Paul L. Caron

Monday, December 16, 2019

AALS Proposal For Law Journal Publication Reform

AALS Section on Scholarship, Advisory Committee on Law Journal Reform, A Proposal for Law Journal Publication Reform (Discussion Draft 12/13/19):

AALS (2018)No one is satisfied with today’s legal publishing. The long-standing tradition of simultaneous submission to student-edited journals has always involved tradeoffs, but the costs of that approach have grown dramatically over the last decade. Where once even top journals faced a relatively manageable task in identifying promising submissions, technological innovation now enables authors to easily submit to hundreds of journals with a few clicks. The result has been enormous practical and even ethical pressures on students and authors. Top journals receive more than 4,000 submissions annually. Selection outcomes are often driven not by merit but by insider knowledge, such as whether an author knows when journals are open to selecting articles or how to “expedite” publication offers to more-preferred journals. Increasingly, top journals are demanding exclusive submission windows, undermining one of the core strengths of the traditional structure. With few clear rules of the road, opportunities for gamesmanship on each “side” are prevalent, and may be mutually reinforcing.

While we believe that legal academia can and should agree on “best practices” to improve how authors and editors conduct themselves, we are realists. No set of idealized norms can succeed in the face of enormous structural pressures. Fundamental reforms are necessary.

Thus, the Section offers two possible paths for reform, each of which can be further tailored. In the simpler path, authors will submit to a small number of journals at a time, and must accept the first offer received. Journals will not extend offers during a “quiet period” of four weeks or so. A more ambitious path involves adoption of a two-round Shapley matching system, better known as the “med school” match. In that path, authors will rank a set of journals from which they would accept offers, and journals will rank those articles that meet their publication threshold. Both paths can be combined with a new peer review pool, as we describe, and additionally AALS Member Schools can adopt and encourage compliance with a set of complementary best practices for authors and editors.

Though we detail the strengths and potential weaknesses of these options in more detail below, we want to emphasize here their overwhelming advantage over the status quo: each would essentially eliminate expedited review. Expedited review is the root cause of nearly all the problems we and other stakeholders have identified with the current approach. It motivates mass submissions and other, even less fortunate, gaming behaviors. It turns many journals into screening editors for journals that are more preferred by authors, greatly increasing both their workloads and frustrations. The time pressures it imposes make meaningful peer review next to impossible. And it systematically rewards authors who are most expert at navigating the system.

An alternative, of course, would be to turn to the exclusive-submission model common in other academic disciplines. We believe that would be too radical a step. It would greatly extend time to acceptance for most authors without alleviating the crushing workload of top-journal editors. Further, many outstanding law journals — although not enough, in our view — already operate under the traditional exclusive-submission/peer-review model of the social sciences. We believe that preserving both paths is important for the discipline.

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