Sample Law Review Submission Cover Letters

law-reviewsFollowing this post are four sample law review submission cover letters I have used in recent seasons.   I provide them after detecting an absence of any samples existing on the Internet and reviewing various posts and comment threads addressing the subject that leave readers conflicted about what a cover letter might accomplish. 

There is considerable Web commentary on many aspects of the law journal submission process, which Dan Solove helpfully collects here.  Few address cover letters directly, and those are humorous, sarcastic, or questions without comments.There is a  sample cover letter on page 288 of Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing, but I could not find a single one on the Web.

When discussed, there are conflicting impressions and advice. Co-op guest blogger Elizabeth Nowicki urges writing “a crisp one-page cover letter” though Trevor Morrison and my GW colleague Orin Kerr, disagreed, opining they are useless.   Scott Dodson opined that, if a famous professor read and admired a piece, to say so in the cover letter, but an articles editor said that will not be believed unless the famous professor communicates that directly.   (Some other conflicting views appear in this thread addressing more general issues.)

What should a cover letter say? All the wrangling aside, some consensus appears as follows:

Basics. Obviously, submissions must indicate author’s name and contact information (mailing address, phone, email) and article title. Unless submitted in an electronic format that transmits this information, the cover letter is the place.

Word Count. Many journals request stating the piece’s word count, including footnotes. In addition, many journals since 2005 have express word count limits or preferences, and request cover letter explanations for approaching or exceeding the guidance.

Brevity. Keep it short, usually a single page of three paragraphs, never more than two, and then only if justified by background research and context otherwise not evident from the piece.

Main Point. State the piece’s thesis, explain its uniqueness and importance.

Prior Work. Reference your prior works, when relevant, not necessarily journal prestige, although not holding this back when relevant. (Those without prior publications may need to explain a bit more why they are pursuing scholarship, perhaps even referencing relevant credentials.)

You. Mention brief biographical data only if relevant to the piece, such as your role in the relevant discourse (or the foregoing caveat for new scholars).

Style. The cover letter should be thoughtful and sober.  You can try to entertain, but beware that attempted humor can backfire. Above all, avoid gimmicks, including strong sales pitches, exaggerated statements of importance or things unrelated to the piece.

Sample One: June 1, 2004, published in UCLA Law Review

June 1, 2004



The enclosed Article will be the first to examine fully from a legal perspective a proposal to develop financial statement insurance as an alternative to the traditional approach to financial statement auditing. The concept was pioneered by an accounting professor, who wrote a few pages about it in a law journal, which has been cited in passing about a dozen times in other law review articles but never fully evaluated.

The article will open new avenues in a longstanding debate concerning how best to promote reliable financial reporting using third-party auditors. The financial statement insurance alternative takes a radically different approach to achieving the goal. This article is a policy piece, which will be of substantial utility and interest to all scholars of securities regulation, and many scholars in corporate law and insurance, as well as all those concerned about the financial reporting process.

An abstract accompanying this submission, and following the paper’s Table of Contents, provides more summary information. I hope you will accept the piece for publication.

Lawrence A. Cunningham

Sample Two: February 21, 2005, published in Michigan Law Review

February 21, 2005



The accompanying Article provides the first comprehensive analysis of the consequences for copyright protection when privately-promulgated standards are embodied in public law. This problem is assuming increasing significance under a national policy Congress established in the late 1990s, being implemented by administrative agencies, of leveraging government’s regulatory function by incorporating privately-promulgated standards into law. The issue’s significance is best illustrated by the case of accounting standards, in which government’s leveraging strategy dates back several generations, but for which recent Congressional restructuring of the standard setters poses novel questions.

The Article drives new analytical avenues in three legal areas: copyright law, administrative law and securities regulation. Its inquiries concern the broad public policy context in which government exercises its regulatory powers and the consequences of its leveraging strategy for fundamental conceptions of fairness promoted by assuring free public access to binding laws. In brief, the Article contributes a framework for resolving critical but hidden public policy challenges and nominates a governmental official to implement it, while also providing necessary guidance for the federal judiciary.

Additional summary information appears in an abstract included with this submission. I hope you will accept the piece for publication.

Lawrence A. Cunningham

Sample Three: August 8, 2006, published in Vanderbilt Law Review

 August 8, 2006


The accompanying Article was inspired last fall when a Canadian task force on securities regulation sought my advice about whether Canada should adopt a “principles-based” or “rules-based” approach to that law. I said that the notions of principles- versus rules-based systems are unrealistic. Such rhetoric has spread worldwide since 2002 when many attributed corporate frauds epitomized by Enron Corp. to suspicion that the US accounting system is “rules-based” and Congress instructed the SEC to study whether it should be “principles-based.”

Similar rhetoric appears in discourse concerning corporate governance, with fans of Delaware law increasingly calling it “principles-based,” chiefly as a way to contrast it with US federal securities regulation, lambasted as “rules-based.” Since Enron, numerous countries are boasting that their corporate law, securities regulation or accounting systems are principles-based, including Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa. The Canadian inquiry and this stirring rhetoric led me to research and write this Article-which confirms and adds depth to what I told the Canadian task force.

Research for this Article first engaged jurisprudential literature addressing rules versus standards. This is a fascinating body of knowledge that also contains considerable discord about what rules, standards and principles are; how they interact; what they should be called; and which are better. My analysis of the discord leads one to appreciate how these categories are not discrete but involve a continuum and how the concepts are not isolated but iterative. Armed with this learning, I then deepened my research into how these concepts are used in my major fields of expertise: corporate law, securities regulation and accounting.

In these fields, I discovered much rhetoric about rules and principles, including descriptions of the fields as rules-based or principles-based. But I found no systematic analysis of whether these labels are true or even meaningful-and my systematic analysis provides no basis to support the common rhetoric. I also researched and analyzed several proposals or studies about how one might design these fields as rules-based or principles-based, including a proposal connected to the Canadian task force’s inquiry and the study that Congress directed the SEC to prepare. I discovered that even when one tries consciously to fashion any of these systems as rules-based or principles-based, the quest fails.

I then tried to understand why the rhetoric promoting principles-based systems has taken hold and especially why it is spreading in the post-Enron world. Several explanations emerged from my research and reflection. The rhetoric could reflect a struggle against an excess of rules that might indeed have explained some of the shenanigans at Enron and other companies. Or it could show desire to promote principles of business ethics, also blamed for the Enron-type debacles.

While both of these explanations prove credible, my involvement with the Canadian task force exposed me to a third possibility. There is an intense political struggle in Canada among its provinces for leadership in crafting new national securities regulation. This began to explain the task force’s inquiry of me: British Columbia is pushing a principles-based approach while Ontario is resisting it. The two provinces have essentially opposed political (and economic) interests in the outcome of their struggle, and these stakes seem more important than any particular features of the actual design of the system.

This insight led me to reflect on how this struggle parallels those concerning federalism in US corporate governance and leadership in establishing global accounting (between the US and the International Accounting Standards Board, IASB). I position this part of my analysis in the context of the regulatory competition literature. Analysis suggests that these efforts seek product differentiation, with British Columbia, Delaware and IASB promoting their products as principles-based in contrast to their opponents’ rules-based products. But since my inquiry suggests that such products are unrealistic, the efforts also are a form of consumer deception that should be arrested. Perhaps the various jurisdictions should compete rather than harmonize, but the competitors’ efforts at product differentiation must not advertise falsely.

The article reflects all of this and remains at around 26,000 words. In short, it questions increasingly common global rhetoric that denominates legal or accounting systems as “rules-based” or “principles-based.” In doing so, the piece contributes significantly to corporate law and securities regulation (and accounting) by systematically investigating their bases in rules and principles, offers important insight concerning regulatory competition, and makes worthy if more modest contributions to jurisprudence on the rules-standards question. I hope you will offer to publish the piece.

Lawrence A. Cunningham

Sample Four: March 4, 2008, published in North Carolina Law Review

March 4, 2008


The accompanying Article provides the first comprehensive analysis of the revolutionary proposals the Securities and Exchange Commission is making to jettison traditional US accounting requirements in favor of international standards. This subject is a matter of intense discussion worldwide in many settings. This Article offers numerous perspectives on the pending debate and examines challenges that must be met in the near and medium term. It synthesizes recognized issues in the discussion and extends them in several important directions that continue to be overlooked. It is intended to be a useful immediate contribution to the academic and policy discussion and furnish an assessment that will remain useful over the longer term.

My background makes me nearly uniquely qualified to provide this contribution. My scholarship is widely-cited and well-known as providing a leading, informed and reflective analysis that often contrasts with commonly- but mistakenly-held conceptions in pending debates. Recent examples of this style of my work appear in some of the best law reviews in the country, including Minnesota (2007), Vanderbilt (2007), Columbia (2006), Michigan (2005) and UCLA (2004), among numerous others. This work occupies what can be called “law and accounting,” which usually means encounters with numerous legal subjects including, in the case of the current Article, administrative law, comparative law, corporations, international law and securities regulation.

I have prepared this Article to be the most thorough and realistic appraisal of the SEC’s policy vision and to illuminate this debate for a wide audience of scholars, practitioners and policy makers within the US and abroad.

Additional summary information appears in an abstract included with this submission. I hope you will accept the piece for publication.
Lawrence A. Cunningham

Hat Tip: Jake Barney

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. This is much appreciated (by me, at least).

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    This is a fantastically helpful post. Though I confess to agreeing with Trevor that they are “generally useless except for the name of the school on the letterhead. For people named Cass Sunstein, the signature block likely matters too.” Still, a good letter can’t hurt (can it?) and probably the illusion of control produces certain anxiety-reducing benefits.

  3. Tim Zinnecker says:

    Sarcastic? Moi?

  4. Recent Graduate says:

    Good timing, I’m just about to submit my first article and was looking for some tips regarding the cover letters.

    I’m not sure I’m convinced by your examples, though. I doubt that law review editors would bother to read 4 or 5 dense paragraphs when they can get the same info from the abstract and/or introduction.

    That said, I can’t argue with your results. I guess I should beef up my cover letter. To what extent is it acceptable to copy & paste from the abstract and introduction?

  5. BG Pender II says:

    Exceptional timing! As a new author, I appreciate these samples of cover letters for law journal submissions. After drafting the cover letter, I compared it to my abstract/summary, which is far more succinct than the cover letter. I now wonder whether I should beef up my abstract or leave it alone. Generally, ‘simple and brief’ is more powerful. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  6. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Glad they help. Brevity sells. The cover letter and abstract should stimulate interest in the article, not make all its points (and not repel interest). Three to four sentences should suffice for the abstract. [Of course, all this, IMHO and YMMV.]

  7. Bekki says:

    Thanks for this. As a law student and new author, I really appreciate that you took the time to put these on the web.

  8. Thanks for sharing.. I was looking out for these online and i found your site very help ful

  9. KW says:

    Thank you. This was very helpful.

  10. Yeah that was the information I was looking for, thanks for providing me chance to understand it.