Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Elite Law Reviews End 'Exploding Offers'

Several elite law reviews (including Boston University, Chicago, Harvard, Minnesota, Stanford, William & Mary, and Yale) pledged today to end the practice of issuing “exploding offers” to authors and instead will give authors at least seven days to respond to a publication offer:

In recent years, many law journals have adopted the practice of issuing “exploding offers”—giving scholars only a couple of days, hours, or even minutes to accept an offer of publication. The reasoning behind these offers was simple: we each hoped to secure the best articles for our own journal before others could identify them and make competing offers. But experience has made clear that the costs of this practice—to the quality of our deliberations, to the faculty with whom we work, and, ultimately, to the scholarship we publish—dramatically outweigh the benefits. We therefore commit, effective immediately, to give every author at least seven days to decide whether to accept any offer of publication.

This decision stems from the recognition that what once seemed an effective strategy for any one of us has in fact had a highly corrosive effect on all of us. Journals have responded to the prospect of exploding offers elsewhere by speeding up their own processes: rapidly winnowing down submissions, quickly holding articles committee votes, and, in the case of many journals, only occasionally consulting scholars in the field regarding an article’s novelty or contribution. This expedited review has inevitably favored established authors, popular topics, and broad claims at the expense of originality and merit. It has led many law journals to establish a twotrack process for article review: a fast track for widely recognized authors, whose submissions are more likely to elicit exploding offers; a slower track for younger authors and authors who teach at lower-ranked institutions. Many deserving pieces in the latter category never get to the front of the line.

Moreover, expedited review has unduly compelled authors to undertake complicated workarounds and endure strong-arming and stress. Nor have exploding offers accomplished their purpose of improving our standing: for as often as we’ve taken good articles from others, we’ve had good articles taken from us. The dominant experience has merely been an ever-expanding push toward quick review and quick decision.

Opening a seven-day offer window will substantially eliminate these defects. Student editors, lacking the incentive to expedite selection decisions, will be able to engage more deeply with the articles we review. We will have the time to consult scholars regularly regarding an article’s significance and novelty. As a result, all of us will be able to publish more of the stellar pieces that, under the current system, slip through the cracks.

No doubt giving up a practice to which we’ve grown accustomed entails some risk. But we are confident that the risks of continuing the present race to the bottom are substantially greater. We invite all other student-edited law journals to join this letter, and we welcome an ongoing discussion with both journals and authors about how best to work together effectively.

Update: California Law Review:

The California Law Review supports the goals motivating some of our peer journals to commit to seven-day offer windows, and we applaud them for taking the initiative to consider how we all may improve the process of article selection. The California Law Review already avoids using “exploding offers” to prevent authors from seeking placement in other journals, and we always endeavor to extend generous offer windows—usually five to seven days. However, a handful of times each year, articles we select are successfully expedited to other journals. Committing ourselves to blanket seven-day offer windows would put pressure on our editors to frontload their consideration process in order to ensure that we have enough articles to fill every slot by our publishing deadlines. Therefore, the California Law Review will continue to extend offers with generous timeframes, while retaining the flexibility to adjust offer windows as our editing and publication schedule demands.

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Jake - Clearly legal scholarship is not "real research." Good point.

Posted by: Franz | Apr 21, 2011 7:39:20 AM

I note that NYU is not on the list. The last communication my wife received from NYU warned that if she received an offer she would have one hour (60 minutes) in which to make up her mind.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Apr 20, 2011 10:22:37 AM

Real academic journals have strict policies against dual submissions. Authors are allowed to submit a paper to only one journal at a time. No exploding offer problem in the world of real research.

Posted by: jmike | Apr 20, 2011 4:52:48 AM

The practice of issuing such "exploding offers" goes a long way toward explaining why real tax practitioners find articles in student-edited law reviews so useless.

Posted by: Jake | Apr 19, 2011 3:48:48 PM