Law Review Submission Season Is Almost Upon Us. Maybe.

Elizabeth Nowicki —  18 February 2008

Tis the spring law review submission season (almost, depending on your view)!  This is the time of year where many members of law school faculties wrap up their law review draft articles and begin submitting them to various journals for consideration for publication.  Tomorrow Tulane is having a faculty roundtable on law review publishing, at which we will exchange our ideas on when to submit, how to submit (mail, e-mail, Expresso or otherwise, rounds or otherwise), etc.  In that vein, I am soliciting opinions, thoughts, and anecdotes here, regarding the submissions process.  (If you are a law school faculty member reading this, please consider forwarding this link to your law review editors to see if they have any comments they would be willing to share here regarding how, why, or when they select articles.)

Some topics for discussion here on the blog (or e-mail to me your thoughts if you would prefer not to share them here) (***Note scholars are posting their responses in the “comments” below.):

1.  When do you submit your winter/spring draft to law reviews for publication consideration?  February?  First week of March?  Last week of March?  Never in March?

2.  Do you submit in “rounds,” whereby you submit to certain publications first to gauge their interest, and then submit to different journals beyond that?  If so, how do you determine which journals should be part of your first “round” of submissions?

3.  Do you pull a piece if you do not get a law review placement that you want?  Or do you believe that, if you submit it, you had better be willing to take a placement that you get?

4.  Do you submit your drafts in the traditional manner using the mail, do you e-mail your articles to law reviews, do you use Expresso, or do you use some other service?

5.  Do you judge your colleagues or your peers based on the placement of their law review articles?

6.  Has your “best” article (in your own professional view) received the “best” placement of all your law review placements?  To that end, how do you explain how you scored your “best” placement?

7.  What is the most important tip you would give a junior colleague on your faculty on the law review submission and placement process?

12 responses to Law Review Submission Season Is Almost Upon Us. Maybe.

  1. 

    Alarmingly, on the subject of ever-earlier submission seasons, I submitted a piece on 3/23 and today received a rejection from the Boston University Law Review stating that their submission season *closed* on March 14 … March 14! Ridiculous!
    Last year, I submitted a piece on the exact same day and had no trouble drumming up an offer within a week, and a very good final placement within 9 days. So far, no news at all.
    Not to jump to conclusions, but right now, i feel I might as well have wrapped the manuscript in bricks and dropped it off a bridge. There goes a year’s worth of writing.
    We have a collective action problem on our hands. How do we keep the submission deadline from sneaking further and further up the calendar?

  2. 

    As a recent graduate and former editorial board member of a top 5 law review (for whatever that’s worth), here are few insights from my perspective on the process.

    First, I agree with the suggestion of submitting pieces either the last few weeks in February or the first few weeks in March. Our board generally finished giving out slots right before finals, which for us meant the last week or so in April. Anything submitted after that generally did not get read.

    Second, please spare us the long cover letter explaining every aspect of your article in detail. For the most part, we did not read the cover letters. If your piece does not seem interesting within the first couple of pages, it likely won’t be selected. This means don’t save your punch line for the end, let me get at least a sneak peak up front. If you do choose to write a cover letter, please keep it short, quickly explain why your article is unique, and use a page color other than white. When looking at 2,000 submissions (which is generally what we received in a cycle), the badge color cover letters seemed to stick out more. I know this is trivial, but hey, it’s worth a shot.

    Third, the articles that are most likely to get selected are those that have a truly novel idea, or at least close to it, and concern a topic that is currently hot (for lack of a better word). For example, if I were to write an article today I might choose something examining executive power and the firing of u.s. attorneys or maybe the evolvement of the crime of perjury (i.e., roger clemens, barry bonds). The point is, the more likely your article relates to something in the news, the better the chances it will be published. Remember, law reviews are general interest journals, so topics that may be novel to particular fields but don’t have much application to the “real world,” so to speak, aren’t going to be that popular. This doesn’t mean it won’t get published, it just means you’re really counting on the board members being familiar enough with the topic to know what you’re saying is really special. This might have something to do with the lack of knowledge the law review editors have, but that’s a discussion for another day.

    Fourth, if your article is not one that might immediately jump out to an editor as truley a gem, you might want to do more than simply submit your piece. Often times professors will email influential editors on the journal and tell them about a piece a friend of theirs is submitting. When I received those emails, I generally took them seriously. So if you have any friends that teach at top law schools and are friendly with some of the articles editors, have them forward your article to the board direclty. If nothing else, the editors will read your article so they can at least be prepared to answer any questions the professor might later ask (i.e., how’d you like the piece?).

    What I would not do, however, is submit quotes from other people who read your article and thought it was great. Saying that Famous Professor so-and-so thought your article was the best ever is nice, but you’d be surpirse how many other people say he said the same thing about their article. If that famous professor hasn’t contacted me himself and said those things, I don’t belive he said them. Sorry.

    Fifth, look to see if your article would be suitable to be published in another department of the law review other than the articles department. A lot of journals have slots reserved for “essays” or “book reviews,” if your article to double as both an article and an essay it would be worth it to submit it to both departments. Oftentimes the smaller departments like “book reviews and essays” are struggling for good peices because everyone is submitting their piece only to the articles board. You have a better shot of being published if you can present your piece as fitting in one of these more unique categories as the competition is significantly lower.

    That’s all for now. Good luck.

  3. 

    I thought other law profs would be interested to know that Intrade has set up a prediction market as to when Orin will get the signal that the time is right from Redyip, the great bird of the gods of Zarcon. This market may be very useful to the rest of us as we plan for our submission season. It looks like March 8 is trading at the highest value right now. There is some concern, however, that the gods may be messing with the market by using their inside influence on the great bird.

  4. 

    One might also consider using the cover letter to explain how “hot” the paper is, such as if it has received a ton of SSRN downloads or selected for a prestigious presentation opportunity. Also, if your name is not Cass Sustein but Cass Sunstein has read your paper and said that he wished he had written it, I’d consider putting that in the cover letter, too.

  5. 

    Hard copy still king? Not according to my spies. I’m all about Expresso – that means the eds can read it anywhere, rather than only in the law review office.

  6. 

    Oh, and I agree with Trevor that the cover page usually doesn’t matter much. Every article should have a 1-2 paragraph abstract that repeats the good stuff in the cover letter. The major exception is if an author has personal experience about the subject matter that really changes the vaule of the article in a way that is harder to bring up in the abstract.

  7. 

    One more issue about timing, for those who want to get really really in the weeds about this sort of thing. It’s not entirely clear that the best time to submit is the moment the boards turn over. Some folks argue that it’s better to wait a bit, as the incoming editors will start with high standards and then it will take them a week or two to realize that the quality of articles is much lower than they expected. I have no idea if this is right, but it’s one of the many lawprof theories out there. That’s why I personally wait (as I mentioned above) until I get the signal that the time is right from Redyip, the great bird of the gods of Zarcon. It doesn’t hurt that our spring break is the first week in March, and I usually use the first few days of spring break to polish up the article I’m sending out.

  8. 
    Trevor Morrison 18 February 2008 at 8:49 am

    I disagree about the utility of cover letters, which I think are generally useless except for the name of the school on the letterhead. For people named Cass Sunstein, the signature block likely matters too. I don’t think anything in between helps much. (Indeed, some journals’ electronic systems either don’t accept cover letters or make it hard to include one. As a result, I’ve started not writing one at all.)

    I definitely do agree, though, that a crisp abstract and a catchy, well-written introduction matter a whole lot. I certainly think they are necessary conditions for a good placement. The cynic in me thinks they might even be sufficient.

  9. 
    Elizabeth Nowicki 18 February 2008 at 8:39 am

    A recently-tenured professor at at top-ten law school e-mailed me to offer the following thoughts on the questions I posed:

    1) While March submissions used to be the norm, many law reviews have started turning over boards earlier, so late February is ideal. Waiting until April risks running into students’ final exams and can compress the possibility of shopping pieces up the ladder.

    2) I usually submit to about twenty law reviews at a time (in rough US News order), then send to a second wave of 20 or so a couple of weeks later if the first wave hasn’t bitten yet.

    3) If you submit a piece, you’re representing in good faith that you’re willing to publish it at that law review, unless there are changed circumstances that lead you to believe you should pull and tinker with the piece or take a chance on waiting for some other offer.

    4) Hard copy is still king, though more and more journals want e-copies in addition or instead. For expedites, I always send e-copies. But you do need to make sure they’ve received it; sometimes those web forms don’t work.

    5) Yes, it’s inevitable that placement matters as a rough proxy of quality. You have to discount that, though; it’s far easier to place well if you write yet another article about the 14th Amendment than if you write about tax or trusts and estates. In certain subfields, publishing in specialized journals is the norm.

    6) Yes, my best article got my best placement, in large part because a faculty member whom I’d asked to read the piece liked it so much that he recommended it to his own school’s law review.

    7) Write a crisp one-page cover letter, crisp one-paragraph abstract, and meaty yet readable and grabbing introduction and conclusion. Hone and polish the introduction until it shines. If the law review editor isn’t intrigued by the time (s)he has read those parts, you’ve lost your chance.

  10. 
    Trevor Morrison 18 February 2008 at 8:36 am

    I have submitted in the third or fourth week of February for each of the three years before this one. It was my sense that this timing got me into the first or second set of reads by the new articles committees. It yielded good results, generally by early March if not before.

    As for submission method, my first choice is to use a journal’s own electronic submission system if it has one. I use Expresso only for those journals that don’t have their own electronic systems.

  11. 

    I usually submit in early March, when I get the signal that the time is right from Redyip, the great bird of the gods of Zarcon. I haven’t done “tiers,” as I have a vague sense that law reviews have moved to shorter offer windows and more expedited reviews; the tiered approach was based on the expectation that journals would keep offers open for a while.

    Just last week, I was talking with a bunch of top legal scholars and the question came up about whether their best articles were their top placement. The consensus in the group was that the answer is usually no: Favorite articles often ended up with lesser placements, and less great articles often ended up in the top journals.

    The most important tip I would give a junior person is that, for placement purposes, the introduction is by far the most important part of the paper. Make sure the introduction sets up the paper and explains its contribution in clear, simple, and engaging language. In other words, it should “sell” the paper. A good introduction draws the reader in; a bad one turns them away. So work a lot on the introduction. Oh, and now would be a god time to legally change your name to “Cass Sunstein.”

  12. 

    I think that communicating directly with each of the journals of interest before submitting a piece is important, particularly in the Spring. Try to get a sense of proper timing from the relevant journals themselves. The trick is figuring out how to discern whether they are giving you an accurate sense of their internal timing or just giving you a standard, but less accurate, message for public consumption. I do not have the secret answer to doing that.

    Each year seems to present its own unique variations on timing as different boards at the various journals approach submissions in differing ways. So it may be difficult to make generalizations about timing that apply from year to year.

    With all of that said, I think it is fair to say that submitting before March is something that I’ve done in the past for the Spring cycle but not something that I would do again. My experience has shown that there seems to be more opportunity after mid-March through the end of April. But my experiences certainly are limited so all would benefit from hearing the experiences of others.

    Thank you to Elizabeth for raising these questions that are surely on the minds of many law professors right now.