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June 09, 2011


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Colin Miller

My guess would be that the number of specialty journals at a school is usually directly correlated to the number of students at its school. So, for example, Georgetown has many more specialty journals than Cornell, but it also has many more students. If a school had a high number or specialty journals and a low number of students overall, that probably would "devalue" the brand a bit because I would assume that the quality of students on that journal would be a bit lower than the quality of students on the journal at the sister school.

That said, it wouldn't be that much of a devaulation, and I would probably rely much more on some of the other factors you mentioned as well as some others, such as (1) whether the school is known for the specialty area of the journal; (2) seeing who has published in the last few issues of the journal; (3) skimming some of the journal's recent articles, etc. In other words, unless all else truly were equal, I don't think that the number of specialty journals at a school would matter to me in making the decision.

Bill Turnier

Your question is a good indicator of why we must perform the really horrible task of actually reading and independently appraising each article before we can intelligently compare and evaluate them. Ugh!


I know some who, if faced w/ this dilemma, would pick the Journal at the most prestigous school so they ould simply refer to "my Michigan piece" (feel free to substitute Yale, Harvard, Standford, etc.) in hopes that others would think they've placed in the school's mainline law review. Frightening but true.

Alfred Brophy

On a related note, I think that secondary journals are helpful to a law school's reputation. And it may be that more journals add more prestige.

Bill Turnier

We have a real problem in our profession. We are admitted to the bar and certified to do anything and everything. This does not happen in medicine where specialties abound. Because we are "lawyers" we like to think we can evaluate the work of all other lawyers. We actually cannot. We use the prestige of the journals as a way of passing judgment on the work of our colleagues. The irony is that the student editors who make decisions to accept or reject materials are, for the most part, individuals who most of us would refuse to add to our faculty. But there we stand using their evaluations to evaluate colleagues who we, for the most part, regard more highly than the student editors who passed on their work. I find the entire issue of journal prestige to be ironic or more appropriately foolish.

Alfred Brophy

I have no dispute on anything you say, Bill.


All else being equal, if it applies, I'd have a bias toward the specialty journal having the highest volume number.
Sometimes the name of a journal might seem appealing for C.V. cosmetics separate and apart from the institutional name.
Finally, "impact factor" in the W&L rankings has some limits and flaws but it may confirm a trend of publishing citation-worthy pieces. If a specialty journal doing 5 articles a year has parity with a journal doing 20, you can discern that one journal was more selective in extending the offer. The best reform for a reliable impact factor would be to exclude self-cites from one journal to itself--symposia and response pieces are great, but impact should be external impact.


To go back and address the question of the post, I'd say no. I do think think new journals, and too many new journals seem to devalue the brand of the school or its more established specialty journals, but you'd said to consider the problem absent additional information.

Going back to the frailties of W&L rankings, specifically impact-factor, wouldn't it be nice if journal counts also excluded author cites to their own works? Again, citing to yourself is great (and helpful in giving context to the scholarship arc of the author), but impact should be external impact.


In response to this question ... and speaking from professional experience:

Professor X would be well-advised to publish in the specialty journal that is the "most credible" journal in connection with the "subject matter" of Professor X's article. In such an instance, it is reasonable to posit that Professor X's article will be reviewed (and cited) by more members of the legal profession (and thereby gain more acclaim and exposure) - and not simply be relegated to the corner of a musty law school library.

Here are my reasons:

In the real life practice of law, we who are trial lawyers (who are also members of academic faculties) are always willing to do the necessary level of deeper discovery to find, read, and cite the (most credible) articles in substantiation of our legal points and authorities. We are much more interested in producing an optimal work product, based on verifiable and credible scholarly evidence. In other words, the number of specialty journals that an educational institution publishes is not important to us. Instead, the credibility of the article's actual "content" is the most dispositive factor.

Mike Kelly

I find this post interesting as my own school recently launched an international and comparative law journal. There are couple of things to consider. First, is there cross-over? Can students serve on the editorial boards of more than one journal. For instance, a couple of kids on the new international journal at Creighton are also on the Creighton Law Review. Second, you can't discount the interest level that the editors on the specialty journal may have in their subject area. For those really hot about intellectual property or business law, they may have passed up moot court or other opportunities just to be on that specialty journal in order to work with authors in that area and further burnish their own expertise in the sub-field. That kind of motivation is hard to measure and perhaps indicative of the kind of attention your article may receive. My point is that a trademarks article may get a better read and better editing from a trademarks journal because the editor is likely to have taken all those classes rather than a generalist at a main law law review who has no idea what a trademark even is.

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