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March 25, 2009

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Juliet Moringiello

Tim -

Show Article 9 a little bit of love in your blog posts! Then, when the articles editors Google you, they'll see that your articles must be fabulous and interesting.

Zak Kramer

I received a rejection in two minutes. Received an email confirming receipt at 8:07pm, received an email rejecting the paper at 8:09pm. Awesome.

Rafael Pardo

I can't beat your time, but I had a similar experience. On Friday, February 27th, I submitted an article to the _____ Law Review at 7:32 p.m. On the same day, at 9:44 p.m., I received the following e-mail:

"Thank you for submitting your article to the _____ Law Review. Unfortunately, we are unable to extend an offer for publication at this time. We look forward to future submissions.

Sincerely,"

Incredulous that an article could be meaningfully reviewed and rejected so quickly (i.e., in two hours and twelve minutes), I wrote to verify that the rejection was not mistakenly sent. This was the response that I received:

"Thank you again for your interest in the _____ Law Review. Although our editors did enjoy your article, it simply was not what we are presently seeking to place in our upcoming issues. I realize this is probably an insufficient answer, but we typically do not discuss our article selection criteria with authors and hope you can respect our current policy. Again, thank you for your interest in the _____ Law Review. Best of luck with your article and we look forward to submissions from you in the future.

Sincerely,"


Interestingly, our experiences were with different journals. The men's basketball team from the university associated with the law review will be playing in the Sweet 16.

Joe

I've had this happen as well and consider it really poor form. I think editors should be advised of just how terrible such actions make both their journal and themselves look.

Steve

So the confirmation v. rejection time should be taken with a grain of salt: some journals don't bother clicking the relevant button to confirm receipt, and I can easily imagine clicking it right before sending the rejection, even if the article was read earlier.

On the other hand, I'm not really sure what professors expect from journals. I'm on a journal that gets about 2000 submissions per year, mostly over the course of the two, very quick seasons. In seriousness, how many minutes is it appropriate to spend with each article when you have 1000 such articles over the course of 8 weeks? The short answer is of course it depends; you do a lot of triage, as anyone would expect, especially given the tight time constraints of the process (fail to catch a good article within few days and you might lose it). It's all a little irrational, but that's the system we're dealing with. It may hurt to know that you were on the losing end of a triage, but it's better than hearing the same answer in a week's time (or never at all).

Michael Risch

26 minutes is my record...

Anonymous

Is your problem with the speed of rejection or with the speed of the response? With flagship journals receiving as many as 1000 submissions during the month of March, having more than one editor read them in the first instance is not feasible. During my law review days, I spent much of March checking my inbox for new pieces. Each piece was read within 24 hours of submission, more often within 5 or 6. This was essential because good pieces were snapped up almost instantly, and we needed to act quickly to remain competitive. Considering that at peak submissions time I was getting 10-15 a day, it was also impractical to spend more than 45 minutes on my first read of a piece. So there were times I rejected things 1 hour after we received them.

That said, our journal understood it was insulting to receive rejections the same day you submitted something so we had ExpressO default to wait 5 at least days after submission before sending the rejection notice.

Now that I am working on writing my own articles, I have a fantasy that everything I write is carefully read by at least 3-4 people and discussed for an hour before a final decisions is reached. The realist in me realizes that until the system changes such that law reviews either receive significantly fewer submissions (i.e. if the system changes such that the professional norm isn't that authors submit to 50+ journals, thus necessitating a minimum of 25 man-hours of review even if our article only receives the most cursory of 30-minute reads), or the bidding-war system that requires law reviews to make super-fast decisions comes to an end, chances are pretty good that at most places we submit, we won't get more than a skim.

I share the frustration but don't see a meaningful alternative that doesn't require fundamental system overhaul. Student editors already spend 30-40 hours a week on top of a full course load. How much more can they do?

Michael Risch

I actually prefer a quick rejection - at least I know where I stand. I think the primary concerns are:
1. When a rejection is made after only a few minutes, then perhaps there is bias against professors who don't come from top tier schools.

2. Getting a rejection that says "after a careful and thorough consideration" is pretty disingenuous. Of course, that's the form letter. I much prefer rejections that say "We get a lot of submissions, and we decided not to publish yours"

I had one colleague that got rejections from two articles submitted to the same journal 8 minutes apart. There are many valid reasons why you could reject an article in 8 minutes - but none of them is that it doesn't make the cut after a thorough review.

Eric

As a recent articles editor, I'm shocked that you're shocked.

If any law professor thinks it's possible for an articles office to devote over two hours to read every single article it receives, as a couple of you seem to be saying, then he's off his rocker.

And if the problem is with the mock-nice "after careful consideration," then frankly I don't know how you function in the world. When your law school sends rejection letters to applicants, even ones that had no chance at all of being accepted, presumably they are not drafted with the highest degree of candor. Likewise with law review responses. Would you prefer instead "Dear Prof. X, We received your submission, ". . ." and, thought it was absolutely horrible. Because some of the other submissions we received were not horrible, we devoted our time to reading those closely instead of yours. Your submission is rejected."? I can tell you that of the 3000 or so articles we received my year, I could have in all honesty penned that response to the majority of them. But I think some professors might have protested.

If, Professor Zinnecker, you were to hold the most fabulous, exclusive UCC party in the history of contracts law set for the end of the year, and up until that time you were to receive often 50 requests to attend per day, each of which were accompanied by a 60 page, single spaced essay on why Professor X should get to attend, something tells me you or your secretary would not read every line of every applicant's essay. And something tells me as well that if you deigned to respond to the rejects, you'd use similar purple language telling them they were not chosen only "after careful consideration."

Michael Risch

Eric -

You make good points about quality. While I might think my work is terrific, others might disagree, nor are my chosen topics for everyone, nor is the style, nor is ..... I think a lot of great stuff gets published in top law reviews, so it is hard for me to complain that it should have been my work there instead (though I'll fight through it and complain anyway).

The analogy to law school admissions is not apt, though. First, law school admissions is a single, career changing decision that has more need for kid gloves. Second, if the rejection process is based on numbers, then careful consideration might indeed be quick. Third, law schools rarely send out rejections 8 minutes after receiving the application while simultaneously claiming careful and thorough review.

This is what Columbia says: "The Columbia Law Review Articles Committee has concluded its review of your submission. Unfortunately, we are unable to extend an offer for publication at this time." (needless to say, I won't be publishing in the Columbia Law Review this year).

No claims of thorough review, or any review at all - this is polite but honest.

Dave_Fagundes

I've received my share of insta-rejections in my time, and it's always a drag. But I actually think that this has to be expected, especially when journal submissions during the spring season are edging into the four figures. One reason that article may get the insta-rejection has to do with the author's institution, but there may be a more credible reason as well. Many journals have subject matter constraints, so they might say that with only two slots left they're not going to include another IP or crim law article in the volume. That way you don't need to spend more than a minute figuring out whether the article fits. This is akin to Michael's point about law school admission/rejection: quick rejection may reflect careful consideration of the journal's needs even though it did not entail thorough substantive review of a particular article. A final point is that insta-rejections merely expose the speed with which your article was rejected, but does not mean that other rejections were not equally brief or cursory. With the insta-reject, the fact of quick review is exposed, but it may well be the case that a rejection that comes three weeks after submission was not equally brief, just that the journal took a lot longer to do a cursory read.

Eric

Prof. Risch,

"The analogy to law school admissions is not apt, though. First, law school admissions is a single, career changing decision that has more need for kid gloves."

I don't think law school admissions decisions are career changing in a way that law review decisions necessarily are not. A particular law school's decision might be career changing, but then again it might not be. If we are talking about Law School #1 rejecting a student who now has to attend Law School #100, then that would seem to be a career changing decision. But if we are talking about Law School #150 rejecting a student who now has to attend Law School #151, then that doesn't seem to have much of an effect. I think replacing "Law School" with "Law Journal" produces similar results. I don't think it's fanciful to think that a young professor would consider publishing in, say, the Columbia Law Review as a career changing moment. (And yet he would not think this about an offer to publish in the worst journal in the country. Or maybe more accurately it'd be a career changer -- just a bad one.) In some cases I would think it could make the difference between tenure or no tenure. Or at least it might open doors to other, presumably higher-ranked, schools where the professor might now secure a teaching position. That is to say, relative to their respective stations in life, the would-be law student and the would-be published author are facing a range of similar prospects.

"Second, if the rejection process is based on numbers, then careful consideration might indeed be quick."

You're right that many colleges will be able to screen out potential applicants quickly just by a glance at SAT scores or GPA, and that there aren't similar numbers for articles editors to rely on. But that seems to me to be a very narrow point. Articles offices, after all, have, e.g., the number of footnotes in the article, the general formatting of the article, the title of the article (from which hopefully -- though this was not always the case -- they can discern the topic), the topic itself, and on and on. An overworked articles editor can glean this information from an article nearly just as fast as an overworked admissions officer can numbers from an application.

"Third, law schools rarely send out rejections 8 minutes after receiving the application while simultaneously claiming careful and thorough review."

That's right. They don't. But if the point is about using deceptive language, I think they're often equally as culpable. The fact that Law School X didn't send out a rejection letter for 2 months doesn't mean that they didn't decide not to accept that student in a cursory 2-minute review. It's more likely that they just let it sit around the office for a while before sending it out. I suppose law reviews could do the same. And I'm sure many do, because it looks better (that's the kid gloves coming out again -- just in a different form). But I don't see why that policy would be of any comfort to the author whose article is rejected, unless it allows him the peace of mind of imagining that the editors spent a great deal of time in coming to their difficult decision. Otherwise, I would think he'd want to know as soon as possible that he won't be publishing at school X, so he can now direct his efforts at schools Y, Z, &c.


Finally, I should note that on a personal preference level, I think we're much in agreement. I like Columbia's message. It's much more direct. I think my own journal's message should more closely resemble that one. But I think that's part of a much broader argument against effusive language in general. So long as the kid gloves come out for rejections in lots of social settings (including admissions) I think it's a bit silly to single out journals to take to task for going along with the norm.

joe.

Why isn't two hours enough time for an editor to (non-cursorily) read an article and decide, "I don't want to publish this"?

If you get the editor at the initial screening stage who happens to receive and read your article right away, that's nearly two hours to read it and make a decision. If it's too long and/or dense for the editor to fairly read it during that time, it probably needs to be re-written.

TJ

Eric and Joe, sure two hours is enough to possibly do a reasonably good reivew. But 2 minutes is surely not. Lets be realistic here and agree that the articles editor probably (90%+ chance) took a look at the letterhead, maybe glanced at the CV, and did a letterhead based rejection. I seriously doubt he even finished the abstract and introduction, let alone read the entire article. Based on the facts we have (2 hours), we cannot exclude the possibility that the articles editor devoted the entirety of the last two hours to reading--but it seems kind of unlikely based on our intuitions.

The analogy to law school admissions then becomes the problem of proxies and fit. We use time-saving proxies for quality like school and grades all the time. Some proxies are better than others, and it depends on context. When it comes to the quality of an article, not many people think that the author's institutional affiliation is a good proxy.

Anon

Here's a related question: if a piece has been submitted to a journal early March and hasn't been accepted or rejected, after how many weeks should one draw the conclusion that an offer is unlikely to come?

Tim Zinnecker

Anon, I've asked myself the same question. I've decided to remain optimistic at least through April.

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