The Timing of the Law Review Submission Process:
Here's a question both for current law review editors and authors who sent out pieces this spring: Are you finding that law journals are generally trying to make offers more quickly, are offering tighter windows to decide on offers, and/or are prepared to do expedites in a shorter window than before? Is the submission process being compressed into a narrower window of time? I've seen some anecdotal evidence that this is true, and I wanted to find out if others were hearing and experiencing the same thing.

  Here's a little bit of background to explain the question. Unlike most academic journals, student-run law reviews generally permit authors to submit their scholarly articles to many journals at once. When a journal decides to accept a particular paper, the journal typically gives the paper's author a window of time in which to decide whether to accept the offer. It's understood that authors use this window to try to "shop up" the article, requesting an expedited review from more desirable journals (more desirable for whatever reason — higher prestige, a particular school, etc.). Those more desirable journals then give the article a quick read and decide if they want to move quickly and give an offer before the expedite window at the other journal closes.

  This system may sound really odd at first, but it's not a terrible way of dealing with a world in which there are hundreds of journals looking to publish the most desirable articles possible and thousands of authors hoping to be published in the most desirable journal. Requiring exclusive submissions works well in fields with a handful of journals, but it's a lot harder in a field with hundreds of journals. (Can you imagine how many years it might take to run through journals until you finally get your offer from the Delaware State Journal of Labor & Employment Law?) Also, a grand "matching" system would take too much time: It may or may not be easy for authors to rank their preferences of journals, but clearly it would take an impossible amount of time for every journal to rank every submission.

  In contrast, the traditional way law reviews work creates some sort of a market in scholarly works and yet is still relatively manageable. Journals that are the first to make an offer for a piece generally have an advantage in getting it (for a bunch of complicated reasons). On the other hand, authors have some limited assurance that their articles will have a chance to be considered at journals "up the food chain" during the expedite window.

  The change I am sensing over the last few years is that journals seem to be more likely to try to make quick offers, they are giving authors shorter and shorter windows to make their decisions, and at the same time they are developing the capacity to make offers on expedited reviews in a shorter window than before. The result seems to be a compression of the submission process. I wonder, are others hearing of or experiencing the same thing?

  If this is in fact happening, I worry that it is on balance a bad thing for journals. First, I suspect that the perceived advantage to individual journals is mostly illusory: Journals might want to make fast offers and give a very short window to try to limit expedites, but my guess is that other journals are likely to respond by speeding up their expedite processes accordingly. And on a broader level, I'm concerned that journals that decide extremely quickly are likely to focus even more on the proxy of author/school prestige and less on the quality of the article. It's easy to see that an article was by famous Professor X from top School Y; it generally takes a lot more time to get editors to read an article (and perhaps seek opinions from the faculty) in order to consider the article's merits in more depth. On balance, then, tighter windows would seem to make the rich richer; it may be harder for excellent articles by lesser-known authors to break in to top journals. At least that's my concern.

  In any event, I'm curious as to whether authors and editors are experiencing this. (Incidentally, one helpful point of comparison is this chart of expedite window data from 2005 via Kaimi Wenger.)

  UPDATE: To give an idea of the kind of shift I have in mind, let me offer my sense of what kinds of typical experience I think authors had five years ago. Comapring notes with friends and colleagues suggested that it was typical for authors to wait at least 2 weeks before receiving an initial offer; authors were typically given five days or a week to decide; and most journals needed five days or so to do an expedite. My sense is that these periods have shorted considerably at many journals.

  A few discussions offline have suggested a very plausible source of the shift: Electronic submissions. In the old days, it took 2 or 3 days for a submission to arrive by mail, 2 or 3 days to be opened and filed, and then editors needed copies made and distributed for an article to even be considered. To receive expedited review, an article had to have one editors give a pass, and then if she liked the article copies needed to be made and physically distributed. Electronic distribution speeds up the process dramatically; editors can get the article and distribute it instantaneously. That may be the key reason for the shift, which (if I'm right) has happened at the same time as the shift to electronic submissions.