Category: Law School (Law Reviews)


Law Review Forum at ELS Blog

The Empirical Legal Studies blog has hosted a great forum over the last few days, evaluating the Nance-Steinberg paper on law review submission practices. The first post is here, and there are eight others, featuring comments by Christine Hurt, Christopher Zorn, Ahmed Taha, and Ben Barton, among others, as well as the ELS regulars. It has been a remarkable discussion. Check it out.


Law Review Article Selection: An Empirical Study

Leah Christensen (St. Thomas School of Law, MN) and Julie Oseid (St. Thomas, St. Thomas School of Law, MN) have posted on SSRN an article entitled Navigating the Law Review Article Selection Process: an Empirical Study of Those With All the Power—Student Editors. From the article:

The present study examines how law review editors at all levels of the law school “tier” system (e.g., Top 15, Top 25, Top 50, Top 100, Third Tier, Fourth Tier and Specialty Journals)13 weigh the importance of author credentials, topic, format, and timing of an article submission in making their selection decisions.

The study was based on a survey sent to student law review editors:

A qualitative survey methodology was adopted in order to access a large number of student editors, and to enable the editors’ responses to be compared across different groups and/or law school tiers. A 10 page self-completion survey was designed focusing on the following factors: author credentials; topic; title; star footnote; cover letter; reserved space; article format; timing of submission; review process; law review culture; “trading up;” and the “biggest surprise” about selecting articles for your journal. We left space for the editors to comment specifically about any one of the factors if they had additional information to provide.

The results:

Although the study found that most editors consider each of these factors to some degree, the data also suggests that the higher-ranked journals rely more heavily on author credentials than lower-ranked journals. Specifically, editors at higher-tiered law schools were highly influenced by where an author has previously published. Further, while not a single editor at a Top 15 school considered an author’s practice experience in making a publication decision, a majority of the editors at lower-tiered journals rated practice experience as an important factor in article selection. In addition, the study participants almost unanimously agreed that they were influenced by the topic of an article yet there were important differences among the law schools concerning the actual topics about which they would be most or least likely to publish.

One part of the article contains a week-by-week tally of number of article submissions to a Top 25 journal over the course of a year. The heaviest period of submissions was between February 20 and April 2 (the so-called “spring window”), with the busiest week being March 6-12, with 235 submissions. June and July were the slowest months. The fall window numbers were heaviest from August 7 to September 10, but the volume of submissions was not quite as high as the spring window — though it was not too much lower. Overall the journal received 2,219 submissions.

The article is filled with some very interesting data. It is definitely worth checking out.

Excursus on the Beatles

I once heard a forlorn graduate student put a $20 bill in her dissertation in 1978, and when she returned to campus 20 years later to see if anyone had read her magnum opus, the bill was still there. Given that some proportion of law review articles never get cited, authors of the “long tail” of legal scholarship may want to develop some strategies to see if their own works are getting read. One strategy appears below the fold….

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The Economics of Law Reviews

librarystacks.jpgI’ve suggested that part of the job of a student law review editor (especially an EIC) is to think strategically about increasing the use of her or his journal by the legal community. This might lead editors to recruit student authors to write doctrinal “mini-treatises” on a regular basis, or to aggressively promote articles to targeted lawyers and judges.

This reorientation of law reviews’ mission from pincites toward promotion has as yet failed to set the world on fire. A stumbling block is that law journals are structured inefficiently.

The economics of law reviews is obscure. Posner’s observation that “[t]o student editors, the cost of an author’s time is zero . . .” was all I could find, though I value my time positively, so I didn’t look very long. Because schools subsidize journals, we know that the supply of articles sold is “inflated,” but we don’t know exactly to what extent. Some law review editors are paid – but that practice is shrouded in mystery too. (The by-laws of reviews available on the web are silent on pay issues). Here is what we do know.

Law schools subsidize law reviews with money and faculty time for three basic reasons, [1] to create quality signals and avoid the market for lemons; [2] to improve the school’s academic reputation (to mixed effect, as Al Brophy has demonstrated); and [3] to compete for entering students. A great deal of this looks to me like me-tooism: schools pay for journals because other uses of money are harder to explain. I don’t think that any law school subsidizes its law review in the hopes that it will one day make money by selling advertising or subscriptions. [Update: I’ve been reminded (in the comments below) that many believe that law reviews provide good educational experiences for their members, which is another reason schools might subsidize publication.]

Though certain (wonderful and wise) students may seek to promote legal scholarship, I imagine that most law students serve as editors for very practical reasons. Signaling is the most important. Apart from the general quality signal, membership on certain reviews may create a proxy for specialization in a practice area in a way the Bar does not otherwise permit. (Thus, if I were want to hire a water lawyer, I might look to those who have served on a natural resources journal.) Students may also seek (in Posner’s words) “useful training” in editing and citation.

The resulting market is interesting.

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Announcing the Law Review Forum Project


I am very pleased to announce a new project here at Concurring Opinions – the Law Review Forum Project. We will be hosting online forums for several law reviews. Increasingly, law reviews are creating online forums as companions to their regular law review issues. These forums contain very short response pieces, essays, debates, and other works that attempt to bridge the gap between regular legal scholarship and the blogosphere.

Journals seeking to create their own online forum face two daunting challenges. First, they must create and actively maintain a web presence. Second, they must find ways to attract readers, which is difficult in an age where so many blogs and other websites exist. A wide readership for a website depends upon having daily content. Law review forums produce content sporadically throughout the year at intervals that are not regular enough to attract a significant readership.

Therefore, we have invited a number of law reviews to participate in a partnership with our blog. Throughout the year, each law review will periodically post forum essays here at Concurring Opinions. We are not requiring an exclusive license, so participating law reviews can also cross-post at their own websites.

We see this as a mutually-beneficial arrangement. We can bring great content to our blog, and law reviews can reach our significant audience without the pressures of having to build and maintain an online readership or of having to produce content with regularity.

Law reviews currently with and without existing forums will be participating. Thus far, the following law reviews have agreed to participate:

* Harvard Law Review

* Virginia Law Review

* Michigan Law Review

* University of Pennsylvania Law Review

* Northwestern Law Review

* UCLA Law Review

* George Washington Law Review

In the near future, we hope to be expanding the list of participating law reviews.


Is It Harder to Get a Top Law Review Placement Today?

lawreview6.jpgThe other day, over at Conglomerate, Gordon Smith asked for data regarding law review rejection rates for article submissions.

I’m interested in collecting some data too — but instead of rejection rates, I’m interested in historical submission data. I’ve long had a hypothesis, though I’ve lacked data to back it up. The hypothesis is this: Today, it is much harder to get a top law review placement than it was 20 years ago. Let’s define a top law review placement as one in a top 20 law review (it doesn’t matter whether it’s the top 10, 20, 30, etc., so long as we agree on a particular number of journals). The number of article slots in the top 20 law reviews hasn’t changed much — each publishes roughly 12 to 18 articles a year. There are thus about 240 to 360 total slots each year — on average probably around 300. I assume that the number of slots has remained relatively constant over time.

The number of law review article submissions, however, has almost certainly risen. Over the past 20 years, standards have changed in the legal academy to encourage more publishing. Whereas before, professors were expected to publish frequently only at some schools, now nearly all law schools expect professors to be prolific scholars. The result: More law review article submissions! And the math is simple — more submissions are now chasing the same number of top law review slots.

I’m curious about the data. I wonder whether any law reviews have kept historical submission data. It would be interesting, for example, to know how many pieces were submitted to a given law review back in 1986 as opposed to 2006. Or back in 1976. Do any law review editors have access to this data? I’d be very interested to see the scope of the increase over the years.


Expediting Life

What if the rest of the world was like law review submissions?

Law Review Submission: Dear Harvard, I’ve gotten an offer from Podunk State Law Journal, but I’d really rather publish with you. Please get back to me in four days.

Blogging: Dear Eugene, I’ve gotten an offer to post this at Co-Op, but I’d really rather post it with you. Please get back to me in four days.

Employment: Dear Prestigious Firm, I’ve gotten an offer from Starbucks, but I’d really rather work for you. Please get back to me in four days.

Teaching: Dear class, I’ve gotten an offer to teach you the Rule against Perpetuities, but I’d really rather go to the beach. Please get back to me in four days.

Dating: Dear Sally, I’ve gotten an offer from Jenny, but I’d really rather date you. Please get back to me in four days.

Foreign Policy: Dear Iran, I’ve gotten an offer to invade Iraq, but I’d really rather invade you. Please get back to me in four days.

The hereafter: Dear God, I’ve gotten an offer from Satan, but I’d really rather spend eternity with you . . .


Law Review Rejection Rates

Over at the Conglomerate, Gordon Smith asks:

Quite apart from whether such a belief justifies the inference of quality, is it actually true that higher-ranked law reviews have higher rejection rates?

As far as I know, no one has gathered statistics on rejection rates. ExpressO ranks the Top 100 law reviews in terms of submissions through its service, but these rankings are somewhat skewed by the fact that several top law reviews do not accept ExpressO submissions. They also don’t tell us how many articles were accepted at any of the law reviews.

Perhaps former law review editors can help shine some light on this question. If you have recent experience as a law review editor, please provide the following information in the comments: (1) the number of unsolicited submissions received by your law review during the editorial year, and (2) the number of offers made by your law review to authors of unsolicited submissions, and (3) the number of unsolicited submissions actually published. Obviously, this is informal, but I suspect that even a few responses would be quite enlightening.

Please answer Gordon’s question in the comments to his post.


Submission Strategies in Response to the Shrinking Law Review Article Offer

Lawbooks5a.jpgOver at the VC, Orin Kerr examines the desirability of the increasing trend of law reviews to give “exploding” offers — offers that expire in 1 day or 2 days. The law review submission process involves authors submitting simultaneously to multiple law reviews. Once the author gets an offer, she requests higher-ranked journals to conduct an expedited review. To make it harder for higher-ranked journals to conduct an expedited review, journals are giving out offers with shorter time windows. The effect: Whereas before journals had a week or two week to conduct an expedited review, now they have just a day or two.

Orin believes that this is problematic:

If this is in fact happening, I worry that it is on balance a bad thing for journals. First, I suspect that the perceived advantage to individual journals is mostly illusory: Journals might want to make fast offers and give a very short window to try to limit expedites, but my guess is that other journals are likely to respond by speeding up their expedite processes accordingly. And on a broader level, I’m concerned that journals that decide extremely quickly are likely to focus even more on the proxy of author/school prestige and less on the quality of the article. . . . On balance, then, tighter windows would seem to make the rich richer; it may be harder for excellent articles by lesser-known authors to break in to top journals.

I agree with Orin. The shrinking windows for law reviews to consider articles just rushes the process and threatens to make review more cursory. It is also a race to the bottom.

Check out Orin’s post for some interesting comments.

My question is about submission strategy. The strategy for authors used to be to send to a bunch of law reviews, get an offer, and then slowly expedite in stages, working one’s way up to the top law reviews. This strategy is deeply flawed today. Given the number of exploding offers, one has to expedite all the way to the top. And because many top law reviews have an extensive review process, if you want to be considered by them, there’s often no way for them to review it in a 1 day or 2 day window.

So what should the strategy be for authors who want to maximize their placements?

Perhaps the following: One should submit in stages, with the top journals first, then followed by another group of journals a week or so later, then followed by successive waves at weekly or bi-weekly intervals, slowly working one’s way down the rankings. In light of the ever-shrinking law review offer shelf life, is this the best strategy?


More on Law Review Citation: The Dreaded Pin Cite

pin1a.jpgAn anonymous former executive editor at a law review writes in a comment to my recent post about pet peeves in law review editing:

As a former Executive Editor on the Law Review, I often found that the toughest part of the editor/author dynamic was the author’s failure to hold up his or her end of the bargain. Admittedly, our strict adherence to the Bluebook was sometimes a source of tension. But it was the author’s failure to do an adequate job citing his work that caused the biggest problems.

Professor Solove, your points are well taken; however, the problem goes beyond overzealous footnote and parenthetical insertion. My journal was a “light editing” journal, so we did our best to add citations only when absolutely necessary, while respecting each author’s style and voice. Unfortunately, my co-editors and I learned quickly that many authors (especially well-established and older authors) think of the journal staff not as citation checkers but as citation generators.

We received pieces that presented excellent view points and strong arguments—but contained almost no pin cites. Not incorrect pin cites. No pin cites. In some of the more egregious cases, we asked the authors to provide them, and the response was always, “That’s your job.” True, it’s our job to verify your assertions, but you can’t just tell us what book to start reading (to borrow another poster’s example). Similarly, in a number of cases, it became clear that (1) a legal assertion required substantive support, (2) the author knew it required support, and (3) the author expected the editorial board to locate the support. Once again, we edit the substance—we don’t produce it.

It is certainly true that many authors are lazy about citation and pawn off too much of the work on law review editors. I try to be very careful about citation, and I frequently spend a ton of time working on citation to my articles — too much time, I believe, since I think that many of the conventions of legal citation are needless busywork. The point of my original post was not about casting blame on anyone. It is about critiquing a set of norms and practices about law review editing that aren’t helpful to readers, are annoying to writers, and are also time-consuming for editors.

Citation is unusually detailed in law review articles. Pin cites, for example, are sometimes helpful. But many times, citing just to the case or article is sufficient. The culture of the Bluebook and law review editing is one of extreme precision. Every statement must have authority, and nearly every citation must contain pinpoint location information. This sometimes can be helpful, but it is often overkill. For example, to use an analogy to physical directions, in many cases, it suffices to say: “It’s in New York City.” In some cases, one might say: “It’s in the Empire State Building in New York City.” But law review citation conventions often want something more: “It’s on the 51st floor of the Empire State Building in New York City in Office #5102, on the desk on the right hand side, the third document from the top of the pile, on page 17.”

The goal of citation should be to help the reader. But law review citation often differs from this goal — it is about justifying every proposition with painstaking accuracy. Sometimes this level of accuracy just isn’t really needed. Sometimes it is. It’s a judgment call.

I believe pin cites are important for direct quotations or for difficult-to-find facts in sources. But they are often unnecessary for many facts or for holdings of cases. What annoys authors is that instead of working on improving the substantive arguments and writing of an article, a ton of time is wasted hunting for pin cites that few readers will care about.

Many other fields use a much less rigid set of citation conventions. Likewise for citation in books. I guess it is no suprise that legal citation is obsessed with rules. But one of the lessons I try to teach in my classes is that sometimes no system of rules can replace good judgment.