There’s been quite a bit of buzz lately surrounding Scholastica’s involvement in the law review submission process. Specifically a handful of prominent law reviews (UChicago, Berkley, etc) have left ExpressO (the longstanding channel for submitting law articles) and started accepting submissions exclusively through Scholastica.  One blogger even asked if ExpressO was “under attack?

In case you haven’t been keeping tabs:

At Scholastica, of course, we’ve been following these discussions closely. There’s been a lot of speculation. Most of the discussion boils down to a few questions/concerns:

  • Why are law reviews switching? Why leave ExpressO?
  • Why increase the submission fee to five dollars?
  • What does Scholastica mean for authors?

We’d like to address a few of these questions.

Why are law reviews switching? Why leave ExpressO?

There’s been some speculation here. For example, in a recent blog post, Dan Filler wrote:

I have a suspicion that a driving force behind the switch is that journals want a higher barrier to submission than currently exists.

That’s a reasonable guess, and certainly the increasing volume of submissions is a real problem for already-overworked law review editors. But while this is a real concern, it’s not the reason law reviews have made the move to Scholastica. We’ve spoken with dozens of editors and have not heard anyone say, “We want to increase barriers to submission”. In fact, their concern is often the exact opposite: they’re worried that moving to Scholastica will problematically reduce their submissions.

More importantly however, Filler’s suspicion misinterprets our goal in working with law reviews. We certainly don’t want to raise the “barrier to submission”. We’re simply offering a robust software platform which we believe will benefit editors and authors alike. For editors, this means providing a smooth user experience and a powerful feature set so that they can better manage the huge number of submissions during dump periods. For authors, this means offering a simpler submission process, better insight into the lifecycle of your article as it moves through the review process, and easier collaboration between authors and editors.

But that doesn’t directly answer the question: “Why are prominent law reviews leaving ExpressO?” Put simply, Scholastica is a much better product. Editors are already overwhelmed with the business of being in law school: they don’t have time to waste using slow, outmoded software. Scholastica eliminates much of the tedious work involved in managing a law review, saving the editors tons of time. That’s why editors are enthusiastic about the change: our platform is much better. 

Why increase the submission fee to five dollars?

And that brings us to the second point of discussion: “Why increase the price?” Here again, the answer is not as cloaked or nefarious you might imagine. Scholastica is a much better platform and that fact is reflected in the price. In a blog comment, Patrick Flanagan hit the nail on the head:

It is a much more ambitious project than just article submissions handling like ExpressO. Through the Scholastica service, a journal can manage the entire publishing ecosystem, including communicating with authors, hosting working documents, and publishing online. My experience supporting the journals’ work in our law library suggests that this service would be an improvement to the mishmash of Google Docs, DropBox folders, network drives, print proofs, and shared email accounts that student editors must sometimes employ.

In short, we provide a lot functionality that editors won’t find anywhere else, and we’re adding new features almost everyday. We eliminate the need for multiple services, and our goal is to constantly improve how scholarly journals operate.

What does Scholastica mean for authors?

But that raises yet another question: “If editors are getting a better product, why do authors have to pay more? Aren’t authors the real losers here?” We don’t think so. We’re working hard to ensure that authors enjoy a positive experience — and that goal applies to paying submission fees as well. We’re actively working with institutions helping them create accounts so that they can pay fees on behalf of their students, faculty, and staff. 

In fact, this is an effort where authors can help themselves. Many institutions have already created accounts because individual authors have urged them to do so. If you’re planning on submitting to one of our journals, we suggest you email your department asking them to create an institutional account. With that in place, you will not be prompted to pay any submission fee whatsoever.

Overall, we don’t want to make things more difficult for anyone. In fact, our goal is very much the opposite. We want to dramatically improve how scholarship is vetted, reviewed, and eventually published. As Flanagan suggested, Scholastica’s goal is not to “attack” ExpressO. We’re trying to correct longstanding problems in academic publishing and we’re thrilled that law reviews have become an important vanguard in that effort.