September 14, 2012
THE SECRET SAUCE FOR LAW REVIEW PLACEMENT: The Secret Sauce for Law Review Placement: Letterhead, Citations, and Liberal.
Lots of people are bashing law reviews over this latest incident, but let me offer a few thoughts of my own. First, though Tennessee letterhead is no more than respectable, and though I’m not especially liberal, my stuff has generally placed pretty well: Columbia, Virginia, Penn, USC, Northwestern, etc. Would I have done better if I were at Yale and liberal? Probably, but by no means certainly, as a look at some Yale profs’ publication lists will show. You can’t know much about why you’re rejected, except when stuff like this leaks out, but I can’t say that my stuff does better when it seems leftier.
Second, the good thing about law reviews is that there are a lot of them, and they’re diverse. Just because you got rejected at the Harvard Law School Human Rights Law Journal doesn’t mean you won’t get published somewhere else, and quite possibly better. (I had never even heard of this journal, and I’ve always had a weak spot for obscure law reviews.) There are no gatekeepers in law review publishing like there are in other disciplines where there are only a few top peer-reviewed journals, often peer-reviewed by a small clique that overlaps.
Third, it matters less than ever now that more people probably read law review articles on SSRN than in law reviews anyway. It’s gotten to where I feel that an article is really published when it’s posted on SSRN, with the law review acceptance being mostly for archival purposes. I still advise junior faculty to pursue “better” placements because that still matters to many older law professors, but I think it will matter less and less. And many schools look at SSRN download rank as much as they look at placement now, which is probably better for people who are less traditionally academic-liberal-theoretical in orientation.
I’m not saying that there’s nothing to see here — it’s certainly wrong that a law review might reject an author just because of his/her political history — but the impact of this sort of political misfeasance is much less than it used to be.
My thoughts, anyway.