May 01, 2012
Law Review Submission Process Interview
Posted by Haskell Murray

In addition to blogging about social enterprise, I plan to blog a bit about being a new law professor.  To start, I decided to interview (via e-mail) my friend Sabrina Ursaner about something important to law professors – the law review submission process.  The focus will be on the article selection process of corporate law specialty journals, though much of Sabrina's advice can be applied more broadly. 

Currently, Sabrina is an M&A associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell.  She also clerked for former-Chancellor William B. Chandler III of the Delaware Court of Chancery.  I met Sabrina when I was clerking for former-Vice Chancellor Stephen P. Lamb and she was an intern for the court.

Sabrina was the Editor-in-Chief of the NYU Journal of Law & Business from 2009-2010 and was actively involved in the article selection process.  My interview mimics, in some respects, the helpful series of posts/interviews on PrawfsBlawg by Professor Shima Baradaran. Despite the wealth of information on PrawfsBlawg, I thought that Sabrina’s advice might be of interest to Glom readers because corporate law specialty journals do some things differently than generalist journals.

The interview is below the fold.

1. Please provide the readers with a brief description of the NYU Journal of Law & Business (“JLB”).

The JLB is a specialty journal at NYU focusing on law and business, as its title suggests.  The journal has two main functions: (1) it publishes 2 issues a year – generally one fall issue around November/December and one spring or summer issue depending on the publication schedule that year, and (2) it holds an annual symposium in January and publishes edited transcripts of the symposium proceedings in the spring/summer issue. 

Each issue contains academic articles (written by law professors), practitioner pieces (written by practicing lawyers, whether in private practice, government, etc.), and student notes (written by JLB students who participate in the journal’s note-writing program).  The juxtaposition of academic pieces with practitioner pieces helps keep the JLB at the cutting edge of law and business, and focused on issues that are not only interesting areas of the law, but hot topics that are evolving today.   

Also, while the JLB is student-run, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our fantastic faculty advisors, including former-Chancellor William Allen and Professor Marcel Kahan, whose advice and support have helped make the journal what it is today.  In addition, Dean Revesz and the NYU Law administration are extremely supportive of all of the Law School's journals, providing funding, space for events, publicity, encouragement, and more.  

2. Please briefly explain the JLB’s law review article submission process.

The JLB takes a somewhat more pragmatic and flexible approach to the review process than what I’ve heard about some law review selection processes.  The JLB board has four executive editors: academic articles, practitioner notes, submissions and selection, and student notes.  All four of them, plus the EIC, receive Expresso emails and submissions that go to the [email protected]email address.  Often practitioner pieces don’t come through the usual channels, but somehow they need to get into the hands of those five (the EIC and the four executive editors).  Generally each executive editor is responsible for managing the review process for his “type” of article, and the “submissions and selection” editor keeps track of submissions and offers and generally helps out with the review process.  The EIC plus the four executive editors essentially make up the entire review committee.  If any of the five likes an article, that person forwards it to the others to review.  If an additional person likes it but the group is on the fence, the article is assigned to a committee to read.  A committee read may not be necessary if the EIC and executive editors are all in agreement and feel strongly that they want to make an offer.  The process can range from a few days or less to several weeks depending on the article.

3. I see your submission deadlines are 9/15 and 1/15 for your two issues, when is the ideal time of the year to submit to JLB? 

Those aren’t hard deadlines.  The dates are actually pretty flexible (particularly the 1/15 deadline for the spring issue), but it is certainly true that most of the fall articles are selected before 9/15.  The typical March submission flood is generally where we fill our fall issue (the academic articles at least).  Because the JLB focuses on timely pieces that often relate to recent cases or regulatory events (i.e. the Volcker rule, recent Delaware rulings by the Court of Chancery that may be on appeal), it often makes sense for us to wait until a bit later in the summer to fill the fall issue, but we try to get at least a few articles nailed down from the March submissions.  I think the best time to submit is late March or April, but I’d say really anytime through June or even early July is still worth a shot.  For the spring/summer issue, articles are accepted all fall, but there are often last minute opportunities so unlike typical law reviews that have a set number of articles, it’s worth contacting the editors to see if the issues are full. 

4. Approximately how many submissions does your journal receive each year?  Approximately how many offers are given? 

In the last 4 years, we have received approximately 400-500 submissions each year, and we’ve made offers to approximately 2-5% of those.  Those are generally unsolicited submissions from ExpressO and sent to the submissions email address.

We also directly solicit some of the articles we publish (particularly the practitioner pieces – i.e., if we see a recent client memo or blog post that seems interesting, we may contact the author and ask if they are interested in turning it into a short article or piece for the JLB).  For example, Bradley Sabel and Gregg Rozansky published an article based in part on client memoranda about the Volcker Rule, and Francis Pileggi and Kevin Brady published an article based on a few of their “Key Delaware Corporate and Commercial Decisions” blog posts.

5. How important is the cover letter/CV and how can a candidate help his or her chances through the cover letter/CV?

Extremely important – the cover letter is literally the most important part of the submission, because with a weak or poorly written cover letter, your article probably will not be seen.  Interestingly, I saw an interview with a past EIC of Stanford Law Review who mentioned that their committee’s review process is blind.  The JLB’s process is quite the opposite – it is clear from ExpressO and email submissions who the author is, and the CV and cover letter were always the first thing we opened.  They gave a glimpse into the article and often were what caught our attention to focus on a particular article.  In addition, if we didn’t know the author submitting the paper, the CV gave us quick insight into their career and past publications.

6. What did you look for in an article and author?

Personally, the very first thing I looked for was a good title – usually because it was in the subject of the email.  A good title could make a submission jump to the top of my reading list in an otherwise full email inbox. 

Cover letter is next.  I read every single cover letter that was submitted.  That is your one page chance to quickly summarize the article in a sentence or two, explain why would it be a good fit for the JLB, and tell us why we should publish it.  Some cover letters went out of their way to explain why they thought a specialty journal was a good fit, and even personalized it to the JLB – that’s a great move.  Some had obvious typos and seemed to have been thrown together hastily – even if your article is amazing, that’s a surefire way not to get it seen.

Substantively, what do we look for in articles?  Interesting, relevant topics.  Recent developments in Delaware case law.  Hot issues in corporate governance.  Deal trends in the M&A world.  Cross-border issues.  Federal securities law.  SEC and financial crisis-related rulemaking.  The list goes on.  

As far as the writing, once you make it past that initial screening (topic, cover letter, etc.), we basically looked for articles that we could comfortably work with.  Here’s an example of what I mean by that – the footnotes don’t have to be perfect (that’s what the cite-checking process is for), there is no drop-dead length that is too short or too long, and we expect to see at least a few substantive issues that we would want to work through with the author.  But on the whole, we are fairly deferential on substance and author writing preferences/style, so while we do give substantive and big picture edits in addition to line edits, the writing has to be such that it would not require a significant reworking of the article before we would be happy publishing it.

7. What are some of the shortcuts used to identify good articles?  

 One quick shortcut for me was when we received a request for expedited review because the article had received an offer from another journal.  Bare requests for expedition generally didn’t help (i.e., just saying that you have another offer).  If, however, the expedition request specified that the article had received an offer from one of our peer or competitive journals (i.e., a different business journal), we generally would immediately skim it and decide whether it was worth sending to committee read or whether we wanted to make an offer.  I always carefully reviewed articles that had received offers from the Delaware Journal of Corporate Law, the U. Penn. Journal of Business Law, Columbia Business Law Review, and a number of other corporate and business journals (U.C. Davis, Northwestern, several others that I’m sure I’m forgetting here…).

8. How did law professor blogging factor into your decision making process, if at all? 

I would say that law prof blogging does factor into the decision-making process, and that a blogging presence definitely helps.  For example, you asked about shortcuts we use to identify good articles – one easy shortcut is if we already know the author and are familiar with his/her writing and topics of interest. 

Actually, I have a funny story about this that relates to one of the Conglomerate bloggers!   The year I was EIC, we received a submission from Afra Afsharipour.  I believe she was guest blogging on the Glom at the time, and right around the time we received the submission, I had just read a few of her posts and was already interested in the paper.  We made an offer in a matter of days, and she may not remember this, but I recall emailing with Afra about her blogging presence because I had really enjoyed one of her posts!  In the end, she received an offer to workshop the paper, and I’m not sure where it was ultimately published, but it was one of the articles we really tried hard to get.

In short, I think blogging is a great way for professors – especially junior professors – to get their names and ideas out there.

9. Any final thoughts for us?

Two points I would urge professors to think about when considering whether to publish in a generalist journal versus a specialty journal (in this case, business and corporate journals, but I think these factors would apply to other specialty journals as well for professors in those areas of law):

One, readers of journals like the JLB tend to be regular readers because of their business focus, and thus they make an excellent audience for academics who want to use scholarly journals as a way to affect the professional discourse.

Two, the students on these journals (often) have a specific interest in the subject matter that you are writing on.  While law reviews and other generalist journals may take one or two corporate articles per issue or per year, business journals are only looking for those types of articles, on a wide range of corporate topics.  When I was EIC, we tried to assign editing responsibilities based in part on the interests of the student editors, and in my experience, that helped keep students personally engaged in the editing process.

Obviously, there are numerous reasons to publish in a generalist journal as well – these are just two considerations to keep in mind, particularly for one-off articles that may be too narrowly-focused for a law review but may be well-suited for a specialty business journal.

10. Thank you for sharing with us, Sabrina.  I found it very helpful and I am sure the readers did as well. 

Thanks for having me!  I’m a big fan of the Glom, so this has been fun.

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