Every e-board transition period, tenured law review editors leave with a wealth of knowledge around the inner workings of the annual submission cycle and the latest article selection best practices. Have you ever wondered what nuggets of wisdom those outgoing editors would offer their successors and submitting authors given the opportunity?
At Scholastica, we certainly have! So we’ve started reaching out to seasoned e-boards before they hand over the reins of their law reviews to learn more about their experiences and ask them to share top submission season dos and don’ts for new editors and curious legal scholars. This blog post is the second in a series (see Part 1 here) where editors from outgoing e-boards respond to the prompts below. You can click either question to jump to the answers!:
- What’s your top piece of advice to help authors submitting to law reviews improve their chances of getting published?
- What’s your top piece of advice to help incoming law review editors hit the ground running this year?
We hope you find this blog post helpful! We plan to continue outreach to outgoing law review editors to compile another advice blog series next year. In the meantime, if there’s a particular question you would like outgoing law review editors to answer, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
What’s your top piece of advice to help authors submitting to law reviews improve their chances of getting published?
Make sure your introductions are excellent. Tell us why your ideas are important and how they add to legal scholarship to give us a good roadmap of the article. Make it easy for 2Ls to look at the introduction and say, “this is interesting work that should be published.” Without a solid introduction, an article isn’t going to make it to the articles committee to be considered for publication.
Sometimes, a short cover letter highlighting the novelty of an article’s topic can make a difference in tough selection decisions.
One thing that is really important is to show your link to the topic you are writing on. It would seem inauthentic for me - a law student - to write an article about what it’s like to train tigers for 40 years. I haven’t done it! If I want to write that article, I should explain how I’m situated in relation to the content. Even better, I should write articles that connect to my life and professional experiences so that you can read the authenticity of my connection to my content. This is particularly important as we collectively recognize the power of diverse voices in scholarship and the disservice we may do to the world of readers when homogenous voices write scholarship on behalf of diverse voices.
Having a strong abstract and good citations is so important! It’s important because it’s often the first thing editors review and because it gives editors a good idea of how much effort it will take to bring the article to publication. We made many decisions where we were on the fence about offering publication, and it went one way or the other based on the abstract and citations.
Our journal loved to read abstracts and cover letters as a good tip to an author’s writing and the substantive novelty of their article. It is really helpful to editors reviewing articles when you point out where you think your article adds value in the cover letter. Obviously, authors know a lot more about their substantive areas than editors do. So being direct about the value you’re adding goes a long way to convincing us to select your article!
Our EIC and I have a few pieces of advice. First, please include a table of contents in your piece. A table of contents gives us a good sense of where the piece is going before we truly dive in and increases the likelihood that we will (1) pick the piece from the pool of submissions and (2) read more of the piece. Second, we ascribe to the old adage “less is more.” Rarely does a piece that approaches or exceeds 30,000+ words need all of those words to convey the argument.
Moreover, we expect authors to add to the word count, rather than subtract, as we approach publication, which requires us to be mindful of the editing burden on the front end. Lastly, we value pieces that are aware of real-world constraints. It’s easy for academics (of all fields) to ignore or “assume away” real-world limitations to their arguments or solutions. Yet, my peers (including myself) value pieces that engage with those limitations, even if they are not able to truly resolve them (it would be irrational to require resolution of the hard issues).
Make your piece approachable yet elevated. It is important to write in a readable way. I would suggest re-reading each new sentence with the preceding sentence. This helps to create flow and makes sure that you are not creating disjointed thoughts. At the end of the writing phase, be objective and ensure that each sentence has a purpose. If it seems irrelevant to you as the writer, it will surely be lost on a reader.
There is likely a lot of advice already about matters like proper Bluebooking. My advice is a bit different. Carl Sagan once said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I think that maxim should stand for both the physical sciences and the law. The law tends toward the status quo, but the legal profession should be free to challenge the status quo.
With that said, the more claims deviate from the status quo, the more law review editors will (or should — if they are performing their due diligence) challenge those claims. After all, the Anglo-Saxon common law legal system is based on precedent. For example, if you are proposing a new theory or practice with little precedential support, you may get a harder time with acceptance. Your law review editor may challenge your ideas more frequently (or give you more of those dreaded “needs more citations” comment bubbles). You may have to spend more time drawing analogies to other areas of law to support your claims. Don’t be discouraged, however, from being the maverick. It’s more challenging, but, ultimately, law review is the search for truth in the legal profession in its purest form. If you see something that is true before its time, and you fight for it, the truth will come out eventually, and you could become the giant on whose shoulders future generations stand.
What’s your top piece of advice to help incoming law review editors hit the ground running this year?
Task 2-3 editors as pre-screeners! We let three board members be Scholastica Editors and set the system preferences to auto-assign them all the newly submitted articles. Then they would “pre-screen” each article to determine if it met predetermined criteria, like word count, subject matter, etc. They also gave their general thoughts on the piece in the note section. Then I could decide which articles to assign for a thorough review. It saved me and my team a lot of time reviewing articles that were not right for us.
Be mindful of the voices you choose to elevate. Legal academia does a horrendous job hiring and elevating professors who are not (to be perfectly blunt) cisgender, straight, white men. This not only limits the diversity of perspectives represented in law journals, but also impacts who ends up teaching the next generation of law students.
Since publication history is one of the primary criterion used by law schools in their hiring decisions, law review editors have the ability to highlight voices that are under-represented in legal academia, and we should take it seriously. This is not to say that author demographics should be your primary criteria in selecting pieces to take to your committee meetings or for publication or that it should take precedent over the quality of the article (although “quality” is highly subjective and worthy of an independent discussion). But it should be a consideration if for no other reason than the reality that the pieces we choose to publish can impact careers.
I’ll be the first to admit that VLR has not been perfect in elevating a diversity of voices, despite my best efforts. But we’re trying to instill this goal as an institutional goal, and I think other law journals should strive to do the same. So keep an eye out for early career professors in under-represented groups.
I found the process to be more efficient and effective when we went into submission seasons with a clear vision and goal for our journal. We knew exactly what we were looking for, so we had an easy time sifting through the incredible amount of articles.
Also, take the time to familiarize yourself with your authors and make sure you make your offer of publication personal. I found that authors were more willing to consider publishing with our law review when we took the time to show them why we were interested in them as an individual and their article.
The legal profession is unique in how much trust it places in its students to edit and publish articles from its professionals. Don’t think of being a law review editor as a stepping stone to some other goal. Being a law review editor is itself a goal, which you have already achieved, that carries a lot of weight to it. Now is the time to think about how you can use your office to serve the legal profession.
Figure out your publication cycle preference. Our journal collected articles to publish on a rolling basis and published them through the fall and spring. This allowed us to stay on top of our schedule, reduce anxiety about meeting our publication quota, and provide offers to authors with the most relevant topics. If you’re running or on the board of a journal that publishes on a queue instead of on a rolling basis, consider soliciting and providing offers to articles that have a more general legal applicability and aren’t based on current events or laws that may be amended or stricken down in the next year.
Keep an open mind. It is easy to deny submissions for lack of conformity to what you thought, or were told, your journal is looking for, but it is more difficult to think of new ways for the piece to fit in and enhance the value of your journal and the product you release at the end of each semester. I would say it is important to read the author’s cover letter and consider their motivation for writing the piece as well.
Stay organized and delegate! Using the tagging feature in your Scholastica manuscript list can save a lot of time by helping you to quickly filter through a long list of manuscripts. Also, using the assigning feature can help you to delegate work to evenly spread tasks out among a group of editors. Finally, having template emails built into each potential area of communication throughout your Scholastica process helps to keep decision-making and communication with other editors and authors streamlined, consistent, and rapid.
Be consistent in managing incoming submissions, or you’ll get swamped. When you’re receiving dozens of submissions every day, it’s best to not fall behind or put the work off until the weekend.
Also, do your best to communicate with authors, especially those who reach out to you. I can’t tell you how many authors seemed genuinely appreciative to receive simple updates and responses. Being as communicative and transparent as possible demonstrates your professionalism and increases your chances of landing an author. You want to work with professional, communicative authors and they want to work with professional, communicative journals.
Maintain your confidence! You’ll find that there will be a lot of issues that don’t have a bright line answer, but don’t let those situations lead to self doubt. You’re on publication for a reason and have the judgment to make the right call.
As noted, this blog is part of a new ongoing series on advice from outgoing law review editors. Stay tuned for the next roundup of tips for e-boards and submitting authors! A big thanks to all of the outgoing editors who took the time to share their experiences!