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April 04, 2014

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Jojo

I suspect that many journals outside the top 100 will fall for a combination of reasons: lack of staff; less funding to support journals; the rise of blogs displacing the need for student edited publications to discuss ideas. Layoffs will cull the need for as many journals, and increased teaching loads will mean less time for writing.

Perhaps important questions such as, "Whose Business Is It If You Want To Induce a Bee To Sting Your Penis?" will go unexamined. Society will just have to make due some how.

Jeff Redding

terry malloy: I just deleted your comment. Sorry; please reread the 'NB.'

Ben Barros

I've been working with our journal over the last two years to adjust to smaller classes. They have set things up so that they can leave editorial board positions open, and they may publish fewer articles and/or volumes.

Former Editor

Contracting class size has had an impact on the size of the editorial boards on both the flagship (general) journal and specialty journals at my alma mater. The specialty journals in particular have been seriously affected and their ability to publish has in some cases been compromised. That, and the fact that every journal's budget has been annually slashed (as Jojo noted this is a common phenomenon these days), has forced all of the school's journals to publish fewer articles. Some at the school have advocated shuttering the lowest ranked specialty journals as a result of the shrinking number and quality of members (in addition to the budgetary concerns). It would not surprise me in the least to see one or more of the lower ranked specialty journals eliminated entirely in the next few years.

At my school, selections are made as a combination of class rank and a writing competition open to students above a certain GPA/class rank threshold. The walk-on structure is tiered, such that the top x% walk on to the general journal, the next y% walk on the highest ranked secondary journal, and so on. Those above the GPA/rank line who don't walk on to the general journal (or any journal) can then attempt to write-on to their preferred journal. As part of that process, the general journal gets first pick of the strongest of this second group, frequently poaching a significant percentage of the students who walked on to the specialty journals. Unlike at some schools, students are not allowed to be on two journals at once.

The selection structure has always caused friction between the journals, but it has gotten worse as the total incoming class sizes at the school have declined. Smaller total class size means the pool of write-on candidates shrinks. As that pool gets smaller, the pool of left-over students after the general journal gets its pick shrinks proportionately, and so on as the next ranked journal selects. The general journal and higher ranked specialty journals also shrink because, as a realistic staffing matter, taking candidates who do not demonstrate an ability in the writing competition to complete their editorial work quickly and competently are often more of a hindrance than a help. The higher ranked journals are aware that the work of really weak editors frequently needs to be redone by the editorial board later in the process, so taking extra students just to increase total staff size does not actually help the production process. In terms of quality of candidates, this leaves the lowest ranked journals in the position of needing to take basically anyone who bothered to participate in the writing competition, regardless of their demonstrated ability, in order to have any sort of staff at all.

In terms of decision-making, the write-on selections are made by the 3L's with some oversight from the faculty advisor. The walk-on GPA and write-on GPA/rank thresholds are set by the faculty at large. The total membership of the journals is also capped by decision of the faculty at large, in some cases at perilously small numbers, partly to ensure that there are any candidates remaining for the lowest ranked journals at all.

Regarding faculty article placements and expectations for tenure etc., if my school is anything like the norm, I would think that expectations would have to decline as the opportunities for publication in journals decrease. It's also possible, if the pace of reductions in faculty size matches the pace of journal shrinkage/elimination, that expectations would remain the same as there will be a correspondingly reduced number of submissions for publication.

BoredJD

Perhaps this can be the impetus to finally move towards a leaner law review system, with professors screening and selecting articles for publication through a blind review process while keeping a smaller number of staffers to perform the cite-checking and Bluebooking (and of course to have the option to write notes and get that all important credential for the job market).

Jeff Redding

Jojo, Ben, and (especially) Former Editor: Thank you for your insights. Very interesting.

BoredJD: It will be interesting to see whether there 1) is a significant reduction in the # of journals, and 2) whether this aggregate shrinking will jumpstart some necessary reforms (as I suggested in some blog entries from Fall 2013).

Former Editor

BoredJD:

I rather doubt it. Not least because the current process (without blind peer review, etc.) (a) permits faculty to get published faster than if there was a more robust and meaningful selection process, and (b) requires less faculty involvement in the day-to-day operations of the law reviews (and therefore is less burdensome on faculty).

As an aside, even if that change were realistic, I'd still argue against it. The student-run aspect of law reviews has, in my view, significant pedagogical benefits which would be greatly diminished if the role of the law review editorial boards was reduced to merely cite-checking and bluebooking.

BoredJD

FE: I agree with you that there's little incentive for law professors to want to change the system, but what are the pedagogical benefits, and why are they significant? Editors would still read and citecheck the articles and could still write notes.

If you're talking about the administrative, managerial, or leadership aspects of being on the Editorial Board, there's nothing to say that students would have to give up doing the books and organizing the pizza proofs- in fact professors would likely prefer that students take on as much of the organization and administrative aspects as possible, they'd be in charge of selecting and commenting on the substantive content.

Jeff Redding

BoredJD: Just quickly, as someone who has written about the benefits of law review reform (google my posts from Fall 2013), I think you are painting the legal academy with too broad of a brush here. But, I'm going to intervene here and say that this isn't the topic of this post, so further comments/debate points along these lines (including ones I want to make myself!) will be deleted. Let's keep ourselves to the direct topic of this post.

AnonJuniorProf

Casual empiricism: I've noticed that several journals at which I have pending papers are taking markedly longer than expected to get issues out, and seem to have fewer issues this year than in the past.

AnonyaEditor

Current editor here. My impressions from discussions w/ peer schools is that if membership were to decrease substantially, the flagship would retain priority at most schools. I'm at a top school but I still wouldn't be surprised to see one or two of our secondary journals either close shop or drastically reduce output over the next few years.

We use a combination of a writing competition and grades to place students in their journals and, even now, some journals struggle for members. Any decreases in enrollment will be challenging for these journals.

On an somewhat related note, the work done at journals could be vastly simplified (and thus the editorial workload reduced) if we didn't use such an intentionally-obscure and overly-complex citation style.

Jeff Redding

AnonyaEditor: Thank you for your insights too!

anon: I have deleted your comment. Please read the NB above again; thanks.

Former Editor

I'm not sure if it is too off-to-the-side of the main topics, but I figured that I'd mention that there may be an additional drop off in journal membership/production in the next few years as a result of more than declining attendance alone. The rise of 2-year degrees and similar alternate programs (e.g., the "take the bar in February if you spend your last semester working pro bono" option announced by NY CJ Lippman) will also impact journal membership unless those journals adjust their membership policies. The journals at my alma mater (and I believe this is the norm) select general members at the end of the 1L year and elect their editorial boards at the end of the 2L year. If more students go with alternate tracks, even if they join a journal for their 2L year, they won't be around to fill out the boards of those journals in the 3L year. Given the attractiveness of such alternate programs, that diminishment might also cut to quality of board membership as well as total number of 3L editors.

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