall and was contacted by the (faculty) editor of the journal that is now publishing a re-vamped version of it.

    On the poll, I checked the second option (post in the same form as submitted to law reviews) but am considering moving towards posting earlier drafts.

  2. eric says:

    For the anecdote hopper, from someone who certainly qualifies as a “lower-ranked” professor (1st year faculty member at a new law school) — I posted a piece on SSRN shortly before sending it out earlier this year. I got multiple publication offers, and the article will be published in a very respectable law review.

    Doffing my law faculty cap and donning my sociologist’s hat, I’d think this would be a simple enough subject for empirical investigation.

  3. Ethan Leib says:

    I actually have a more complicated practice: when I write in an area that I think will garner modest download counts, I don’t post it ahead of time for fear that low download counts will convey to law review editors — whether rightly or wrongly — that there isn’t much interest in my scholarship. By contrast, when I write in an area in which I anticipate more substantial downloads (from blogospheric influence), I assume high download counts will convey — again, whether rightly or wrongly — that there is an active market for my work.

  4. aka Miguel Sanchez says:

    As the Lead Article Editor at a T20 journal, I will say that if an article is on SSRN and has a lot of downloads, that’s a positive factor in our discussions. Conversely, if it’s been up on SSRN for eight months and has five downloads, we would look a bit askance at that.

  5. anon says:

    There’s another choice not listed. Some people have taken to posting a draft before acceptance and then posting separately the final version either right before or after publication (as opposed to replacing the draft with the final version). By posting the final version as a new post, the paper goes out on the e-mail subject matter journals from SSRN a second time and accomplishes three things: (1) signaling that this is a new version for those who downloaded the prior version, (2) signaling that the paper has been accepted (and by a good journal), and (3) maximizing downloads because the same paper is effectively downloaded twice. While the third prong of the strategy seems silly, it’s hard to advocate prohibiting it because it does get the paper out early (as SSRN is supposed to do), while also making sure people know the final version is now available. A lot of drafts end up being the only version anyone ever sees because they don’t bother to look for the published version.

  6. AE says:

    To throw another wrinkle in there — we are increasingly considering the possibility that download totals can be “gamed” (“Dear 150-person Con Law class, download this article; it may be on the exam.”). But a low download total would still presumably hurt you, consistent with Ethan’s idea.

  7. Dylan Steinberg says:

    For what it’s worth, our study of criteria applied by law reviews found that a strong reception on SSRN was a minor but positive factor in publication decisions.