Image Credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com
Image Credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com

Are you ready for the 2022 law review submission cycle?

Whether it’s your first year trying to place an article or fifteenth, you’re likely wondering what steps you can take to boost the chances of getting published in one of your top-choice law reviews.

Of course, there’s no definitive formula for a successful submission. Countless factors affect the annual legal scholarship cycle, from new policies introduced by incoming e-boards to external influences like the COVID-19 pandemic. But keeping a pulse on the latest law review updates and looking at past trends can help authors get a sense of what to expect during upcoming article selection periods and how to be as competitive as possible.

At Scholastica, we’ve garnered many submission season insights over the years, and we want to help demystify things for authors. In this blog post, we’re rounding up tips to help you improve your publication prospects based on our latest data and learnings. Let’s get to it!

Have a clear submissions strategy

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of preparing and submitting your new law review article, it’s imperative that you first start with having a clear submission strategy. While law review submissions may feel like a numbers game at times, in truth, it really is about quality over quantity, so authors should be selective when making a list of publications to send their papers to and home in on law reviews that are likely to be the best fit for their particular piece.

Start by creating a shortlist of 3-5 law reviews that would be the top choices for your next article based on the theme and core objectives of your paper, as well as your career goals. For example, your primary focus may be getting placed in a top-ranked general law review, a prestigious specialty law review related to your article, or a law review with a robust online presence. These types of goals may or may not be mutually exclusive. Some starting points to gauge the prestige and visibility of law reviews include reviewing the Washington & Lee Law Journal Rankings and following law reviews active on social media to stay abreast of their latest updates and awareness initiatives.

Next, do your homework to get to know each law review’s article preferences and recent publication history so you can send more tailored submissions. For example, if you’re submitting to a law review that favors regional pieces, you may be able to find ways to connect your paper to the geographic area(s) on which it’s focused. You may also identify opportunities to send personalized cover letters or emails expressing why your submission is particularly suited to your top choice law reviews.

Anecdotally, contributions from e-boards for Scholastica’s “Advice from outgoing law review editors” blog series suggest law reviews may be paying closer attention to cover letters and personal messages than authors think. For example, former editor of the University of Illinois Law Review Jared Hamernick said, “It doesn’t guarantee a full board read, but I was much more inclined to read a full article when the author showed genuine, personalized interest. Similarly, when an abstract was copied and pasted from a cover letter (or vice versa), it felt like my time was wasted.” Hamernick added, “If you’re not yet a widely published author, there’s no reason to hide that. Use your cover letter to help us understand why we should publish you. […] If you’re writing on a topic on which we’re likely to get dozens (or hundreds) of similar submissions, it’s especially important that you help us understand why yours stands out.”

As you research your top choice law reviews, you may also find that some offer exclusive submission tracks where you can pre-commit to accepting a publication offer with that law review if your paper is accepted. To do this, as the name “exclusive track” suggests, you’ll have to agree to just submit to that one law review for a designated exclusive timeframe (usually 1-3 weeks). Exclusively submitting to a law review is a definitive way to communicate that it’s your first pick and move your article toward the top of the pile.

Once you have a top-choice law reviews shortlist, you can start looking for some alternate options. At Scholastica, we have features in place to quickly sort law reviews by category (e.g., general law, civil rights, constitutional) to help narrow down choices. We also recently revamped our manuscript work area to help authors more easily keep track of their latest submissions and make more informed decisions about if and when to target additional law reviews, including adding new functionality to:

  • Search for manuscripts by title to check on specific submissions
  • Filter submissions by accepted, rejected, and pending pub offers
  • More quickly scan manuscript details for offer status information

Keep track of the latest law review opening timelines

Once you have a submission strategy in place, it’s time to think about timing. Of course, if you’re planning to pursue an exclusive submission track option, you’ll already have target dates in mind based on the law review’s guidelines.

If you’re not submitting to an exclusive track to start, there is no hard science for when to submit to law reviews. However, past Scholastica submission season data does point to two peak periods:

  1. February through April
  2. August through October

These months have historically seen the most law review openings, submissions, and decisions. As a result, submitting within one of these peak timeframes could help your chances of publication because a high percentage of law reviews will likely be open and reviewing articles.

With that said, things do change from year to year. For example, some law reviews adjusted their 2021 article selection timeframes to give authors more time to prepare papers in light of COVID-19. Updates included law reviews committing to reviewing articles on a rolling basis and pushing back their usual spring opening dates to mid-February. Our latest “Annual Scholastica Law Review Submissions Insights” data pull is reflective of this, with noticeable spikes in law review openings later in the season on February 8th and 15th, 2021. Last year also saw later peak expedite request times suggesting authors were somewhat slower to expedite versus previous years and/or some law reviews sent decisions later, resulting in later expedite requests.

Be sure to check Scholastica’s latest submission season data insights report to see if and how practices are changing. We release graphs and commentary on the previous year’s data each January.

It is also important to note that only around 35% of law reviews using Scholastica actively open/close submissions across the year – the other ~65% remain open year-round. So if you have an article ready and it’s not a peak submission time, you still have a chance of getting an offer! Law reviews open and close throughout the year depending on their editorial cycle, and many solicit articles for symposia and special issues on an ad hoc basis.

We have some easy ways to help you stay abreast of law review openings without going down search rabbit holes, including:

  1. Sign up for daily law review opening emails here
  2. Track updates on Twitter using the hashtag #LRSubmissions
  3. Reference the automatically updating table of open and closed law reviews on the Law Review Author Submissions Center website
  4. Check for law review updates in The Conversation — many editors post when they have remaining slots to fill in their volumes or are soliciting articles on particular topics

If you’re submitting to law reviews off-season, we also recommend checking their websites for any updates on if/when they’ll be actively reviewing new articles. Over the years, we have found that some lower-ranked and specialty journals will sometimes remain open when not actively reviewing submissions to have more to consider when they are ready to fill their books. If you’re unable to tell if a law review is actively reviewing articles from its website, don’t hesitate to reach out to the editors to ask!

Focus on article framing

Our next tip for a successful submission is to focus on the framing of your article. The more you can show why your paper is particularly suited to a law review and/or especially timely, the more likely it will be to stand out in the crowd. For example, let editors know how your article relates to current events or if it’s about one of the most discussed but least published topics in law. Include those details in the introduction of the article and/or any cover letters you send.

Looking at 25 of the most used keywords in accepted articles from the 2021 submission season, it’s clear that submissions on timely topics tend to perform well. Among popular keywords in 2021 were the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, policing, immigration, and artificial intelligence.

Another way to improve your article framing, building off your submission strategy research, is to communicate if and how your article relates to works previously published by your target law reviews. In an anonymous contribution to Scholastica’s 2021 “Advice from outgoing law review editors” blog series, one editor noted, “my best advice is to learn more about the journals you are sending your manuscripts/expedite requests to before actually sending. You may find out our journal has published similar subject matter in recent years, and you may discover our journal has held symposia on a topic tangentially related to your work. It certainly assists our editorial board to use a previous manuscript to relate to one we make an offer on.”

Also, consider how you can convey how your article relates to your personal experiences and, if possible, why you are uniquely qualified to write on the topic. In the 2021 “Advice from outgoing law review editors” blog series, former editor of the Minnesota Journal of Law & Inequality Jen Davison said, “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.” Davison added, “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.”

Once you’ve nailed down your article framing, try to look at your submission from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the topic. Specifically, focus on the title, abstract, and introduction of your article. These are the first things editors will look at, so you want to be sure they’re attention-grabbing and that they quickly and succinctly communicate the punchline of your paper.

A former Minnesota Law Review editor advised to “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.”

Stick to law reviews’ submission guidelines

Next, make sure you’ve followed the submission guidelines and preferences of your target law reviews closely before sending articles forth. This includes adhering to each law review’s aims and scope, article formatting requirements, and preferred submission method. You don’t want a law review to automatically reject your submission because it doesn’t meet a technical specification.

Of course, you’ll want to first ensure your article is clean without any typos, grammatical errors, or formatting issues. Next, look out for the following common submission specifications:

  1. Article length requirements: Many law reviews have hard article-length requirements. For example, Stanford Law Review states that the editors have a “30,000-word ceiling” for articles and a “preference for 20,000 words or fewer.” Also, keep in mind that many law reviews subscribe to the adage “less is more.” As former Vanderbilt Law Review editor Nathan Campbell noted in the 2021 “Advice from outgoing law review editors” blog series, “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.”
  2. Style guidelines: Check for any article style guidelines on each law reviews’ “For Authors” page. The main thing to keep in mind here is citation style. Most law reviews expect citations to conform to The Bluebook.
  3. File anonymization requirements: Another submission requirement to look out for is file anonymization specifications. There is a trend of law reviews beginning to implement fully or semi-anonymized article selection processes to prevent implicit biases in decision making like Washington Law Review. If you’re not sure how to fully anonymize your article files, our guide here can help!
  4. Cover letter: Finally, check to see if any of the law reviews you’re submitting to require cover letters and be sure to submit one if asked — following instructions counts!

If you’re submitting via Scholastica, remember to use the “Guidelines” links below law reviews listed in the submission pool to quickly check their author guidelines without having to navigate away from the page/open extra tabs. You can now also more easily make anonymous submissions as needed. The submission pool now specifies law reviews that require anonymous articles, and the submission form includes upload fields for anonymized files. Learn more here.

Check your article citations — then check them again

One submission prep step we can’t stress enough is checking your article citations — and then checking them again! Law review editors are hyper-vigilant of referencing and will flag areas of your article that could use additional references or any that appear incomplete. So make sure all of your legal assertions have complete and correct citations.

As former West Virginia Law Review editor Jordan McMinn explained, “having 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.”

Know when to expedite and how

Another key submission area is expedite requests. It’s important to know when it’s worth submitting an expedite request and when to hold back. First, for a quick overview, expedite requests are when you notify one or more of your preferred law reviews that your article has received an offer from another journal and ask them to send you an article decision before your response to that offer is due.

Expedite requests can help push your article higher up the submissions pile at some law reviews, but you must use them strategically. If you’re going for a top law review, make sure you wait to submit an expedite to that journal until you have an offer from a similarly ranked publication. Also, when making expedite requests, be sure that you actually have an offer on the table. Don’t make any assumptions based on your article going to full board review. While a strong indicator that your article may be accepted, full board review is not a guarantee of acceptance so most law reviews will not grant expedites in this situation and may be put off by such requests.

Follow communication best practices and take advantage of group submission tools

Throughout the submission process, you may have questions for law review editors, or you may want to send them an updated file, which is normal and something editors will expect. In this case, just be sure that you are using each law review’s preferred communication method. For law reviews using Scholastica, that’s easy — use the Discussions feature. Your Discussion message will go directly to the law review’s editors and be stored next to your submission. Editors receive notifications for all new Scholastica Discussion messages, so they’ll be less likely to fall through the cracks than emails.

When working with law reviews that use Scholastica, be sure to also send decisions and expedite requests via the system. The benefits of this are twofold: first, your communication will be more likely to be seen, and second, you’ll be making editors’ lives easier by helping them keep all of their law review work in one place.

Remember, you can also save time by communicating with law reviews in bulk via Scholastica. You have the option to send Discussion messages, decision responses, and expedite requests to multiple journals at once, as explained in the “Communicating” section of the Law Author Guide.

Another quick tip: try to keep your emails brief. Make sure your subject line is clear and state the aim of your outreach in the first sentence. Editors get inundated with emails during submission season, and it’s easy to overlook questions buried in text.

Use the resources available to you

Finally, don’t forget to take advantage of the submission resources at your disposal! Scholastica has developed many free guides and tools for law authors.

Be sure to check out The Scholastica Law Review Submissions Center. Here you’ll have access to:

  • Submission pro tips
  • Law review submission data insights
  • An automatically updating table of open and closed law reviews

Also, remember to follow #LRSubmissions on Twitter for law review opening alerts and submissions updates and tips.

If you have any Scholastica-specific submission questions, you’ll find answers to them in our handy Law Author Guide. And, if there’s anything you’re unsure of, you can reach out to our team at support@scholasticahq.com. We’re here to help!

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