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Friday, March 24, 2006

What Are Law Review Articles Editors Looking For?

As the window is closing on the semi-annual law review article submission season, a reader passed along  an overview of the results of a survey of the article selection processes at more than 150 law reviews conducted in 2005-06 by Jason Nace and Dylan Steinberg, Articles Editors of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. The authors plan to publish the results in an article next year.  Among the many interesting results are:

Strongest positive influences in article selection process -- author:

  1. Author is highly influential in her respective field
  2. Author has published frequently in highly ranked law reviews
  3. Author is employed at a highly ranked law school
  4. Author has a large number of previous publications
  5. Author has practice experience related to the manuscript submitted

Strongest negative influences in article selection process -- author:

  1. Author is a student
  2. Author does not have a law degree
  3. Author has no previous publications
  4. Author received her law degree from a poorly ranked law school
  5. Author is employed at a poorly ranked law school

How frequently do you ask a faculty member to read the article before extending an offer of publication?

  • Always:  7%
  • Occasionally:  44%
  • Never:  49%

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» Anecdotes, data, and a plea for help from law professors from Letters of Marque
Will Baude and Paul Caron discuss a to-be published survey of how decisions are made by article editors. Nothing, of course, is really surprising about this study. Over the last year, we have tried to implement several measures in the... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 28, 2006 8:23:05 PM

» Anecdotes, data, and a plea for help from law professors from Letters of Marque
Will Baude and Paul Caron discuss a to-be published survey of how decisions are made by article editors. Nothing, of course, is really surprising about this study. Over the last year, we have tried to implement several measures in the... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 28, 2006 8:24:23 PM

» How Student Law Review Editors Select Articles from blackprof.com
As many know, a law professor who writes an article generally sends out the piece in either February or August to 30, 40, or even 100 different law reviews at various law schools around the nation.A law professors career depends... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 6, 2006 11:17:17 PM

» How Student Law Review Editors Select Articles from blackprof.com
As many know, a law professor who writes an article generally sends out the piece in either February or August to 30, 40, or even 100 different law reviews at various law schools around the nation.A law professors career depends... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 6, 2006 11:19:40 PM

» How Student Law Review Editors Select Articles from blackprof.com
As many know, a law professor who writes an article generally sends out the piece in either February or August to 30, 40, or even 100 different law reviews at various law schools around the nation.A law professors career depends... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 10, 2006 4:39:12 PM

Comments

What is interesting about this? These are sort of the things that everyone knows (and most people know how to fake).

Posted by: anon | Mar 24, 2006 3:54:17 PM

Anon, I think you mean what is news about this, not what is interesting. It's interesting (if unsurprising) because it's some empirical evidence of what goes on inside law reviews. It's interesting because it has important implications about how we evaluate the significance of placements (by people at well-ranked, as well as poorly ranked) schools. It's interesting because it provides some important data on how law reviews are functioning in relation to faculty. There is a need, imho, for law faculty to take a greater hand in shaping law review publication decisions. Now we know that at a small minority of schools, faculty already play a pretty important role. But at about half of schools, they never read an article before it's accepted.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the full article.

Posted by: Alfred L. Brophy | Mar 26, 2006 8:40:58 PM

This is why "blind reads" -- not knowing the author -- would be such a good idea. Yes, there are obvious special cases (e.g. Author A responds to Author B's attack; or, the author is someone of the stature of John Ely... but not that many.)

Posted by: Michael Froomkin | Mar 26, 2006 9:37:50 PM

We do blind reads.

Posted by: Will Baude | Mar 26, 2006 10:41:11 PM

As a former law journal submissions editor, I completely agree (in principle) with the point that law journals need "blind reads." What I predict would happen, however, would be some sort of further shake-up in the article selection process at law journals. The reason is this: with a blind selection process, most EICs and submissions editors wouldn't know which articles to pick, leaving many qualified authors extremely upset. Another unfortunate result would be the embarrassment that many law journals would suffer at having published third-rate articles because they do not know better. The article selection process would thus lose out on both predictability and whatever quality it has so far achieved.

In short, perhaps the superficial reasons for choosing articles (above) serve some sort of purpose (basically, it's the best criteria for those who have no qualified evaluation skills to pick articles). Unless professors and faculty advisors to law journals are prepared to actually do their jobs in working with the editors in the review process-which, in my experience, they were fairly reluctant to do--changing the selection process to one of "blind reading" would probably be more of a problem than a solution.

Posted by: anon | Mar 27, 2006 1:01:39 AM

As an outgoing law review editor at NYU, I think this is a case in which less might be more. I would be more interested to see how things are done at the top 20-25 Law Reviews, rather than at the 150 in the survey.

Perhaps it is just anecdotal, but in the year that I've been involved, of the 18 pieces that we've selected, 9 are authored by non-tenured professors (most with few publications), 2 by practitioners, and 7 by tenured professors.

The 16 professors come from the following schools: Loyola Law School (LA), UC Davis, Vanderbilt/Texas (co-authored), Pepperdine, NYU, Washington & Lee, UCLA, Washington University-St. Louis, Berkeley, Iowa, Brooklyn Law (2), Penn (2), and one piece by someone currently seeking employment.

And I feel fairly confident in asserting that though we may not have selected every great article that came through our doors, the ones we did take are all excellent. (Given how few articles are actually selected, I think that it is rare that we take something that isn't very strong, though I am sure we pass on many outstanding pieces.) And the fact that we didn't take anything from someone at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, Michigan, Georgetown, etc., certainly isn't because we didn't see pieces from people at those places. It just reflects how difficult it is to get something through our super-super-super majoritarian selection process.

If we are the 'prestige hounds' that these surveys suggest we are, it is not evident from what we've actually selected: pieces from a broad range of folks, at a broad range of schools.

Posted by: Alex Guerrero | Mar 27, 2006 8:25:24 AM

Law Review is for suckbutt pussies...

The real men go out there and do it, while the wimps of the world sit in an upstairs office and publish a journal of someone else's writings.

At my law school, the law review was nothing but drama -- sex scandals, infighting, jealousy, and the whole lot of them were chain smokers.

Go figure.

~Mr. Mojo Risin

Posted by: Jim Morrison | Mar 27, 2006 10:50:33 AM

This is all kind of strange, coming from someone in a non-law (but related) field. The comments raise a number of questions and thoughts.

1. What exactly are 'blind reads,' as distinct from 'blind review'? I take it that the reader only learns the identity after reading, unlike blind review where they never find out (or until actual publication)? If so, that might allow for unblinding when the votes take place.

2. (for anon) Isn't justifying reputation-based selection on the grounds of EIC incompetence completely backward? It seems to me that if EICs aren't competent to choose based on quality, then they ought not be choosing at all! It may be a safer bet to choose based on school when one doesn't know enough to rely on one's own assessment, but it seems a very shaky ground to build a discipline on. In other words, this seems most like a reason that students ought not be the publication gatekeepers at all.

3. (also anon) Regarding the unfortunate embarrassment factor. It seems to me that there are plenty of embarrassingly bad articles in well-ranked law journals, but face is saved by the fact that the authors are at good schools. Again, doesn't this seem completely backwards?

4. (AG) That list seems pretty darn top-heavy to me, given the size of legal academia. It's possible that that would be the breakdown under blind review, but it also seems like the kind of breakdown that could result from thumbing the scales for more reputable schools. The problem is that, absent blind review, *there is no good reason to think one way or the other*.

5. My sense is that legal academia wants to preserve law reviews. THere are many reasons to preserve it. It lets students do the work that professors would do otherwise (blind reviewing, editing journals, etc.), it allows massive submissions, and gets students academic credit while using a minimum of resources. And, I would argue, it actually is a pretty good learning experience for the students (NB: I was on my school's law review)

6. That said, why not just move to a system more like the rest of academia: double-blind review, submission to one journal at a time, much shorter articles. Much of it could still be student-run (all the editing, selection of student and practitioner pieces, symposium organization, etc.) with most all of the educational benefits intact, but a lot less wasted effort of articles editors reading the same articles all across the country.

Posted by: T | Mar 27, 2006 12:28:48 PM

Will, oddly, when I mention Yale does blind reads no one believes me. Maybe I've just got a duplicitous type of face, but few seem willing to believe that Yale's reads are actually blind.

Posted by: Bruce | Mar 27, 2006 4:02:57 PM

So Law Reviews make their offers to authors based on factors similiar to what law firms consider when making offers to law students. High rank and prestige is good. Low rank and no prestige is bad.

Do I agree with it? Perhaps not. However, Law Reviews are not the only niche in the legal profession that makes decisions based on superficial measurements which may not truly reflect ability.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 30, 2006 2:19:57 PM

Which is the chicken, which is the egg? Are distinguished authors being published because of their noteriety, or because of their talent? I know far too little about legal scholarship to answer those questions.

Posted by: Josh | Apr 1, 2006 1:30:32 AM

I just want to point out that these two elements of the survey are exactly that: two elements of a much longer survey. While I do not know the results of the larger project, all that these results tell us is that *with respect to the authors of law review articles* these are the factors that add and diminish value. These results say nothing at all about which factors *overall* are prioritized by Articles Editors, and they certainly do NOT suggest that Articles Editors use the identity of the author as a proxy for "quality" when making selections.

And yes, I was an Articles Editor at at top Law Review. And no, my office did not select articles based on author identity, although we did not do blind reads.

Posted by: RES | Apr 6, 2006 6:37:06 AM

As someone coming from an Australian legal education, and who also has disciplinary training in a social science, I must say I was flabbergasted to learn that the top law reviews in the United States were not peer reviewed, let alone using a once-off "blind read". Every notable legal journal in Australia will send a submission to no less than three reviewers, who are chosen on the basis of their expertise in the relevant area. If the submission is interdisciplinary (eg. law and sociology), an expert in that discipline may also be added. These reviewers will not be aware of the contributor's identity and any identifying material in the submission will be removed.

Not using peer-review seems like a recipe for "prestige-based" publication decisions, or worse, decisions based on what students think is "current" or "fashionable." A law professor of mine from NYU (where I was a graduate student) was fond of repeating the (perhaps apocryphal) anecdote that Marc Galanter's landmark article on "Naming, Claiming and Blaming" was rejected by every major law review he sent it to. In the words of this faculty member, student-led law reviews (in the absence of peer-review) seem like a case of "the blind leading the blind".

Posted by: Nehal Bhuta | Apr 20, 2006 3:36:47 PM

I'm a newly elected law rev articles editor at a top 100 law school. I agree whole heartedly with your post which is a shame. My goal is to find the best articles, the ones that are concise with strong and novel arguments. Seems the focus is on the footnote "fetish" (how many and are they perfect).

Truly a shame that great articles slip through the cracks so a "higher ranked" author gets published when the piece is not of the same quality as the rejected piece.

Posted by: New SAE | Mar 5, 2008 12:18:27 PM