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Law Review Publication -- Main at #40 School, or Specialty at #10 School?

People often ask me: Is it better to publish in the main journal at a school ranked, say, #40 in the U.S. News rankings, or in a specialty journal at a school ranked about #10? Of course, they also keep asking me this about, say, #100 main vs. #30 specialty, and so on.

One possibility is to look at the Washington & Lee law library citation rankings, but I'm not sure how helpful that it is -- it might reflect the quality of the articles the journal publishes, but authors tend to care more about the journal's reputation. They want to know what will look better on their resume, and what will help the article get noticed when it's one of twenty articles that comes up in a Westlaw or Lexis search. And that turns mostly on what the public thinks of the journal, not on what the citation counts say.

Another possibility is that this varies considerably from field to field -- for instance, my sense is that specialty journals are considered especially reputable in international law -- so I advise students to ask a professor who works in the field.

Another possibility is not to worry so much about these things, and to focus instead on the likely quality of students who'll be editing the piece: Students who are interested in the specialty and are at the #10 law school will, on average, do a better job than students who aren't that interested in the specialty and are at the #40 law school (is that so?).

Anything more helpful I should tell students? Is this even an answerable question?

anonVCfan:
Depends on what you want out of the article beyond a line on the resume.

If you just want the resume line, I think that the fact that this is even a tough question implies that #40 main is roughly equivalent to #10 specialty in terms out outward prestige.

If you want a broad audience to read your article, then main is probably better. For example, if your article is about jurisprudence, civil procedure, civil rights, or something with a more general appeal, it might get lost in a specialty journal.

If your article is more "inside baseball," then specialty is probably better. For example, if you write a good article on patent law, I think patent practitioners might be more likely to see it if it lands in a Harvard or Berkeley specialty journal than if it lands in the main law review of a #40ish school.

Generally speaking, I think it's a wash, otherwise.
6.7.2007 2:14pm
steve lubet (mail):
an important question is how quickly it will get into print. many specialty journals publish only 2-3 times per year, so the cycle is often longer (depending on when the piece was accepted) and delays can mount up.
6.7.2007 2:35pm
frankcross (mail):
They want to know what will look better on their resume, and what will help the article get noticed when it's one of twenty articles that comes up in a Westlaw or Lexis search. And that turns mostly on what the public thinks of the journal, not on what the citation counts say.

This seems a little inconsistent. The citation counts would seem to be a pretty good proxy for what "will help the article get noticed with it's one of twenty articles that comes up in a Westlaw or Lexis search." As for perception, I sure that varies greatly. IMHO, a top 40 generalist journal would beat most specialty journals, though not all. Lower, maybe not.
6.7.2007 2:40pm
ATRGeek:
One tip is to look at some professors in that field and see where they have published. You can do this more or less randomly, or try to identify specific professors who are considered prominent in that field. If a significant number of professors have published something in the relevant specialty journal, I think that is a pretty good indication about its reputation in the field.
6.7.2007 2:45pm
Justin (mail):
In the WL/LEXIS age, other than a few particular journals (speficially, the main law reviews of Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Columbia) - and a few particular issues (ie, a patent piece in American's federal circuit issue), its going to be read based on hits and how good the piece is. So the true answer is it doesn't matter, if the goal is to influence the public atmosphere and be read by people in the field.

But if all else is equal, and you just care about building an academic resume, go for the principle law journal over a subject-specialty law journal, with a few very obvious exceptions (ie, a conservative law piece in Harvard's FedSoc journal, or an international law piece in Virginia or Columbia's journals). Still, you're going to be judged when applying for jobs and clerkships based on the reviewer's thoughts about the piece, not the publisher's.
6.7.2007 2:56pm
dip:
It is wrong to assume that students on specialty journals care about the subject matter.
6.7.2007 3:42pm
Hanah Volokh (mail) (www):
Dip is right. Many students want that "law review" line on their resume and will work for any journal that will have them. However, students working on a secondary journal will have more experience editing articles in that field than students on a main journal. For instance, my classmates on The Tax Lawyer may or may not have any interest in tax law, but they know how to find a citation in the I.R.C. My classmates on The Georgetown Journal of International Law will know the proper bluebook citation for any treaty you want to cite, but they might not care at all about international law as a field of study or practice.
6.7.2007 3:49pm
3L:
I came to say what's already been observed: It's a mistake to think that most of the students working on the product actually care about the articles, specialty article or none. We just want our resume line and to be done. The entire premise of a journal is exchanging hundreds of hours of busywork for a good resume line. It's a system that works, but let's not call it anything other than what it is.
6.7.2007 4:52pm
Country lawyer:
"The entire premise of a journal is exchanging hundreds of hours of busywork for a good resume line. It's a system that works . . . ."

I don't think it works particularly well. I guess this is an issue for another post, but I'd like to sneak in a general comment about having students at the reins of legal scholarship. I was articles editor on a main law review at a 20ish ranked school, and, looking back, I don't believe I had a great idea of what made a useful article (useful either for practitioners or academics). Reviewing hundreds of submissions, I felt I was often sort of guessing at what articles would make important contributions to the literature (and garner citations). I did the best I could, but a peer review would have been much better.
6.7.2007 5:27pm
Miguel Schor:
When it comes to comparative law, specialty journals are highly regarded. Both the American Journal of Comparative Law and the International Journal of Constitutional Law are peer reviewed and very, very good. An article placed in either of those journals will likely have more impact than one placed in most mainstream journals.
6.7.2007 7:39pm
mls:
I think the best advice is to consider your audience. Say you've written a feminist critique of a rule of evidence. Are you trying to reach those interested in feminist legal theory? If so, pick the Yale Journal of Law &Feminism. Or are you trying to reach evidence scholars, to convince them to take a fresh look at their field? If so, go for the general journal.
6.7.2007 10:45pm
AnonyLawyer (mail):
In almost all worlds, save a few international journals and harvard's CR-CL journal I think that a top 40 flagship trumps a #10 specialty. I actually had a very similar situation this last cycle. I got a #6 specialty offer and passed on it for a 30ish flagship. From talking with lots of professors both before and after, I have no question I made the right decision.
6.7.2007 10:47pm
Thaddeus Pope (mail):
The answer will be different for different law students/authors.

The question seems analogous to the question of whether to attend the #10 USNWR school or the #40 one. The answer depends on the specific objectives of the particular student. For example, does #40 offer in-state tuition and will the saved $60,000 be material? Does the student want to practice locally where the law school is located?

Here, in order to answer the journal placement question, one must ask the author to reflect on why she is publishing the article. Who is the intended audience? Ask that audience (e.g. the partner from your 2d year summer associateship) how they perceive the relative value of journals.
6.8.2007 11:58am
Guest101:

Students who are interested in the specialty and are at the #10 law school will, on average, do a better job than students who aren't that interested in the specialty and are at the #40 law school (is that so?).

I'm not sure that this is so. In my experience, which includes having transferred from a high-30s ranked school to a Top 5 school, there isn't as much variance in the top 10% of the class between the top of the first tier and the bottom of the first tier as one might expect. That is to say, the Law Review kids are going to be anal-retentive gunners at both schools-- not that there's anything wrong with that. Meanwhile, the non-Law Review kids at the Top 10 school are going to be, well, the ones who didn't make Law Review. They'll no doubt do a good job (I was on a non-Law Review journal myself at my transfer school), but I don't think it's necessarily safe to assume that they're going to be better editors than the Law Review staff at the # 40 school. And I'm not sure the fact that they are, presumably, more interested in the subject matter of the journal is going to make a lot of difference to the quality of editing, unless the author is expecting the journal staff to make a lot of substantive changes to the work, which, in my experience, authors tend (rightly) to resist.
6.8.2007 12:01pm