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April 01, 2012


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Doug Richmond

I do not understand your apparent belief that an article is "mediocre" if it does not place in a Top 20 or Top 30 law review. You might write two or three articles in a given year that place in law reviews at schools ranked between 50-100 by USNWR for the simple reason that your chosen subjects do not resonate with articles editors at higher ranked schools (even though articles editors everywhere are infatuated with constitutional law) or because of letterhead bias.

Franita Tolson

That is not what I am saying at all, I was just trying to preempt the obvious argument that quality matters more than quantity. I am not saying nor do I believe that articles outside of the top thirty are mediocre, particularly since I have placed what I believe are really good articles in journals outside the top 30.


I agree with Doug, but as a tenure-track professor I definitely feel the placement pressure. Developing the kind of national reputation that one is (at least in theory) expected to have by tenure time is much easier to do with top journal placements--a higher placement means that more people will read and cite it. I've heard that a good rule of thumb is to do one main law review article a year, plus one shorter symposium piece--trying to place the main law review article as well as possible, and using the symposium more as a forum to share ideas and network with others in the area.

I also think that placement probably matters more for some sub-disciplines than for others. Like Doug, a fair amount of my writing is in Professional Responsibility, and I think this is an especially hard area to attract attention in. There's a lot of people writing and teaching in the area, and journal editors don't seem all that interested, for the most part. (When I write more international/fed courts type stuff, it places a lot easier...but I tend to like the PR stuff I've written better).

And Franita, I think I met you at FSU last week--hi! :)

Peter Tillers

Publishing books does not count? Publishing in specialized peer review journals does not count? Publishing online does not count? Developing innovative legal software does not count? Arguing a case before the Supreme Court does not count? Saving a person from an unwarranted death penalty does not count? Advancing the protection of human rights around the world does not count?

What kind of (academic) world are we living in?!?

Do the tenure and promotion standards of fifty years ago count today? Should they?

It's long past time for law schools and their tenure & promotion committees to become less hidebound.


I think Peter's questions may be somewhat rhetorical (and I totally agree with his bottom line), but taking them at face value: Peer reviewed articles would definitely count at my school, but since most require single-submission, our junior faculty is advised to submit the piece first to law reviews, and then to peer reviewed journals if it didn't place (or place well) at the general law reviews. (There is time pressure to publish before promotion and then before tenure, and single-submission can delay article acceptance).

I think books would definitely count if they are scholarly and advance new ideas--but usually someone would develop these ideas first in a series of articles, and then perhaps approach a book project after that. So, unless someone is coming from a PhD program, I wouldn't expect a pre-tenure person to have such a book by tenure time. If the book is an edited collection of others' chapters, or a casebook, then I think it would count as service rather than scholarship. The rest--publishing online, legal software, skill in practice, and the protection of human rights--would certainly count as service to the profession and service to the community--but, while valued, wouldn't substitute (at least at my school) for a scholarly record.


At last we can see what is truly wrong with the tenure system....not enough pressure to publish. Thank you for correcting that error.


My thoughts are as follows: placement in a flagship law review in a Top 14/50/100 remains the "superpower" of publication BUT things are a changing.
1) specialty journals (particularly international law journals) of highly ranked schools i.e., Virginia, Georgetown, Duke, U.Texas, etc) are as good as the law review companions. Why? Because international law is becoming more important in practice.
2) increasingly cited, the online companions to law reviews are starting to attract big name authors. This means that they will start to get cited in earnest by courts as well as other articles. While I had initially thought these online companions would take "years" to catch on, they are "catching on" sooner.
My thinking is that we now live in a "multi-polar" academic world. Sure, print law reviews are great but so are specialty journals and online companions to law reviews. I do believe publishing in the latter two venues is helpful and good to be placed on the CV.

So much depends on what your goals are. Practically and strategically speaking. If you are untenured, then you should make every effort to find out what the norms of your institution and area are (.e.g, figure out what your home base thinks about books for legal historians). I would venture to say that generally speaking, you should be writing as much as you can consistent with doing good work. Thoroughly developing a research niche is helpful, both for increasing the impact of the work, making your research synergistically useful for more than one piece, and keeping the work focused on an area in which you can do great work. Someone once told me that tenure committees might not be able to read but they can sure count. But I've seen junior scholars die by that sword when the work was multiple pieces of mediocre work. Nothing more important in my opinion than circulating your work as a junior both in and out of your institution. Or as a scholar period. Post-tenure, I think you can more comfortably take on projects that are a bit riskier--longer-term projects, books, new fields, on-line companions, more provocative arguments. Peer-reviewed work is very valuable, particularly so in certain kinds of fields--again, the norms of your field(s) are generally a good guide. Finally, IMHO, all of these rules are subject to being violated for good reason, except maybe for the "circulate your work" and "investigate the norms" rules.

David S. Cohen

I think so much depends on your goals. If your goal is to become the next Lawrence Tribe or Jack Balkin in your field, then you probably should be writing multiple articles a year and not accepting a publication offer outside the top 10. But if your goal is to write interesting pieces that are well done AND be a good teacher AND be a good colleague AND be a good partner (if you have one) AND be a good parent (if you have kids) AND take care of yourself (if you have a body) AND enjoy life, then I would think you should tailor your goals to your institution's tenure requirements and not worry about the rest.

I think balance in our lives should be just as much of a goal as balance in our students' lives.


I think this line of thinking presumes that one has not published much before accepting a tenure-track position. Increasingly, faculty candidates are advised to publish to be marketable. How might expectations change for junior faculty who already bring an impressive body of work to the table?


Re: new hires who already bring an impressive body of work to the table--I think this only raises expectations. If someone was able to write a significant amount before entering the tenure track, then I think the expectation is that they will write even more and better with the support of a tenure-track position.

Re: tailoring goals to institution's tenure requirements--I think this is a good idea in theory, but I also think it is important to be aware of a more general standard that would also make one an attractive lateral candidate at a variety of schools. No matter how happy one is at one's home institution, it's good to have a record that would also be favorably viewed by the academic market in general. I think this is especially true in the current economic climate (and as I've blogged elsewhere, I think some law schools are likely to be in real jeopardy if limits are placed on grad student borrowing). Tenure might have been a given at many law schools in the past, but I don't think it will continue to be in the future.

On the market in 2012

CBR's first point raises an interesting question: Should one be careful not to publish TOO well as a pre-TT person? In other words, if you are hired with a publication record consisting of "top ten (or twenty or thirty) law review publications," do you put yourself at risk of being seen as a failure if you "only" place in top 50 or top 100 law reviews?


On the market: I think the advantages of publishing well strongly outweigh the disadvantages. Publishing well early on makes it easier to get hired at a high-ranking school, which in turn means that letterhead bias will be working in your favor and it will be easier to keep going with good placements. So there will be higher expectations for you, but probably it will be easier to meet those expectations...

junior mint

This is a bit off-topic but I know many readers of this blog will go on the TT market this fall. Does anyone have an opinion as to how long it takes to research and write a jobtalk or standard-length article, if one is able to devote herself to it full-time for several months?

James Grimmelmann

Junior mint, the time it takes to write an article varies with experience, field, personal writing style, ambition, footnoting technique, and desired quality. Among many other things. For one planning to go on the market this fall, my advice would be, "Have started already." It is possible to throw together a draft in September, but having something one is genuinely happy with is more of a six-month job.


CBR - How many articles should someone aim for to be an attractive lateral candidate?


Anon, I wish I had the answer to that question! And of course it depends on the person, how portable their teaching load is, how good their writing is, and a million other individual characteristics, and it also varies a lot by school... But having said that, the most common advice I hear is to aim for one major piece per year (top 50 general or top 10 specialty journal is generally considered good at most places I know of), and one shorter "plus" piece a year (symposium piece, co-authored article, or top law review supplement). I've seen people make good lateral moves with much less (especially if they have some top placements). But that's what I've tried to aim for--the key word being tried... I couldn't find time to write at all my first year when I had new teaching preps, and I've definitely struggled with placement. In terms of a goal to strive for though, I think the "one plus" rule works.

junior mint

Thanks, James! I just accepted a VAP position so I'm trying to determine whether to leave my job and start writing before the VAP begins and, if so, how long before. I would love to email you off-board if you don't mind--we took Jack Balkin's course together when you were at the ISP and I was a 3L.

Peter Tillers

1. I wrote a book (by adding a lot of stuff in a revision) before I published a single law review article. I didn't have time for law review articles. I still don't have time for standard, bulging law review articles. (I have time for short articles.)

2. I take (mild) offense at the suggestion that a collection of articles or essays is just "service" to the profession. A collection of essays can be trivial. But it can also be a work of scholarship that transforms a field. It is not a simple matter to put together a _good_ collection of essays. It takes imagination and insight to do so.

3. Legal work outside of the standard academic mold sometimes requires and reflects innovative scholarship. Consider death penalty litigation. Consider employment discrimination litigation.

Writing books etc. may not be the best way for a junior academic to advance in the law school world. (Consider for a moment what an astonishing statement that is.) But ... but ... some of you may want to focus on writing books etc. nonetheless.

On the market in 2012

I've submitted an article in each of the last two submission seasons. One was placed at a top 75 law review, the other at a top 30 law review. I'm a practioner, so both generally were researched and written at night and on the weekends, though in both cases, I had a handful of days where I worked on the piece during work hours to try to power through a tough section.

The first one went really quickly. Maybe a month to research and then another month to write. I then took a couple of months to get comments, rework it, and get it into submission shape. So what, four months total?

The second went really slow. I started writing earlier -- maybe early September -- but didn't really have the research totally done until December. I sent a draft off to readers, probably prematurely, in late January. I was incorporating comments up through early March, when I submitted. So total work time was probably seven months.

(And in case anyone is wondering, the latter piece was the better placement. Go figure.)

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