May 17, 2005
Women Scholars and the HLR
Posted by Christine Hurt

My colleague Eric sent me this article to make me feel better about not having published in the Harvard Law Review (yet).  This article, written by three graduating HLS seniors, includes gender and race information on both the staffs of the HLR and the authors.  In volumes 116, 117, and 118, out of 93 authors, only 16 of those authors were women (17.2%).  (As a point of reference, the 2003 AALS statistics show that women make up 25.2% of full law professors, 46.1% of associate professors and 50.1% of assistant professors.) 

Worse for me, most of the pieces authored by women were solicited.  Of the pieces published that were received through the submission process, only two of the published pieces were written by women.  (However, the piece does not say overall how many pieces are published that are received through the submission process.  If only two unsolicited pieces a year are published, and one is by a woman, that's a different story than 5 to 1.)

The article makes a starker point about race though; out of the 93 pieces published, only six were authored by someone who is not white.

The article lists one author as "an international author."  I guess in other countries, they neither have gender nor race?

One last note.  According to the HLR website, the HLR has an anonymous selection process.  I would like to hear from someone who knows that to be the case in pratice.  How do expedite requests affect the anonymity?  Obviously, if the selection process is truly anonymous, these numbers would be interesting and lead to more questions.

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Comments (6)

1. Posted by John Steele on May 17, 2005 @ 12:40 | Permalink

Interesting study. Does HLR publish more pieces by established (i.e., older) professors? Does the study deal with age and seniority at all?


2. Posted by CBH on May 18, 2005 @ 7:50 | Permalink

I'm not familiar with the expedite process, but I had several friends who were editors of HLR a few years back and can confirm that at least the initial rounds of the selection process are anonymous. Pieces are given to first year editors with the name of the author (and other identifying information) blacked out, and the first year editor reads the peice and writes a memo to the articles committe either recommending the piece or not. I beleive the article and the memo are then read by a member of the articles committee, and that's about all I know.


3. Posted by Nate Oman on May 18, 2005 @ 9:19 | Permalink

I am a former HLR editor and was a member of the Articles Committee. My understanding is that the basic selection process at HLR is not a big secret. It is very cumbersome and goes like this:

1. An article comes in the door. HLR gets a truely enormous number of articles a surprisingly large number of which are by crack pots or are obviously unsuited for publication in the Review. Hence, the initial stack of articles is reviewed by a member of the articles committee, who weeds out articles that have no chance at all. Few articles are rejected in this manner and they are generally bizarre constitutional manifestos written by people who live in compounds in Montana or identify themselves as professional Marxist revolutionaries.

2. An editor -- not necessarily a first year -- is then given a blind copy of the manuscript, reads it, and writes a memo summariziing it. The manuscript and memo is then returned to the Articles Committee (formally known as the ABC Office).

3. Some of these articles are then selected for a commmittee read. The decision for a a committee read is generally made by the Articles Editor, Commentary Editor, Book Review Editor, or ABC Editor, although committee reads can also be institigated by other members of the committee. All members of the committee read the article for the committee read and we would then sit around and talk about the article for a very long time and vote.

4. An article that got a successful committee read would then go to what was called an O-read. All HLR editors can participate in an O-read, provided that they first read the article. The O-Read consists of a large meeting in which the article is discussed (frequently ad nauseum) and then voted on. Articles accepted at O-read are accepted for publication. In preperation for the O-Read an editor would prepare a pre-emption memo for the participants. Also, the Articles committee would send a copy of the article to one or more faculty readers who would write a response to the article. These responses are kept strictly confidential and are used solely for deliberation at the O-read. Furthermore, faculty reads are solicited from professors all over the country, not merely those at Harvard. The faculty reader has no vote or final say in the article selection process, but simply provides a data point in the student debate.

It is a long cumbersome process that was sometimes modified by extraordinary circumstances, but on the whole we tried very hard to stick with it and would pass-up pieces with exploding offers from other journals -- Columbia was particularlly fond of this device -- when it would require that we short circuit our process.


4. Posted by anon on May 18, 2005 @ 11:59 | Permalink

Nate Oman's description of the selection process is accurate, although my recollection is that faculty reviewers' comments were usually oral rather than written (a function of how much time faculty were willing to devote to the process). As for anonymity:

1. At least as of 2000, and I think even now, the HLR did review articles anonymously until the O-read stage -- at which point the author's name usually became known.

2. Expedited review requests partially undermine anonymity: a few editors managing the selection process would learn the author's name, but during early and middle review stages the editors reading an article would usually not learn the name. When anonymity was breached, the author's sex would usually be known (from clues in the name), but his or her race probably would not be known.

3. An interesting question is whether the disparity in publication rates between male and female authors correllates in any way with an editorial preference for or against certain fields. For example, if the HLR tends to publish many articles in field X, and very few in field Y, are men and women disproportinally active in fields X or Y?


5. Posted by Christine on May 18, 2005 @ 15:57 | Permalink

Nate & Oman -- Thanks for the inside scoop. Others have suggested via email that the gender breakdown may have much to do with article topic, which leads to different, but very interesting, questions.

I am interested to know how many pieces are published each year through the submissions process (unsolicited). Do either of you know an estimate?


6. Posted by Nate Oman on May 19, 2005 @ 11:17 | Permalink

There are are two issues -- the Supreme Court issue and the Symposium Issue -- that consist almost entirely of solicited pieces (the symposium issue will sometimes contain some unsolicited pieces). Almost all of the book reviews are solicited. Occasionally, the Review will also publishe commemorative articles on some recently departed luminary. These are all solicited. Furthermore, the Recent Developments issue is given over mainly to some very long student written pieces. In addition, the HLR contains a very large number of student written notes and case comments. (To give you some idea, I published two case comments and note while on HLR.) IOW, a large percentage of each volume consists of solicited pieces or student written pieces. IMHO (which is worth less than you are paying for it), I think that HLR would be better off if they published fewere solicited pieces.

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