Ask Law Review Lara:

Over the years, I've thought and written quite a bit about law reviews, from the perspective of academic authors, student authors, editors, cite-checkers, would-be members, and more. So I thought it might be helpful to revive the Ask Law Review Lara column.

If you have questions — again, whether you're a student, a lawyer, or professor, whether you're on law review or want to get on law review, or whatever else — just pass them along to me at volokh at I can't be sure that I can answer all your questions, but I'd like to give them a shot.

I hope to answer most questions on-blog, though I'll be happy to exclude your name and the name of your school or journal. (That will be the default, unless you ask me otherwise.) I may also post some of the answers on the support page for my Academic Legal Writing book.

Law Review Lara -- Little People in the Big Journals:

A reader writes, responding to Law Review Lara's offer of advice about all things law review:

I'm an aspiring law professor and hoping to publish another article this Spring and be at the "meatmarket" next Fall. I'm currently a clerk for a federal appellate court judge and have a few published works under my belt. My last article was published in a general law review, but one that is in the lower portion of the top 100 (using the [U.S. News & World Report] rankings). I'm hoping to do a bit better this time around, but am wondering if that is even realistic. So, these are my questions for you:

How high up the law journal ladder can a non-Supreme Court clerk really expect to publish?

Well, the answer is "depends on how appealing the article is." A quick search revealed that in 2003, the Yale Law Journal published an article by someone who wasn't a professor, Judge, or other legal celebrity: Daniel J. Sharfstein's The Secret History of Race in the United States, an article that seems to be about defamation lawsuits over allegations that someone is black. A few months ago, the NYU Law Review likewise published Camille Gear Rich's Performing Racial and Ethnic Identity: Discrimination by Proxy and the Future of Title VII.

Randy Kozel is having a piece on free speech and government employment published in the Northwestern Law Review; Nick Rosenkranz recently had a second piece accepted by the Harvard Law Review (this one on constitutional law and treaties), after having published another piece in the Harvard Law Review on statutory interpretation a couple of years ago. Kozel and Rosenkranz are Supreme Court clerks (future in one case, past in the other), but that probably doesn't make that huge a difference to law review editorial boards, though it might make some difference; and Sharfstein and Rich aren't Supreme Court clerks. And these are just the pieces Lara found with a few quick searches, plus her own knowledge.

Now this having been said, it's of course not easy to get a piece placed at a top journal if you aren't a professor -- but it's not easy to get a piece placed there even if you are a professor, either. The trick is to make your piece as appealing as possible, and not to give up hope (for instance, not to shortchange yourself by failing to submit to the top journals).

Which brings up the reader's next question:

What can an author do to appeal to, or even get the attention of, some of the more well-regarded journals (beyond playing the expedited review game)? For my last article, I was unsure if any of the top 50 journals were even giving my my piece a look after having over ten offers from lower ranked journals and requesting expedited review.

One top journal sent me a rejection letter seemingly before the piece could have even arrived at their door.

Lara's advice, which by sheer coincidence also appears in her friend Eugene Volokh's Academic Legal Writing:
  1. Include a cover letter that briefly pitches the article, and tries to persuade law review editors that this is an important, novel, and useful piece that will get lots of citations.

  2. Polish your article carefully before sending it out; even if law review editors don't know the subject matter well enough to spot the doctrinal flaws, they'll quickly spot the writing flaws.
  3. Especially polish the Introduction, which is the most important part of any article.
  4. Send the article as broadly as possible -- 100 journals, not 15 -- and shop it up aggressively.
And, most importantly, don't sweat the rankings too much. Most articles by most serious scholars aren't published in Top 20 general-interest journals, especially if the articles are on important but unsexy topics such as tax law, insurance law, corporate law, and so on. Law schools won't expect you to have Top 20 publications; and they'll pay much more attention to the quality and quantity of your work than to placement, which they realize depends on the fads and fancies gripping law review editors.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Law Review Lara Poses a Question to You:
  2. Law Review Lara Hears from Yale:
  3. Law Review Lara -- Little People in the Big Journals:
  4. Ask Law Review Lara:
Law Review Lara Hears from Yale:

Last week, a reader asked Law Review Lara whether The Little People can ever get to publish in Top 20 journals. Lara answered yes, though it's hard even for well-established lawprofs to get placed there, and there is some discrimination (though not 100% rejection) facing authors who aren't lawprofs, judges, or other notables.

Adam Sofen from the Yale Law Journal reported on that journal's policy, which Lara's contacts say is similar to the one at the Harvard Law Review (though I believe not at most other Top 20 journals):

[H]ere at the Yale Law Journal, article submissions are typically reviewed blind -- meaning that the voting members of the committee usually don't know the name of the author nor his or her institutional affiliations until after the piece is voted on. Moreover, all pieces are sent, blind, to faculty member for review before acceptance. One exception is that if a piece comes from younger, untenured faculty member, the person floating the article will often disclose that fact -- as a point in their favor.

Of the first four issues we've published this year, our non-student authors come from the following schools: Cardozo (3), George Mason (2), Chicago (1), George Washington (1), Iowa (1), NYU (1), Wash U-St. Louis (1), Yale (1). . . . No non-professor authors, but if we got a good piece, we'd be thrilled to publish it. . . .

I think the biggest advantage that brand-name law professors have in the selection process is not that law reviews are dying to publish yet another piece by, say, Cass Sunstein, but that . . . professors who publish time and again come to have a clear idea of how to present their pieces so as to appeal to law review editors. That goes for everything from the organization of ideas to the formatting on the page. Practice, unsurprisingly, helps. . . .

The anonymity is not complete, at least at Yale:

Each member of the [articles or essays] committee gets his or her share of the stack each week, and chooses one or two pieces to float to the whole committee at twice-weekly meetings. They have discretion about which pieces to float -- it's possible some members could be using name and school to help sort, but . . . it was my experience that most committee members had no preference for established authors, and some preference for novice ones. The only exception is that, by tradition, Yale faculty members get automatic floats. (This is an advantage but not an overwhelming one, and there were many, many Yale pieces we didn't take this year.)

Moreover, the anonymity may be relaxed when an expedite request is submitted; that's what I'm told happens, at least in some measure, at the Harvard Law Review, for instance, I'm told that people do know the author's identity once one sends in a request for an expedited review. Moreover, sometimes an article may reveal the author's identity in various hard-to-obscure ways. Nonetheless, my sense is that both the Yale Law Journal and the Harvard Law Review try hard to make the process as anonymous as possible, and do indeed publish people from relatively low-ranked schools.

Also, some people have theorized that Yale, Harvard, and the like won't even look at an article until they get a request for an expedited review -- i.e., until the article has already been accepted at some other journal. Not so, says Mr. Sofen, and my Harvard contact confirms that this so there, too. Sofen writes:

The committee members try to attend to pieces in approximately the order they come in the door. Expedites do typically get pieces a second look, but by the middle of April or so, virtually every piece of any quality has some kind of expedite attached, so that's not much help. The top-20 journals have shorter expedite periods, of course, so those force themselves on your attention faster. But, really, the only way to deal with the crush is (1) to spend an enormous, enormous amount of time reading submissions, (2) to learn to read quickly, and (3) to begin to figure out what sort of pieces won't clear the bar, period. For example, we get a not-inconsiderable number of submissions that deal with the laws of individual states. It's not plausible that YLJ is going to publish, say, a roundup of recent family-law decisions in Arizona, so the editors don't spend much time with those sorts of pieces. But people persist in sending us reams of them.

Law Review Lara Poses a Question to You:

A reader asked Lara:

How frequently do law review editors seek guidance from members of their law faculty when they are trying to decide whether or not to accept an article for publication? I am particularly interested in the practices at top schools.

I am told by sources at Harvard and Yale that the general journals at those schools always ask faculty members to review articles. I know that Stanford sometimes does, and that UCLA very rarely does.

I'd love to know what other journals do -- if you have personal knowledge of how this practice operates on a journal, could you please post the name of the journal and its practice in the comments? Please don't include arguments about what's the best approach, complaints about journals, lawyer jokes, suggestions on how I can make money fa$t, or whatever else in the comments; to make the comments useful, they should just include the name of the journal and a brief summary of its practice. Thanks!