September 06, 2009
Law Review Reform: Charging for Submissions?
Posted by Darian Ibrahim

It’s (still) that time of year, so of course we need another post on the law review submission process! I’m not going to argue for abandoning student-run reviews for peer review journals or any of the usual fare. Instead, my post is about improving the selection process for students in light of an unprecedented number of submissions brought on by more authors, writing more, and submitting everywhere thanks to ExpressO.

Don’t get me wrong, I love ExpressO, but it's made it so easy and virtually costless for everyone to submit everywhere that we’ve created a mess for the students. The sheer number of submissions is overwhelming. Just figuring out what to read is half the articles editor’s battle (I’ve seen a journal’s ExpressO page – mind-boggling). Because it’s likely that too many submissions = some great submissions not being read, it seems that an admirable goal would be to reduce the number of submissions to reasonable levels again. But how do we do that? Here’s one suggestion: law reviews could start charging for submissions. For example, $50 to submit to the Harvard Law Review.

Before addressing obvious objections, let me note that charging for submissions is not unprecedented by any means. Peer reviews charge for submissions, and law school admissions offices charge you to apply, too. It’s the economic argument for taxing cigarettes to reduce consumption. A tax on law review submissions will drive down volume by causing authors to limit submissions to reviews where they have a realistic shot at publication. Because journals will receive fewer submissions, authors in that journal’s pool have a better chance at getting their articles read. Market forces would set the correct fees based on supply and demand. Those fees would constitute wealth transfers from faculty to students, and could allow students to create public interest scholarships or look for other ways to ease current economic burdens.

Now for the objections. The most obvious objection is that some authors are at wealthier schools, leading to the possibility of buying better placements. I’m at a state school, so I understand the concern. But if market forces keep fees reasonable (i.e., so the reviews ensure they continue to have a sufficient number of high-quality submissions), perhaps you’d see fees around say $50. $50 x 50 journals is $2,500, not out of the realm of possibility, and that’s a large number of submissions in the world I envision. Second, would authors be stuck in the sorts of journals they're placing in now, for better or worse? I don't think so. In fact, I think authors would have a better chance of moving up the totem pole because proxies such as school name wouldn't be as important with fewer submissions to sort through. Everyone in a review's pool would have a better chance of being read, increasing the chances that truly good content without the usual proxies could get its due. Sure there are problems with charging for submissions, and I’m prepared to be flogged in the comments. But perhaps the flogging could be accompanied by alternative solutions that address the sorting problem? Comments from student editors, the ones who actually do the sorting, are especially welcome.

P.S. An obvious sorting mechanism I don't talk about is expedites, but from the editors I've spoken with, these are less useful than in the past. Editors might not want to spend their time looking through expedites from who knows where, so instead look for alternative sorting mechanisms, such as faculty input.

[UPDATE: Sorry, comments were mistakenly closed. They should be open now.]

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