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April 24, 2009

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Tracy McGaugh

Prof. Jones is a woman. She notices that more men than women get placement offers in the "top" journals. Prof. Jones begins the process for sex reassignment surgery.

Or this one:

Prof. Jones is a woman and notices that this incentive system seems to disproportionately reward male colleagues. Prof. Jones sues the law school for offering such an incentive system.

Dazed and Confused

Sorry, there is something I'm not following. Why is it that faculties should care about what a bunch of 2Ls think of their members' work? And why do faculties want to encourage their members to play the trading up game? It seems to me that the trading up game is silly, pernicious, and a waste of time. I think, indeed, that faculties should be entirely indifferent to law review placement, given that there is no necessary correlation between placement and quality. Given this, why on earth would faculties want to offer bonuses for the bogus-ness of high placements?

Michael Risch

Even assuming pure luck dictates article placement (and Dazed and Confused argues), the lottery bounty can still modify behavior:

Professor Jones was not going to work on an article next year, but the chance at winning $5,000 motivates the Professor to write not one, but two articles

Dazed and Confused

Michael, I agree that it would be a good thing for Prof. Jones to write that second article (if he has something to say, that is!). But if you really, really want him to write that additional article, why not pay him for publication of an additional article, regardless of its ultimate placement?

TJ

Tim, why aren't each and every one of these incentives already incorporated into the existing system, where people who land articles in top journals get a boost to their career (the present-discounted-value of which probably far exceeds $5,000)? After all, Professor Jones who doesn't play the expedite game forgoes the benefit to tenure chances, salary increases, and lateral opportunities, all based on better placement. If Professor Jones is not incentivized by these factors but is incentivized by $5,000, that is a serious case of myopia.

It seems to me that paying $5,000 to land a top journal just adds to the incentives to land in top journals. These incentives can be directed to productive activity (work harder) or bad activity (game the system). The increased incentive of $5,000 affects all such activities equally.

Michael Risch

Dazed -

Two reasons to reward top placement (mind you, I'm not advocating such a system):

1. It incentivizes the creation of quality scholarship. It may be that many good articles won't get top placement, but most bad articles won't get top placement. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but by and large top journals publish pretty good work.

2. Like it or not, top placement brings reputation to schools. To the extent that such placement can be affected by the writer (better work, more aggressive expediting, etc.), that may be something that the school might want to encourage. I am not convinced that most schools will penalize non-top-20 placements as TJ suggests.

Sarah L.

Prof. Jones stops writing about tax and starts writing about constitutional law.
Result: Everyone loses.

A

Even if there is no influence on faculty writing/submission behavior, another purpose of such a bounty is to act as an informal raise or bonus for people whose productivity and placements make them attractive lateral targets. This might be easier to do than directly raising their pay.

Scott Dodson

TJ -

I won't speak for Professor Zinnecker, but my response would be that not all authors are the same. The incentive system might very well be superfluous for pretenure, lateral-hungry types. But in my experience there are large numbers of faculty members who do not themselves care very much about the ultimate placement of their pieces, perhaps because they already have ascended to whatever personal and professional rank and stature they believe they can achieve, they do not wish to move laterally, and they do not know how (or care) to maximize their chances at a top placement. The incentive system might change behavior for them.

Now, it is an entirely different question whether that possibility justifies the system, but if the only question is whether the incentive system can change behavior, I think there are certain persons for whom it might.

I'd be interested in hearing some of the details from such a proposal, if those who have discussed one are willing to share. For example, what's a top 10? What's a top 20? What if it's an essay or a book review? How about an invited symposium in a top 10?

TJ

Scott, true enough that there are people who don't care about article placement because they are already tenured, are not looking to lateral, and their salary is not affected by placement. But that just proves my main point, which is that a cash bonus is just like every other placement incentive we already have--it causes people to try for better placement both by writing more articles and by gaming. Tim's examples suggest the opposite, since all of them are examples of unproductive gaming, without the obvious possibility that Professor Jones might just write better and more articles. If $5000 matters so much to Professor Jones that he makes awkward phone calls that he otherwise wouldn't, why would it not matter enough to spark another round of editing before submission?

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