A Minor Thought About Law Journals

September 25, 2005 at 12:12am By: Mr. T Posted in Mr. T's Den

The law journal world. Yes law journal editors and faculty advisors take a lot of shit, some of it deservedly, and some of it not. Now I would like to offer some thoughts to any takers out there.

In my opinion, possibly one of the stronger reasons why the law journal status quo should remain is pure speed. The journals would lose much of its utility, both to practitioners and academics, if recent case analyses and developments were not published in a timely manner.

The problem is, even with the current set-up, truly timely publication is becoming a rare experience. There are of course exceptions. For instance, much kudos to the American University’s Human Rights Brief. Not exactly a school with an Ivy League reputation, but their edit of an earlier article I wrote for them was the best I have ever received and the process was extremely fast.

I can’t say the same for several other journals. This week I received an edit back from a journal (which shall go unnamed) affiliated with one of the Ivy League law schools for an article I had submitted in the early summer. The article contained an analysis of a case decided in February of this year. In his communication to me, the editor informed me that actual publication wouldn’t occur until 2006. Thus, this article containing an analysis of a case decided in February 2005 won’t actually be read by anyone until a year after it was originally decided.  (In all fairness, I should add that the edit itself was outstanding however).

Then there was another experience I had with a journal affiliated with a middle of the road law school. In this article, which I submitted in the late summer of 2004, I made a prediction about a yet undecided case on the dockets that was – at the time I thought – likely not to be heard until the spring of 2005. I accepted an offer of publication from this journal with the under

standing that it would be published promptly and in a timeframe which made me comfortable believing that it would come out prior to the actual decision on the case. Needless to say, the article didn’t get published until after the case was argued (and a year after I had originally submitted it) and the court made its judgment. So here I was predicting the outcome of a case that was already decided. Luckily for me the prediction was correct. In both instances of negotiating a publication offer with the aforementioned journals, the editors informed me of “timely publication” in an identifiable time period, and in both instances that has not occurred.

Yes I am complaining, perhaps unfairly. Any publication is a good publication (unless it truly is horribly mangled by the editors). But I would like to urge editors and faculty advisors to be less discreet and more transparent when it comes to informing potential contributors about publication timelines. And if a journal is behind schedule (and I have heard of journals that were several issues behind schedule), the editorial staff should do their utmost to prioritize getting back on track. I am not a fan of unnecessary faculty intervention, particularly when it comes to substantive issues. But having said that, faculty advisors should take more of an active role if the journal they are advising is woefully behind schedule and the editors aren’t taking the appropriate initiative to speed things up to a reasonably acceptable professional standard. Not doing so hurts the reputation of the school in general. Of course, I would be amiss NOT to criticize writers who do not work with editorial staff in a timely manner. Nothing is a worse than the errant contributor/lazy law professor who is offered and accepted a publication slot, and then decides that he can completely ignore the editorial timeline, jeopardizing timely publication of the entire issue. And yes, that certainly occurs much more often than anyone would like. 

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The Comments

Gunscribe September 25, 2005 at 9:01am

Mr. T,

Great analysis of a cronic problem that is not just limited to institution publication.

I, on occassion, write for publication in Outdoor magazines. There is normally a six month lead time for submition.

About the time I’m getting geared up for hunting season editors are looking for spring time fishing stories and vice versa.

I would think that when editors are looking for material specific to say law review that they would be a bit more punctual though, in that I agree with you.


Steve September 25, 2005 at 9:20am

It’s too bad the L. Rev.‘s have the monopoly in this business because there is clearly a market for quick, on point analysis of recent decisions.  The thing is, only law students and professors have access to the latest L. Rev. articles.  The layperson relies on Dahlia Lithwick and SCOTUSblog; and that’s the internet-savvy layperson.

How long did we have to wait for decent analysis of Crawford and how long will it be until articles about Raich, Hamdi etc., make the journals?

The L. Rev. model is horribly outdated. I’m shocked an internet only journal hasn’t shown up with writings from some of the blogging professors as a head start.

Mr. T October 20, 2005 at 11:34am

Steve - You might be interested to know that the Yale Law Journal finally has - what appears to be sort of a monthly blawg - that just got started in October that is aptly named The Pocket Part.

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