Monday, October 1, 2007

The Best (i.e., Most Prestigious/High Profile) Academic Publishers in Law?

A couple of times in the last few months, scholars elsewhere have asked me my impressions as to the best presses with which to publish a scholarly monograph in law (not a casebook or treatise).  Having been asked enough, and not being entirely confident in my sense of things on this score, I thought it might be useful to open a thread on this question.

My impression is that the top four publishers for legal monographs are (in alphabetical order):  Harvard University Press; Oxford University Press; University of Chicago Press; and Yale University Press.  Cambridge University Press and Princeton University also strike me as very good.  I don't have the sense of any other publisher as on a par with these six in terms of the quality and importance of their catalogues.  Obviously important books appear elsewhere, so this is just a comment on the general quality of a press's catalogue of books related to law.

It bears emphasizing that the list of desireable publishers is affected by subject-matter.  For example, University of North Carolina Press is an extremely important publisher of work in legal history.  So, too, Oxford University Press clearly dominates publishing in legal philosophy, though a significant number of important titles also appear with Cambridge (but very few with the American presses).  If there are other areas where there are particular presses of importance, I hope scholars in those fields will note that in the comments.

No anonymous postings; please post only once.  Comments may take awhile to appear.

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Over on Leiter Law School Blog, Brian contemplates which are the top (most prestigious/high profile) academic publishers in law. He posits that Harvard, Oxford, Chicago, Yale, Cambridge, and Princeton (in no particular order) are the top presses and th... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 2, 2007 3:57:18 PM


In terms of international law, Oxford is clearly the most prestigious, with Cambridge being a close -- but not too close -- second.

Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Oct 1, 2007 3:28:06 PM

A question- I had heard that Cambridge has closed down its Cambridge studies in Philosophy and Law series. Is this true? Despite the outrageous prices (even for paperbacks!) of the series my experience was that anything in that series was much more likely than not to be very good. I had more faith in it than other publishers simply because it seemed that few bad books came out in that line. But, if Cambridge has shut it down then I'd guess this would lower their place a fair amount.

Posted by: Matt | Oct 1, 2007 8:12:18 PM

I am hardly an impartial respondent to Matt's question, since my edited book "Objectivity in Law and Morals" was published in this Cambridge series back in 2001 (and released in paperback this year). That being said...

The series has ended, and it was of somewhat uneven quality. There were some excellent monographs--e.g., Murphy and Hampton's "Forgiveness and Mercy," Fischer & Ravizza's "Responsibility and Control" and Edmundson's "Three Anarchical Fallacies"--as well as some very good collections, such as Duff's on philosophy of criminal law and Kraus and Walt's on "The Jurisprudential Foundations of Corporate and Commercial Law." One of the final volumes in the series was Larry Laudan's hugely important book on "Truth, Error, and Criminal Law."

But the series was uneven, and a lot of the volumes probably should not have had a CUP imprint.

Note that CUP has started a new "introductory" series of volumes on law and philosophy, being edited by William Edmundson. That series looks to be off to a good start.

Posted by: Brian | Oct 1, 2007 8:23:53 PM

UVA Press has a very strong series in "Constitutionalism and Democracy":

Posted by: C. Zorn | Oct 2, 2007 10:29:20 AM

The UVA series looks to be more heavily populated with political scientists than legal scholars; my guess is its profile is higher among the former.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Oct 2, 2007 10:52:16 AM

It is important not to get too hung up on ranking these presses. As an author, what you especially want to find is an editor who is as enthusiastic about your book as you are, and will push it. Among high quality academic presses, you're better off at the front of the list of any of a dozen presses, than at the bottom of a long list of books published by another. Presses don't promote all books equally, and your editor will play a crucial role in the way your book is positioned.

To get a sense of this, if you have sparked interest on the part of a couple of presses, and you are trying to decide which will be best, ask the editors what sort of market they think there is for your book. What sort of first print run do they think their press might do? How would they promote your book?

Many academic press books sell very few copies (under 2000). If you are in this category, you still have something of great value: a book, which is often the most effective way to extend your scholarly impact beyond the legal academy. If your book has the potential to reach a broader audience, you should pay at least as much attention to the editor, and her take on your book's potential, as to the press and its general reputation.

On specific presses: Harvard is also excellent in history, publishing many prizewinning books. Brian is right that North Carolina has a suburb legal history list. My sense is that the press does its best at promoting those books that relate to the strengths in their overall catalog (U.S. history, Southern history, civil rights history). Other presses can be very good choices, particularly if your book is a good fit with their overall catalog (e.g. California and Duke). In history, pay attention to divisions within a press (e.g. the Belknap imprint at Harvard, which is for history that can reach a trade audience), and look for special series (e.g. Politics and Society in 20th Century America at Princeton). Extra promotion, and sometimes more extensive editorial attention, can come from being part of a series.

There have been some good blog posts on book publishing advice -- some links are here: I will do more on book proposal writing sometime soon on the legal history blog.

Posted by: Mary Dudziak | Oct 2, 2007 1:08:40 PM

There's something to what Mary Dudziak says, if things are more or less equal in terms of the press. But it would be imprudent to turn down, e.g., Oxford for NYU Press just because the NYU Press editor is sweet-talking you. (And if s/he is sweet-talking you, do get the sweet talk into the book contract!) There are few university law libraries that aren't going to purchase everything that Oxford publishes; there are plenty that pick and choose from the catalogues of the less established presses.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Oct 2, 2007 1:16:54 PM

I agree with your big four presses, Brian, but I would strongly endorse Hart Publishing as a fifth big press. I have been nothing short of impressed with terrific work in law published by Hart. Antony Duff, et al's three volume work (with the third on its way) "The Trial on Trial" along with a variety of monographs on homicide law, several by von Hirsch, etc. are worth at least an honourable mention.

Posted by: Thom Brooks | Oct 3, 2007 2:08:20 AM

I certainly agree that Hart Publishing has done well for an upstart, but its visibility in the US is still, unfortunately, quite low, and even in the UK, it's not at the OUP or CUP level of prominence. But it's a young press to watch.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Oct 3, 2007 8:37:05 AM

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