Saturday, November 17, 2012

Law Reviews, Transaction Costs, and Elites

When it comes to law reviews there are some settled truths.Every law review editor I have spoken to assures me that authors from highly ranked schools get a first look so, quite obviously, their chances of an acceptance from a school at any level is higher that of non elite contributors. Thus, if you are not a law celeb, teaching at a very highly ranked school, or at least have the proper pedigree, when your submission arrives it goes onto a huge stack of articles and awaits its turn.  If the review fills before your article is examined, it is not reviewed at all.  And it may be weeks before you are notified.You may or may not improve your place in line if you receive an offer and ask the other reviews to expedite.

This elitist bias has always been part of the game but now the law review business seems to have another dimension that takes it down one more notch in terms or resembling a tolerable process.

This time around, I submitted two articles -- one in early August and one nearer the end of August. The first one was accepted by a mid level to higher review quite quickly although when it was I had heard nothing from any other reviews. I was not so fortunate with the other one and, before long,  I had many many submissions out. Except for a couple of quick rejections -- one from a school that published an article I was critical of and one from the school where the authors of that article teach -- there was nothing. I checked the ExpressO web site and only about 1/3 of the reviews appeared to have received the article.  ExpressO has a note that says all a law review editor has to do is push one key on the keyboard and ExpressO will list the article as received.  This replaces the postcard acknowledgement that existed when I started this business. But, if an editor or secretary does not press that key on his or her keyboard you do not know if your article is even in the stack of to-be-read offerings.

I eventually got an acceptance and submitted an "expedite" request. Again, of  the schools I asked to expedite less that 1/3 acknowledged that they  had received my request for expedited review. Thus, the vast majority of reviews did not acknowledge receipt of the article or the expedite request. In fact, the same percentage did not even reject the article.

I attribute some of this to basic rudeness that seems to get more pronounced over time. Law review editors are short timers. When you think about out, why should they invest in what amounts to an academic one night stand? On the other hand, it may also be attributed to the down side to lower transaction costs. With email and ExpressO, editors have thousands of submissions many of which outstrip any expertise they may have. Thus, while costs have gone down to authors, there is little indication that there are more efficient ways to review articles. So, when you are overwhelmed with articles, or actually most things in life, what is the inclination?  Short cuts. Thus, even more than ever before credentials and other forms of institutional authority are substituted for actual careful review. In effect, lower transactions costs have somehow made the privileged even more privileged.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a former law review editor, I'll readily confess that we took shortcuts. Remember law reviews are also ranked, usually based on the number of citations to the law review. Having an article from Prof. Big Shot -- even if it isn't terribly good -- will probably get more citations b/c all of Big Shot's friends and Big Shot himself will cite to it. An article from a less well-known professor or even a practitioner probably won't get the law review as many citations. And the irony is, the practitioner is probably the only one w/ something to say that will matter to practicing lawyers.