A New Kind of Symposium

In yesterday’s post I discussed pitching law reviews instead of submitting “finished” manuscripts.  A few more comments

As Orin Kerr points out, symposiums operate to some degree along these lines — they operate by invitation.  But there is a crucial problem:  there is no pitch involved.    The editors just find a bunch of people reputed to know something about the field.   Who then have a guaranteed slot.

The upside of this approach is that scholars are often flattered and show up.  The downside is that the review sometimes ends up with pieces entitled

“A few thoughts on [field]”

or perhaps “musings on”

Such pieces have their  place, particularly when delivered orally, but rarely makes for good scholarship, in my opinion.

Instead, what symposiums could do is send out invitations to pitch something on, a given field, and take the best 6 pitches.

You’d only pitch or propose something if you actually had something to write.

That way you’d in theory at least, the result would be a symposium volume full of interesting articles.

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3 Responses

  1. William Baude says:

    Doesn’t this happen all the time? E.g.: This “call for papers” or this one or this one. Do you have something different in mind, or do you just wish there more of these?

  2. TJ says:

    It seems to me that you cannot avoid the basic trade-off between demanding more upfront proof of quality (good for reviews) and the disincentive for authors to put in that upfront effort. To the same extent that requiring a pitch means that people will only pitch if they had good ideas ready to go, that also means the very same “established people” would not want to risk their reputation and put in the effort to pitch, especially when they can get risk-free invitations for symposiums at other reviews, shift the work to junior co-authors, publish books, or do all sorts of other stuff. The basic problem is that nobody likes to be judged by 2Ls, and tenured professors at top schools have few incentives to put themselves through that kind of humiliating scrutiny.

    We can imagine two extremes on a spectrum. On one hand, you have symposium invites, which entail no scrutiny and thus no cost. This is terrible for reviews but great for the professor, so professors love these but they result in terrible articles. On the other is traditional full article submission, which is maximum scrutiny. This provides a lot of protection for the reviews, but not surprisingly professors hate being scrutinized, and established professors at top schools, who have incentive to put themselves through the process any longer, opt out. Your proposal falls into the middle of this spectrum. But what you get in terms of increasing article quality (no more “musings I spent 10 seconds to come up with before handing off to the RA”), comes at the price of losing professors who do not want to put themselves through the scrutiny of 2Ls. It is not at all clear that this is some kind of optimal equilibrium point.

  3. Tim Wu says:

    TJ, not clear that its optimal. But as you point out, different than the two extremes, so possibly will lead to something useful.