Paul L. Caron

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Need for a New Law Review Ranking System

The Legal Watchdog:  Law Review Publishing: In Search of a Useful Ranking System:

My initial decision on where to publish has typically been guided by the US News rankings of law schools, which, in legal publication circles, is used as a proxy for the quality of a law school’s journal. ... To be sure, there are other means by which to choose among publication offers.  Washington & Lee University, for example, ranks journal impact, i.e., how often the journal is cited. ...

Given the major flaws in the two primary journal ranking systems, I would like to see a law professor develop a ranking methodology based on authors’ experiences with the publishing journals. Law professors are already ranking nearly every imaginable thing under the sun—see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here. And a “law review author ranking” would actually be meaningful. I would love for a semi-mathematically inclined professor to run with this idea, and conduct an annual survey of authors (nearly all of whom will be his/her fellow law professors) in order to rank their law journal editing and publishing experiences.

I’ll get the ball rolling. The categories to be ranked could include: timeliness of the publication (on time = 10 points); time allowed for the author to review edits (two weeks = 10 points); deference to the author’s style (high deference = 10 points); creation of errors during editing process (no editor-created errors = 10 points); responsiveness to the author’s edits (short response time = 10 points); and quality of the journal’s website (an up-to-date website posting the article = 10 points).  Of course, there are probably a dozen other categories that could be included, but the total number of categories ranked should be few, and the respondents should be guaranteed anonymity, in order to induce participation by authors.

It is true that law review editors turn-over every year, and a new batch takes their place.  This means that a great experience with “Journal A” could easily have been a bad experience had the article been published a year earlier or later.  It is further true that some law professors—especially those seeking tenure—will, by necessity, continue to be slaves to the US News rankings when selecting among publication offers.  However, ranking the journals on the quality of their editing process would still do two important things. 

First, by ranking certain categories, such as whether the editors were deferential to the author’s writing style, authors would be clearly communicating to journal editors what they value in the publication process. And most of the editors will likely respond by improving performance in these areas.  ...

And second, if a particular journal ranks high, it will likely be a source of pride, which will transfer to the next year’s editorial board. Similarly, if a particular journal ranks low, that too will be passed on, and will give the next year’s board the incentive to do better than its predecessor board.  Remember, rankings are powerful.  Law review editors are students, and some students do drastic, life-ruining things based on rankings, e.g., going into debt $150,000 or more to go to a law school ranked in the 20s instead of taking a full scholarship at a school ranked in the 50s.

Law Review Rankings, Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink

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