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March 03, 2011


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James Grimmelmann

If law reviews made and stuck to policies requiring very fast turnaround on offers (and I am thinking here in terms of hours, not days), it would go a very long way towards fixing our broken system of massive parallel submission and the superficial reads that necessarily result. The first-order effect is that other law reviews would simply be unable to respond to expedite requests by the first law review's deadline. That would eliminate a lot of the expedite-driven dynamics, which cause the same articles to be read and reread and reread at dozens of law reviews as authors play the expedite game. The second-order effect is that placement-sensitive authors would cut down on their submissions to law reviews they don't really want to publish with. That means fewer articles in the submissions queues, which in turn frees up even more time to read articles more carefully. Everyone wins, and no serious injustice would result.

Expediting is a matter of grace, not of right. And playing the prestige game remains a distraction from the serious work of producing and publishing good scholarship. Of course, we all play it, but if law reviews were more serious about short expedite deadlines, it would go a long ways to helping us collectively back out of this dysfunctional system.

Bill Reynolds

I agree with JG. The trading up game is unseemly and extremely inefficient. A very short turn around makes authors far more careful about where to send a MS. A perverse side effect, however, might be to encourage reviews to rely even more on the ranking of the author's school.


Given that you have to have an offer before you can expedite, I have no opinion on this issue. MOTHER F***ER. I submitted to 75 places eight days ago and have gotten precisely four rejections and two confirmations of receipt. I just chickened out and submitted to 75 more.

(Seriously, are the review boards just waiting to see who gives me an offer before they decide whether to take it seriously? Have they even read it? This just sucks.)


Joe, same boat here. Submitted 9 days ago to about 150 journals. A handful of rejections, a handful of confirmations. Not sure what everyone is waiting for. Last year I got my first acceptance after 10 days, so here's hoping tomorrow's the lucky day.

Expediting is the furthest thing from my mind right now.

James Grimmelmann

Bill, can you say more? Why would law reviews tend to rely more on the author's school in a world where offers came with shorter fuses? Help me wrap my head around the mechanic you're envisioning.

Orin Kerr


My sense is that some journals are indeed giving shorter offer windows, but that articles editors have responded by speeding up their expedite schedules: Expedites that used to take 5 or 6 days now can be done within 24 hours at many journals. If I were advising a journal, I would make sure they can do lightning-quick expedites to make sure they're not ruled out of articles simply because they can't do expedites that quickly.


I've sent out articles that received no offers for a month, but eventually received offers from top journals. So hang in there, it's still very early.

Orin Kerr

James writes: "Bill, can you say more? Why would law reviews tend to rely more on the author's school in a world where offers came with shorter fuses? Help me wrap my head around the mechanic you're envisioning."

I can't speak for Bill, but the often-heard concern is that shorter windows mean more reliance on proxies. If you have a week to assess the quality of an article, you can ask for outside reviews and really make sure you understand the quality of the article. If you're pressed for time, though, it's human to rely more on proxies such as schools and prior publishing record. That's the thinking, at least.

James Grimmelmann

Orin, that makes sense. In the arms race between journals, if Journal A gives a 24-hour window, Journal B responds by doing a proxy-based review rather than reading the article with care. I wonder how that would go if Journal A gives a one-hour window.

Rick Bales

Consider short-circuiting this process by making targeted submissions, perhaps with a right-of-first refusal. You can do lots of variations on this theme: (a) I'm sending this article only to your journal because X; if you can give me an offer within a week, I will accept the offer immediately; (b) I'm sending this article to five journals and will immediately accept the first offer I receive in the next two weeks; after two weeks I'll do the mass-submission thing; etc. My experience is that this helps to buy substantive reads, though my publication history is somewhat unique and your mileage may vary.

Bill Reynolds

James. When I trade up, or try to, the "better" review knows that my piece has been vetted by someone else. Thus, the new review has some assurance that my article is worth investing some time in considering. If trading up is ruled out, then a review needs proxies for quality, as Orin suggests, before investing in considering the piece. The most likely proxy is the name of my school.

Sorry to take so long responding, but I was an auctioneer for our PILP auction last night.

Scott Boone

Changing the rules will only lead to different games. If you want to get rid of the games, then you have to address the root cause. And that cause is us. All of this happens because we (faculty, deans, schools) say placement matters, rather than quality of the article regardless of placement. Placement is a proxy we use.

Maybe there are reasons we need that proxy (although I think we should recognize that it is a proxy with some serious issues). After thinking about it, we might decide that the benefits outweigh burdens, but we should at least acknowledge that the problems start not with the professor wanting a "better" placement but with the system that tells the professor that they have to get a "better" placement.


Thanks for the "hang in there" encouragement, all.

Quick question: Two of my outside readers have offered to walk the piece down to their reviews. One is a good friend from law school, and I would have no problem trying to trade up if he got it placed there. The other is an expert-in-the-field type that I cold-called a few months ago. I would feel a little hesitant to turn down his school's offer (if it was forthcoming). One is at a top 40ish school and I'd probably accept an offer on the spot; the other is at a top 100 school (probably around 75 or so) that I'd definitely try to trade up on if the situation arises. You can probably see where this is going. The guy that I'd be hesitant to say no to is at the school that I'd want to try to trade up on, and vice versa.

So I guess this is a longwinded way of asking: What are the rules of etiquette in terms of "walk down the hall" pieces? Are you beholden to accept an offer from one of those places if someone makes the personal effort on your behalf?

(This is all purely speculative at the moment.)

Jacqui Lipton

I tend to agree with Scott. I come originally from outside the U.S. and in other countries, even student law journals are generally peer-reviewed and you can only submit to one at a time. While this system can have some drawbacks in terms of time taken reviewing a piece, there is a LOT less (virtually no) game playing of the type we engage in here. And the peer reviews (with comments passed on to the author) generally lead to a higher quality article ultimately being published. Also, even though it can take a longer time to get a piece accepted for publication, you can submit at any time during the year ie as soon as the piece is ready if it is time-sensitive in any way. Additionally, the publication process on the other side tends to be much shorter in a peer-reviewed professional journal, so even if you do end up waiting longer to place the piece, you save time at the other end of the process.


My wife is a humanities prof -- I wouldn't wish the peer-reviewed, single submission system on my worst enemy. She's lucky if she hears back about acceptance within three months (I think that has happened once in five years of submitting). She had to pull the car over because she was laughing so hard this morning when I was complaining that it's been nine days and I haven't heard anything. Not to mention that she is often at the whim of outside readers who may or may not have a legitimate basis for their recommendations. (And no, being at the whim of 24 year-old law students isn't any better -- but law profs get to submit to dozens at a time, whereas humanities academics get to submit to one.)

I mean, this is usually how it works:

Step 1: Submit in October after the summer research is written up.
Step 2: Start getting nervous in January when the tenure committees get going in earnest and it reminds you that you've really got to get three more pieces published to be a legitimate candidate.
Step 3: Send out an email in February asking about the status of your now four-month-old submission.
Step 4: Hear back in March that your piece is great, but alas the reviewers had problems with it and it can't be published. Note: There is little rhyme or reason as to what problems are significant enough to tank a piece (or not). Sometimes purely stylistic remarks are deemed sufficiently "serious"; sometimes pieces get accepted that need major restructuring.
Step 5: Incorporate as much of the oftentimes conflicting revisions as possible before the end of the school year and go back to Step 1.

When the piece is finally accepted somewhere (with her, it's been on average during the second submission -- but she's had to submit a couple of articles three times, and one four), then that means that you can expect it in print in about six months. It's extremely rare that something is published within a year of submission. Again, I think that's happened once for her (though she has something forthcoming now that may or may not get into print within twelve months of submission).

It's really unconscionable. She was slammed at her third year review (during the winter of her third year) for only having one thing in print -- but how on earth could she have done differently? She had three things outstanding (all of which have now been published or at least accepted) that she submitted at various times during her second and first part of her third years. The process just hadn't worked itself out yet. I guess she was lucky -- they had a strict "no fire" policy for the third year reviews when she was up (she still probably would have survived because her one in-print piece was in the preeminent journal in her field, but it would have been touch-and-go). They don't now. So she's already told the guy they just hired to start in the fall that he needs to submit multiple pieces NOW, six months before he starts, because unless he has two or three things in print three years from today, his job is at risk. And she knows that although she won't be up for tenure herself until January 2014 (she paused her clock for a year when she had twins), basically the stuff that she submits this coming fall is the only stuff she can count on being published by then.


I sent out a paper this cycle in mid-February. I did have the experience of a receiving an offer from a top-10 journal subject to a 24-hour deadline. While I did expedite the article, obviously no other journals had time to respond, nor did I expect they would. And, of course, I was very happy with the placement, so I had no issue with the short deadline.

A colleague down the hall who submitted about a week after I did had a similar experience with a top-25 journal - 24 hour deadline, no response from other journals upon expediting.

I will say that this experience was very different from those I've had in the past few years, even with an offer from a top-30 journal(gave at least a few days), and markedly different from one from a top-tier specialty journal (willing to wait a while for an answer).

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