The law review submission process is a mess. Authors submit to dozens, even hundreds, of journals simultaneously. Many journals receive thousands of submissions that they cannot possibly review carefully. It is often (but not always) difficult to get the attention of higher ranked law reviews without expediting from a lower-ranked law review. As a result, the lower-ranked law reviews are "exploited" for expedites that authors use to ratchet up to higher-ranked reviews.
The result of the system is that law review editors spend more time than necessary reviewing articles they will never capture and that high quality articles may not rise to the top. The process of expediting often ties up two weeks of time of the law review for each article, forcing the journal to scramble to make another offer that they also might lose to a higher-ranked journal. The better a job a lower-ranked journal does in identifying quality articles, the more likely they will lose them. That is not an effective system.
The problem could be solved with one simple change to the submission process. What is needed is for Scholastica/ExpressO to implement one simple feature that I call "group exclusive submission." In the submission interface, the author should be able to designate a limited set of law reviews--say 20 total--from which he or she would agree to accept the first offer made, if one is made. The author would be free to submit to other law reviews, but could only make a group exclusive submission to 20. Really, in contract law terms, the author would be making an offer to the law reviews on a first-come/first-serve basis.
The group exclusivity feature would have a number of positive effects:
- Authors who want to maximize their prospects would self-select into the correct range of law reviews for the article. If I'm writing an article on a recent case on holographic wills in North Dakota, I might not waste a slot on the Harvard Law Review. Although authors would use a few of the 20 slots as a "reach" for their article, they will direct articles toward the venues most appropriate for the scope and quality of the article.
- The law reviews could give more serious consideration to group-exclusive manuscripts, confident that they will actually capture the articles they accept. This would give editors the opportunity to make more carefully considered decisions. They will prioritize articles submitted to them based on group exclusivity, which will reduce the number of articles read that are not good fits for the law review.
- The expediting problem would be greatly reduced, resulting in less wasted review time and an accelerated process for placement overall.
- Non-elite law reviews will actually be rewarded for choosing high-quality articles from the group exclusive submissions, instead of being more likely to lose those articles.
Of course, this suggestion is not entirely novel. The exclusive submission processes used by some law reviews are a step in the same direction. But given the extremely high number of submissions to journals and the fact that law reviews don't commit to taking articles only through exclusive submissions, the payoff for authors is dubious. Group exclusivity provides a better way to funnel the process toward better results. Law reviews don't need to commit to anything. Their own incentives would lead them to prefer the group exclusive submissions.
On the other hand it is possible that the group exclusivity submission could encourage editors to review articles in a hasty manner, seeking to make the first offer to their preferred articles. However, it is likely that so many articles would be submitted using the group exclusivity option that law reviews could take their time and still have a wide selection to choose from.