Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How law journals do it

This came up in a conversation with a law prof, who mentioned that he had already submitted a paper "several times" in the couple of months since I saw that paper. Which would be nearly impossible to do with a philosophy paper. Here's how it works for law journals, I'm told.

There are hundreds of law journals (every law school has at least one). Most of them are edited by law students.

But, you can submit your manuscript to as many as you want simultaneously, so none of this interminable waiting for one journal at a time to decide on your paper (unless you want to submit to one at a time). And there's a submission service for doing it.

You pay $2 for each journal you submit your paper to. I suppose if you submit your paper to 100 journals, that two bucks might start to get onerous, but if it's just a handful of journals, not so much. It takes so much time to upload a paper and fill out the online forms and all that jazz, it might just be worth two bucks to not have to do that multiple times.

Now, I'm not saying that it would be better to have hundreds of philosophy journals (anyway, law schools have money that philosophy departments don't). I did once suggest that using selectively chosen, qualified grad students as reviewers might not be a bad idea, if the current pool of willing peer reviewers is too small for the demand. But would a system like this work for philosophy papers? Would it be an improvement over the current system? Being able to submit to multiple journals simultaneously sounds pretty appealing, but it would (I guess) require a larger pool of reviewers.



Frank O'File said...

I'm pretty sure that some of my work is getting refereed by graduate students even now (and while I don't think it should be true, I hope it is.)

Anonymous said...

God no. The law journal thing is an embarrassment. They are almost exclusively student-edited, and hence not peer reviewed at all. They are not blind reviewed. The practice is to have a long footnote on the first page thanking all the prestigious/famous people who have already reviewed the piece. Because law students don't have the background knowledge to assess the work, they are inordinately influenced by this. (Disclosure: I was on law review, and I have published in law reviews.)

Moreover, you can horse trade up the food chain. If you get an accept from one law review, you can go a few journals higher in the hierarchy, tell them you've got an acceptance there, and ask for expedited review. So you get a bidding war carried on by people who are judging largely by criteria independent of the article itself: Who the author is, where the author is, who the author pals around with (i.e., the acknowledgement footnote), and whether some other group has deemed the article worthwhile.

The pool of referees comes from a captive audience: law students seeking the prestige of law review (and school credit--they PAY to referee!). Difficult to replicate.

The system is a disaster. The stuff published in law reviews is overwhelmingly crap. THere are, of course, some very good things. Even those are generally larded up with unnecessary stuff to fill up the 50-100 pages needed for an article to be considered serious by law students.

Please, please, please do not take anything about the law review process as a model for other areas. I'd rather it all be done via ssrn or just putting stuff on websites than the charade of review for law journals, which give an unwarranted air of respectability.

Anonymous said...

"I did once suggest that using selectively chosen, qualified grad students as reviewers might not be a bad idea."

But grad students ARE already serving as reviewers.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great model for philosophy! (The centralized system, not the abundance of journals, as you say.)

A philosopher who's edited a law review said...

"...but it would (I guess) require a larger pool of reviewers." Yes, and presumably for that reason (among others), the vast majority of law reviews don't practice anything like blind review. Many journals request a CV with all submissions, and make extensive use of it in the reviewing process.

Anonymous said...

A larger pool of reviewers might be nice...especially for those of us phuleosophers who think such work is meaningful and have the time to do such. Although I wonder if becoming a reviewer is as difficult as becoming a published author with the whole "who you know" game going on.

Anonymous said...

An example of the complete sham that is the law review selection process:

Please, please do not replicate this in philosophy.