Image Credit: Bence Balla-Schottner
Image Credit: Bence Balla-Schottner

More law reviews than ever have begun introducing “exclusive submission track” options for authors, but the concept is still relatively new to legal scholarship. Are you wondering what “exclusive submissions” means exactly and how the article selection process differs for exclusive papers?

Whether you’re an incoming law review editor or an author still learning about exclusive submissions, this blog post has you covered. We’ll walk through the basics of exclusive submission tracks, journals leading the way in implementing them, the benefits of these submission options for law reviews and legal scholars, and primary considerations if you’re thinking about whether to solicit or make exclusive submissions.

Let’s get to it!

What are exclusive submission tracks?: Here’s the lowdown

At the highest level, exclusive submission tracks are for authors who want to pre-commit their article to a particular law review if accepted for publication there. To do this, the author must commit to submitting exclusively to that one law review for a designated timeframe (usually 1-3 weeks).

In general, exclusive submission tracks are a way to help articles editors have time to read through submissions before pressures of offer deadlines from other journals start coming in. This can help reduce the number of expedite requests that law reviews receive and curb instances of exploding offers. In theory, the more authors opt to submit their papers to particular law reviews exclusively, the fewer simultaneous submissions those law reviews (and other law reviews) will have to juggle.

In exchange for authors agreeing to submit to them exclusively, some law reviews will promise priority review for exclusive submissions or even guarantee decisions on those articles by a given date. When law reviews can ensure decisions within a set timeframe, exclusive tracks also offer authors the benefit of knowing they will get a reply from their top-choice journal before the article selection cycle is over. That way, the author can either publish with that law review or have time to submit to other options if their article is not accepted.

As indicated above, there are different “flavors” of exclusive submission tracks, both in terms of the length of time law reviews require for submission review and what, if any, promises they make, such as priority board review or faster decisions. Additionally, while some law reviews allow exclusive submissions throughout the year, others limit them to generally slower submission periods outside of the peak spring (February through April) and fall (August through October) article selection cycles. And some journals take a hybrid approach allowing exclusive submissions throughout the year but only ensuring decisions for exclusive articles during specific times. For example, Columbia Law Review has a “standard exclusive submission” track and an “early exclusive submission” track offered in the summer months where early submissions are guaranteed a response by August 1st.

In most cases, law reviews will allow authors to submit articles that they have previously sent to other journals for exclusive consideration without requiring them to withdraw those other submissions. The only caveat is that the author must agree not to submit to any other journals during their exclusive submission and to honor their promise to accept an offer if extended.

Law reviews with exclusive submission tracks

Exclusive submissions are something some top general law reviews have been offering for a while now including, Harvard Law Review, Stanford Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and Columbia Law Review (as noted above). Top general law reviews with exclusive submission tracks have not traditionally offered options with guaranteed decision dates, so Columbia Law Review is unique in that regard.

In recent years, the idea of exclusive submissions has been picking up steam with law reviews of all ranges starting to introduce their own versions of exclusive tracks, including:

Of the journals listed above, Northwestern University Law Review and Washington Law Review perhaps have the most established exclusive submission tracks with clear guidelines on their websites and ongoing promotion via Twitter and The Conversation.

Other law reviews have taken a more ad hoc approach to exclusive submission pilots. For example, some law reviews have announced calls for exclusive submissions when looking to finish filling a specific volume or special issue by a target date.

Exclusive submission track benefits and key considerations for editors and authors

For law review editors and authors, the potential benefits of exclusive submissions are many. As noted above, exclusive submission tracks can help editors get a head start on article review before having to field expedite requests. And with journals adding decision guarantee timeframes to exclusive tracks, particularly for “early” submissions, the option is becoming increasingly appealing for authors. Even without the promise of a known decision time, submitting to a law review exclusively is a way for an author to send a clear signal that they are serious about publishing with that journal.

Law reviews thinking about establishing an exclusive submission track should consider what benefits they can offer authors to distinguish their track from others such as:

  • Offering rapid decisions on all exclusive submissions (and a promised decision date if possible)
  • Soliciting and reviewing exclusive submissions before or after the traditional article selection cycle
  • Cultivating journal promotion initiatives to help expand the reach of the articles they publish and letting authors know how they will help increase the impacts of their work
  • Sharing substantive comments for articles the journal does not accept to help authors learn how they can improve

Authors contemplating trying an exclusive submission track for the first time should review different journal options to weigh the benefits they offer, like those listed above. Timing is also an important consideration. Early submission exclusive tracks are more likely to guarantee decisions, so aiming to get an exclusive article submitted before the fall or spring rush may offer the most benefit.

Finally, it’s important for editors and authors to think about their submission goals before creating an exclusive track or choosing to commit an article to one journal. In some instances, alternative strategies may be more effective. For example, authors looking to get quicker article decisions may be better off writing eye-catching cover letters to get the attention of editors at their top choice journals. While authors sometimes question the value of cover letters, outgoing editors have anecdotally expressed that they are reading them and some law reviews do appear to put a good deal of weight on a personalized cover letter. Similarly, if a law reviews’ goal is to improve its time to decision, auditing current article selection processes may reveal ways the e-board can streamline operations to ensure speedier decisions for all articles.

Putting it all together

Overall, exclusive tracks are opening up new law review submission pathways with the potential to improve the article selection process for journals and authors. Exclusive submissions are a definitive way for authors to communicate preference to their top-choice law reviews, and exclusive tracks can help law reviews get ahead of expedites or even be used periodically to entice articles for special issues. Of course, as in any law review initiative, communication is key, both for editors and authors. Law reviews should make guidelines for any exclusive tracks they offer readily available, and authors submitting exclusive papers should heed all journal instructions to have the best outcome possible.