Image Credit: Robert Ruggiero

After spending weeks perfecting your latest legal scholarship article and making a list of target law reviews to send it to, you’re probably itching to hit that submit button. It’s the home stretch!

But before you do, ask yourself one key question. Did you read the author guidelines for each law review on your list?

OK, one more question — did you read their guidelines closely?

While law reviews tend to follow similar publication conventions like requiring Bluebook citations, it’s imperative not to make assumptions about their submission criteria. Some law reviews have begun implementing more specific article requirements in recent years to improve the quality of their incoming submissions and even exclusive submission tracks. In exclusive submissions, authors must commit to only submit to that one law review for a set timeframe (usually 1-3 weeks) and to accept a publication offer from it if extended.

Law review editors put time and care into developing their submissions criteria. And many have various levels of article review processes in place to screen for them. So know that following submission guidelines matters, even if some may seem like minor distinctions. Adhering to law reviews’ criteria and customizing submissions where possible can make all of the difference in your publication chances.

Quick Tip: If you’re submitting via Scholastica, remember to use the “Guidelines” short links below law reviews listed in the submission pool to quickly check their article criteria without having to navigate away from the page/open extra tabs.

Below are 5 law review submission criteria you should always look for.

1. Exclusive submission timeframes

Reading submission guidelines is all about attention to detail, and this first criteria area to check for is a case in point. As noted in the introduction of this post, there’s an emerging trend among law reviews around offering exclusive submission tracks at different points throughout the year that require authors to commit to only submitting to that one law review for a set period of time and to accept an offer from it if granted. The idea of exclusive submissions started with top general law reviews, including Harvard and Stanford, to help distinguish the most serious submissions and curb instances of exploding offers. Over time exclusive submission tracks have started to pick up steam (pun intended) among law reviews across the spectrum, including specialty publications. Some law reviews are even promising guaranteed article reading and decision timeframes for exclusive submissions, making the option more appealing for authors.

So, to start, if there’s a law review you really want to publish with, pay extra attention to detail when reviewing its author guidelines to look for exclusive submission options, which could help improve your chances. For example, Columbia Law Review has an open call for exclusive submissions in the summer, any time on or after August 1st. They require a 10-day exclusivity period from authors to read their papers before other offers can start coming in.

If you’re not interested in exclusive submissions, it’s still important to check for author guidelines around them. Some law reviews now have their own “exclusive submission track seasons,” so to speak, when they require all incoming submissions to be exclusive. For example, every year from January 10 - 24 Washington Law Review only accepts exclusive submissions. So they expect any author submitting during that time to be knowingly entering an exclusive publishing agreement.

While law reviews setting their own “exclusive track seasons” isn’t super common right now, it’s worth checking for exclusive period specifications since some, like WLR, are moving in that direction.

2. File anonymization specifications

Another potential submission requirement to look out for is file anonymization specifications. There is also a trend of law reviews beginning to implement fully or semi-blinded article selection processes to prevent implicit biases in decision making. For example, Washington Law Review follows a “partial double-blind” review process wherein author and editor identities are kept anonymous during its first two rounds of article review.

WLR’s submission guidelines clearly state that authors must redact all personally identifying information from their manuscripts, including “citations and phrases that reference the author’s prior work (e.g., ‘as I have argued previously’ or ‘in a previous article’).” The law review asks that authors include their name, affiliation, and any other identifying information in a separate CV or resume, which editors won’t see until their Submission Season Committee’s final vote. In addition to preventing implicit biases, WLR hopes employing blinded article selection will promote greater Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in its publication and legal scholarship more broadly. Other law reviews are also exploring submissions anonymization as a way to promote DEI.

3. Law review aims and scope

Another key piece of submission criteria to look out for is information about law reviews’ aims and scope (i.e., the law review’s mission and the fields/subfields it covers or doesn’t). Of course, the aims and scope of specialty law reviews are usually pretty clear from their titles, so you likely won’t need to do much digging for article preferences in those cases. However, it’s a good idea to check general law reviews for any aim and scope details.

Some general law reviews do have pretty specific article preferences. Sticking with WLR as an example, the law review’s For Authors page states that it is particularly interested in submissions on “legal issues facing historically marginalized communities, and submissions that discuss legal issues specific to the Pacific Northwest and the Ninth Circuit.”

Of course, you should also always check to see if law reviews are accepting general submissions or if they are just soliciting for a specific symposium or special issue. Most journals will display this information at the top of their author guideline pages (but when in doubt, send a quick message to ask!). You can also check The Conversation throughout the year for calls from law reviews for special issues or symposia submissions if you have an article on a very niche topic or are looking to publish during the off-season.

4. Cover letter requirements

Up next is an aspect of submission criteria that seems to play a bigger role in some law reviews’ decision making than authors may realize — cover letters. While cover letters are often optional, which can, understandably, lead authors to question if they make a difference, based on recent feedback from outgoing editors, it appears e-boards may be paying more attention to them than authors think.

Editors noted that cover letters can be especially helpful when they provide context around the relevance and novelty of an article that might not be obvious at first glance. Jared Hamernick of University of Illinois Law Review advised, “use your cover letter to help a second-year law student understand the importance of your work.” He 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. I wanted to publish authors whose profile we could raise, not just authors who could raise our profile as a journal.”

Other editors commented on their e-board using cover letters to help with tough article selection decisions. Emma Cunningham of Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice said, “sometimes, a short cover letter highlighting the novelty of an article’s topic can make a difference.”

5. Length and style guidelines

Finally, one of the most basic but important aspects of law review submission criteria to look out for is article length and style guidelines. As noted, many law reviews share pretty similar length and style requirements (which thankfully generally eliminates the need for extra steps when submitting), but that doesn’t mean they’re always the same.

In particular, look out for hard word limits. For example, Stanford Law Review states on its website that the editors have a “30,000-word ceiling” for articles and a “preference for 20,000 words or fewer.” Law reviews may also list formatting requirements, such as making articles double spaced or stylistic preferences like using gender-neutral language.

So be sure not to be too lax when reading through length and style criteria.

Putting it all together

Given the history of submitting to law reviews in groups, getting an article placed may seem like a numbers game at times. But even in the wild world of law reviews, the old adage rings true — it really is about quality over quantity.

The “Advice from outgoing law review editors“ blog series is full of reminders that on the other side of every digital submission authors send is a group of people working diligently to assess that article. And they’re checking for adherence to submission criteria — so be sure to read them closely!