Law Review Submissions Policy:

An articles editor for a Top 20 law review writes:

I have for some time been thinking that it would be best to simply eliminate accepting paper copy submissions for [our law review]. The online system we primarily use (and where we receive the vast majority of our submissions) is far superior to paper copies. Indeed, the only thing that paper copies do from my end is give me more tedious work that cuts into the substantial time I must give to other editing responsibilities, as I must log each submission my hand. It does so while giving authors no benefit that I can see.

I thus see no point to paper copies. They only add work for absolutely no benefit. I hear, however, that some professors actually prefer sending paper copies. The only halfway decent justifications I have heard are (1) that they can send a personalized cover letter via mail (this justification makes no sense as our online system allows for the submission of cover letters); and (2) that authors think they have a better chance of getting their submission promptly reviewed because the editor who reviews paper submissions will give them a quick look when logging them into the law review's system. This latter explanation is at least plausible, but my experience is that this gives the author no advantage over online submissions, as I and other editors do the same thing with online submissions.

I write to ask for your help. I would like more information on this issue from professors. As your blog is read by a wide array of professors, I was wondering if you could put a post on your blog asking professors to comment on this issue, so I and others can get better information.

A good question; what do our law professor readers think?

Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
I would wager that there is a significant number of law professors who work more comfortable on paper than electronically, and who would prefer to continue to work that way. They use their computers, more or less, as typewriters. Submitting paper is something like a norm for them, and well-intentioned suggestions that they change their work practices will fall on deaf ears because of the switching costs. I am not a law professor and I do not work this way, but I'll suggest this on their behalf since these professors are unlikely frequent blogs, I'm guessing.
1.3.2008 12:54pm
Suzanna Sherry (mail):
The real problem with electronic submission is the variety of systems and requirements. For a paper submission, the process is identical for every law review -- all you (or your assistant) must do is change the address, salutation, and first sentence of the cover letter. But submitting electronically is a nightmare: Some want single-spaced, some double; some require Word and others require pdf; some require registration (which itself requires creating and filing or remembering a password) and some don't; some require abstracts, some allow them, and some don't permit them at all; some allow (encourage? give an advantage to those who submit?) personalized cover letters and/or c.v.'s and some don't; some allow Express-O, some prefer it or require it, and some don't use it at all. And it all seems to change every year, so whatever we did the last time we submitted an article won't work this time. I have no objection to electronic submissions, but can't you standardize the requirements?
1.3.2008 1:17pm
How is editing/proofing done on most law reviews? The one at my school does everything on paper. Students have to check off each word with a pen/pencil.
1.3.2008 1:18pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
What TRE said: I helped a member of a law journal get through citation checks once and it was all paper, all the time, even though the submission was sent via email attachment.

The only argument I've seen demanding paper submissions has been in regular publishing, where it reduces the "slush pile" issue (spamming specialty publishers with inappropriate or poorly written submissions, because it's so easy to do via email) -- given how small the population of law professors is, I'm pretty sure it's not a huge issue for law reviews. On the other hand, how big of a problem is it for the law reviews, really, to get a handful of submissions on paper? This problem is self-resolving, as the e-submission-adverse retire or die off.
1.3.2008 1:28pm
How come so few law professors are commenting here? Is it because they don't read this site? Or are they too busy whining to their colleagues about all the final exams they have to grade that will make or break their students' careers?
1.3.2008 1:53pm
Most of the courts in which I practice require electronic submission of briefs. It seems odd to me that anyone would actually want to submit something on paper . . .
1.3.2008 2:19pm
Noo: They're sending their comments in paper form.
1.3.2008 2:43pm
frankcross (mail):
I say go electronic. It's the 21st Century. My question is why some law reviews don't accept Expresso submissions
1.3.2008 2:59pm
DOJ Antitrust Division:
If the concerns voiced by Suzanna Sherry are real, then this issue might be a topic for discussion at the elite law reviews' annual summit.
1.3.2008 3:01pm
H. Blix:
What's more amazing is that anyone still cares about law reviews.
1.3.2008 3:21pm
TRE: For the law review at my school, citechecking is done electronically using Word's Track Changes function. I have no idea if this is typical.
1.3.2008 3:25pm
Ted Frank (www):
Not a law professor, but I've found ExpressO so convenient that I refuse to submit to law reviews that won't accept it. I've been doing everything electronically, and much prefer that to the alternative.

Of course, a professor who is sufficiently technophobic that they refuse to use ExpressO is probably also a professor who isn't going to be commenting on a blog post.

I've resolved the standardization problems that Professor Sherry identifies by ignoring them: if a law review wants to double-space my paper or prefers Courier to a more readable typeface, it takes them two keystrokes in Microsoft Word, and would take me days to track down every last submission requirement. I'd rather use that time writing.
1.3.2008 3:45pm
Just Saying:
H. Blix: What's more amazing is that anyone still cares about law reviews.

Outside of law profs, students on law review, and some legal employers, I'm not sure anyone does. When doing real-world research, I've yet to come across a useful law review article.
1.3.2008 3:52pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Are the law reviews still printing the articles on paper?
1.3.2008 3:54pm
Arvin (mail) (www):
Since law reviews (at least the UCLA one) are very largely student-run, why can't they just do it? If it's a top-20 law review, they'll get plenty of good submissions, and the professors will conform to the requirements, because they want to get published in a top-20 law review.

The UCLA Law Review did almost everything on paper. But it's still easier to have an electronic copy: you don't have to worry about losing or storing the original, and if someone needs another copy, you just hit print.
1.3.2008 4:08pm
Jody (mail):
In the electrical engineering world, we've been submitting all of our papers electronically for some time now.

While it's much easier for submission/tracking/big picture edits, I find it makes detailed copy-editing virtually impossible. But that's because of the review submission process not because of the paper submission process (I generally get little text boxes to leave comments to authors/editors and radio boxes to numerically rate aspects of the paper).

On Suzanna's varying requirements, in the EE world, we have templates (Word and LaTEX) which take care of formatting issues and describe content requirements which minimize author headaches.
1.3.2008 4:25pm
Glenn Reynolds (mail) (www):
I agree with Suzanna Sherry. The lack of standardization is annoying, and that wasn't a problem with paper. ExpressO works fairly well -- but by mailing paper copies to the law reviews that don't use ExpressO. That said, I've done electronic submissions on my last couple of articles and regard it as generally superior to the paper approach. But it would be better if law reviews didn't insist on multiple inconsistent electronic submission formats.
1.3.2008 4:36pm
Interesting question.

I think the difficulty with a "no paper copies" rule is that law professors vary in their knowledge of journal practices. Some profs are diligent and check websites for policies, and some are not too careful and just do what they have done for years. A rule that no paper copies are accepted at all might lead a journal to reject perfectly good articles from authors who fall in the latter camp instead of the former camp (more likely with senior authors who aren't checking websites as often). Given that, I think it's probably better, at least for now, to have a journal policy that strongly prefers electronic copies than to have a policy stating that no paper copies are accepted at all.

On the other hand, it seems clear that this is where journal submissions are heading. So I think the question is what to do in the transition time before we're fully electronic.
1.3.2008 4:46pm
Noo writes:
How come so few law professors are commenting here? Is it because they don't read this site? Or are they too busy whining to their colleagues about all the final exams they have to grade that will make or break their students' careers?
Actually, I think it's because many of us are here.
1.3.2008 4:48pm
I don't think grades make or break careers.
1.3.2008 4:53pm
frankcross (mail):
I've universally ignored any standardization issues. I doubt the law reviews really care so much about formatting
1.3.2008 5:49pm
Anderson (mail):
I doubt the law reviews really care so much about formatting

You're being funny, right? That's ALL they care about. They can't evaluate the merits of the argument, but they certainly can evaluate the formatting.

(A similar problem pervades the teaching of writing in high schools &colleges, so I'm not picking just on the law students here.)
1.3.2008 5:57pm
Aspring Professor:
One problem with the Expresso method for non-law professors (like law clerks, recent grads, and of course practitioners) is that the Expresso fees are not small. This is an even bigger problem for those publishing their first article or two, since the lack of a track record requires them to cast an even wider net.

Current students (and academics) get Expresso use subsidized, of course, and some recent grads can continue to use their student email accounts to get the subsidy, but Expresso *automatically* bars anybody using a student account from submitting to a journal that claims not to take student work. This means that a recent law school grad can't submit to most top journals through Expresso without paying for it (and creating a separate account to do so).

Of course, the current hodgepodge is also a nuisance, but journals should probably remember that switching to Expresso only will block out a lot of non-law-professor work, at least by the non-wealthy. Maybe practitioner (and recent graduate) work is sufficiently bad on average that this is a virtue, not a vice, but it should be done knowingly if so.
1.3.2008 7:16pm
psychdoc (mail):
I doubt that medical researchers are any more technologically progressive than the average law professor but our journals, and even the NIH grant submission process, have switched entirely over to electronic submission. In the end, it's a lot easier.
1.3.2008 7:23pm
Aspiring professor, you are right in one sense about the cost. Submitting can easily cost me over $100 every time. But from a practitioner's perspective, the $2.00 per law review is (1) cheaper than a paper copy at 10c a page; (2) really not that much compared to a law firm salary; and (3) much more convenient to keep track of compared to laboring over each law review's individual website.

If you are a student, you really don't want to be submitting to law reviews that don't take student submissions anyway. Guaranteed waste of time.

The only people that ExpressO really affects by pricing are law clerks and low salary practitioners. But then you have to consider whether paper or some other method would be cheaper. Paper is definitely not cheaper. SSRN is, and many people go that route for that reason.
1.3.2008 8:11pm

What's the over/under on how many times a professor at the conference whispers to his seatmate, "This 'Local Governments at Risk' stuff is pointless, but anything's better than grading exams"? 150,000?
1.3.2008 8:52pm
Aspring Professor: Amen.

Electronic submission is very expensive if you're not already a law professor.
1.3.2008 8:56pm
LV prof:
Electronic submission is much to be preferred. Ideally, the journal would use expressO to avoid the inconvenience of registering and creating accounts to submit just to 1 journal.
1.4.2008 2:12am
Aspring Professor:

I am not touting the virtue of paper submissions. I am worried about the writers (and journals) who are suggesting that everybody should use Expresso (or worse, exclusively Expresso). Journals that accept emailed submissions in addition to Expresso (or have those cumbersome online submissions systems) are far more accessible to recent grads and law clerks, some of whom are smart and write smart articles.
1.4.2008 11:44am
Wouldn't Be A Prof If You Paid Me (mail):
This griping about standards strikes me as a bit irksome. If professors don't like the thousand different standards implemented by various law reviews, it wouldn't be difficult for professors to come up with a robust, standards-based format for academic articles. And if they're worried about take-up by the law reviews, the answer is simple: make 1Ls use the format for any papers they write. Provided it's not wholly unusable, they'll fall into the habit of using it when they take up their journal posts.

It's always amazed me how little legal academics are willing to invest in the infrastructure of legal scholarship as a whole. Paper-based submissions policies have one big advantage: they place the organizational burden of submissions on the students. This makes sense only so long as one has no respect for the students' time.
1.4.2008 10:24pm