Thursday, March 18, 2010

Peer Review, ExpressO, and the Law Review Submission Process

As we slog through another law review article submission season - with authorial anxiety now painfully in view - I started wondering how Stanford's partial peer review process was coming along.  Rather than shout into the blogosphere I decided to call the Stanford Law Review. 

Masha Hansford, the new President,  tells me that while peer review isn't used in all cases, it is employed often - and more so this year than in the past.  She told me that, while the journal does rely on Stanford faculty, it also pushes articles to outside readers...relying especially on scholars cited in the pieces.  She said that in many cases, these readers provide fast turnaround.  She didn't want SLR to grab all the glory for the (partial) move to peer review, noting that both the Harvard and Yale journals use versions of it as well.  (Truth be told, many law reviews wisely refer selected article submissions to their own faculty for at least a coarse assessment of quality.)

Perhaps even more interestingly, Ms. Hansford confirmed something I've been suspecting for a while.  ExpressO is, at best, a mixed blessing.  After being buried by ExpressO submissions for several years, the editors at SLR realized that virtually every article they'd accepted did not come through ExpressO.  So the editors hiked the transaction costs of submission (ever so slightly) by asking authors to submit directly through the SLR website.  (Ms. Hansford actually told me that they insist on this method, though the website does not say so.)  As a result, Stanford has seen a dramatic drop in the number of articles submitted.  

In reality, ExpressO has had a much greater impact on lower profile journals.  Even in the age of the Post Office, most authors sent drafts to Stanford.   But back when you had to stuff real envelopes, you'd limit your mailing. Now many authors target well north of 100 journals.  This, in turn, means that virtually every law review is paralyzed by volume.  While the law review submission system has always been dubious as a quality filtration mechanism, at least you had the sense that the expedite system could  have the effect of helping better articles bubble up.  That process is a lot tougher if the editors of the Oopsy Doopsy Law Review are now staring down 1000 submissions.  At some point, and we may have already be there, the whole system will seize up. 

ExpressO could protect its brand by adopting a LexOpus strategy: regulate the  number of submission by each author.  Otherwise the overload will cause more journals to create submission roadblocks.  And the first logical barrier is a ban on ExpressO.

-- Dan Filler (cross-posted at The Faculty Lounge)

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