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Strange Law Review Stories:
Over at Concurring Opinions, Nate Oman offers a helpful reminder to law review editors: If you want to publish an article, please notify the author.
Joe Jackson:
It gets even worse than Nate Oman's example. A friend of mine once had his article published in two places, simultaneously, because a journal accepted and published it without ever contacting him. He did the usual routine of sending out 40-50 copies to a variety of journals. "Journal A" accepted the article, and they went through the normal process of editing and publishing. "Journal B" never contacted him for any reason. They simply took the (rough) draft he had sent them, published it, and 6-9 months later sent him the reprints.

Of course, neither the author nor Journal A (who then owned the rights to the article) were happy. I don't remember exactly how it was resolved, but I believe litigation was threatend. In any event, Journal B was forced to reprint that issue without the article in question. A very expensive mistake.
2.28.2008 2:55pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
To my knowledge, law is the only field in which the sort of thing that Joe Jackson describes could happen. In every other field it is considered unethical to submit a paper to more than one journal at a time. Why is law different?

I can offer one hypothesis. The obvious downside to allowing submission to multiple journals simultaneously is that more editors and referees have to read the paper. This approach increases the editorial burden on the field. Perhaps the reason that only law tolerates this burden is that law is the only field in which the journals are edited by students rather than faculty and student time is cheap? Indeed, creating work for students may be considered a virtue as it justifies having lots of people on law review.
2.28.2008 4:21pm
Wallace:
It's not like its just the students who make the mistakes. When I was a Law review editor, I think we caught two cases of authors submitting plagiarized work in one year. They weren't student authors either.
2.28.2008 5:03pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Wallace,

I wasn't suggesting that the problem is with students making mistakes. My point was that double publication could only occur if people were allowed to submit a paper to more than one journal at a time, which is allowed only in law. The relationship to students is presumably that student time is considered cheap.
2.28.2008 8:19pm
OrinKerr:
Bill Poser,

Here's what I wrote on this issue last year:
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.
2.28.2008 8:50pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Orin Kerr,

Ah, thanks. That provides an explanation for the desirability of allowing multiple submission. It seems to me that my point about students' time being cheap is still relevant in that such a system would be overly burdensome if faculty had to do the editorial work.
2.28.2008 9:20pm
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer (mail):
I once had a journal send me a letter politely explaining that it was rejecting my article. The problem was that the journal had already published the article about a year and a half earlier. I was concerned that it would print a retraction!
2.28.2008 9:34pm