Paul L. Caron

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A High Tech "Letterhead Effect"?

There is a widespread fear among law profs like me teaching at non-Top 25 schools that student law review editors faced with a deluge of submissions inevitably use an author's school as a screening tool in selecting which articles to take a serious look at.  Is there any evidence that the use an author's school as a proxy for quality -- the "letterhead effect" -- has increased in recent years along with the growth in the number of articles received by the leading law reviews?

Tax Prof Kevin M. Yamamoto has published an interesting article on the subject, What's in a Name?  The Letterhead Impact Project, 22 J. Legal Stud. Educ. 65 (2004).  Kevin notes that several authors have admitted to a letterhead effect when they served as law review articles editors as students. See, e.g., Ronald J. Krotoszynski, Jr., Legal Scholarship at the Crossroads: On Farce, Tragedy, and Redemption, 77 Tex. L. Rev. 321, 329 n.25 (1998) (admitting that as an articles editor for Duke Law Review he chose to read articles from professors at top ten schools first); Nathan H. Saunders, Student-Edited Law Reviews: Reflections and Responses of an Inmate, 49 Duke L.J. 1663, 1666 (2000) (stating his bias toward authors at ‘‘top schools’’).

Kevin recounts the tale of a colleague who submitted the same version of an article on two differnt letterheads -- half of the articles were mailed to law reviews with letterhead of the U.S. News Tier 1 school at which the colleague was visiting, and the other half of the articles were mailed with letterhead of the author's U.S. News Tier 4 home school.  The result?  The letterhead made no difference in the quality of the offers received on the piece.

Christine Hurt today notes a high tech version of the letterhead effect:  the ExpressO article submission service:

The subject line [of the email sent by ExpressO to the law reviews along with the article, author's cover letter, and C.V. as attachments] contains two pieces of information. Guess what they are? Author name and institution... Obviously, whatever information that ExpressO can give to signal to the editors information to help the editors in their review process is helpful to them, and ExpressO gives not the title name, but the name of the institution. Without ever opening your attached article, or printing it, or reading your cover letter, or looking at your c.v., or knowing the title of your article, law review editors could sort their submissions in their in-boxes. I'm not saying it happens; I'm just saying it could. And, from a law review's standpoint, the extra hassle of dealing with low-cost ExpressO submissions might require something from ExpressO to help deal with the extra load on the system. But, it doesn't help the junior law professor with publication pressures!

Funmi Arewa, Ken Dau-Schmidt, Bill Henderson, and Andy Morriss are working on an empirical study of legal scholarship which will, among other things, measure the impact of the letterhead effect.

At the 2007 AALS Annual Meeting in San Francisco, the Section on New Law Professors is sponsoring a panel on Scholarship Issues Faced by New Law Professors.  I am flattered to be on a panel put together by Bobby Chesney along with Dorothy Brown, Mark Godsey, and Larry Solum.  Mark will be reprising a wonderful talk he gave to our faculty on the placement of law review articles.  He is a fantastic scholar who has had spectacular success with his law review placements in his five years in the business, with articles in the California, Duke, Georgetown, and Minnesota law reviews.

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