Fixing Law Reviews

Barry Friedman has an excellent new paper out about improving the selection and editing process for law review articles. I agree with many of the paper’s suggestions, but I was shocked by one fact that Friedman discusses at some length. Many legal scholars submit incomplete papers to law reviews, which get accepted based on their promise, the reputation of the author, or the reputation of their school.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said to nobody in particular. Serious people do this? Shame on them. While articles get edited after acceptance (either through the author’s self-reflection, student comments, or both) and citation errors/typos get corrected, my thought is that what I submit should be the final paper. If not, then I wait until the next window for submissions. Outsourcing scholarship to students, whether though research assistants, whom I rarely use, or law review editors is deeply wrong.

I wonder whether more informal peer review would cure this problem. I’ve done a few such reviews for article committees, and if I ever saw something incomplete like that (so far, I have not) I would tell the student editors to throw the thing in the trash.

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3 Responses

  1. Paul Horwitz says:

    That problem, which I’ve only heard tell of, is indeed a problem, but the greater problem is that it’s not a generally applicable practice: It applies only to people from usual-suspect schools. They may have a great track record *in addition* to their elite status, but that condition is not sufficient and may not even be necessary. Let me suggest that *some* version of this practice could be plausibly acceptable even if other disciplines do it. Our obsessive focus on footnote frenzies and on endless literature review sections is such that one could argue that having footnote 384 incomplete shouldn’t stand in the way of considering a great submission. And *perhaps* reviews could consider proposals. BUT such submissions, or submissions of proposals, should be highly defeasible, subject to both peer review (all law review articles should undergo some form of peer review in any event) and an editorial read of the final piece with the full option to reject. And whatever the practice, it should be known and available to all. Having a non-transparent practice available only to some is bad in itself, regardless of what one thinks of the general practice itself and whether it could be defensible under different circumstances and with some essential caveats.

  2. Paul Horwitz says:

    “Even if other disciplines DON’T do it.” [Note That I’m not arguing strenuously FOR such an approach. I’m just saying we are free to consider it and shouldn’t rule it out automatically, although even if such a (revised) practice were plausibly acceptable, having it be non-public and unavailable to non-elite profs is unjustifiable in and of itself.]

  3. Another Anon Anon says:

    A way to solve this problem would be for journals to start the editing process as soon as the paper is accepted. It’s common for journals to accept a paper but then say that the author needs to submit a draft of the paper to start the editing process only several months later — which by then can be a very different draft. That time window creates room for a gap between papers as-submitted-for-decision and as-submitted-for-publication.

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