Ever wondered just what sorts of articles get submitted to law reviews?
Well, if you've ever been on a law school journal, you already know the answer. But, for the rest of the world Shima Baradaran conducted an interview for Prawf's Blawg with Andrew Prout, Editor in Chief of Stanford Law Review. One question in particular got to the core of law review submission contents:
SB: We've all received those emails from law review editors telling us that you received thousands of submissions and that unfortunately, there are so many good ones . . . and you unfortunately can't accept ours. Do you really think that putting a rejection in that context makes us feel better? Kidding. That's not the question. The question is, how many of the manuscripts you receive do you think are of good quality or are from authors that you would potentially consider publishing?
AP: Most submissions were either not especially well-written or on a topic that didn't seem important, or they had a thesis that didn't seem novel. I'd say about a fifth or so were good pieces, and among those, most of the selection process came down to personal taste. Every once in awhile, an article stood out as amazing (and the whole committee realized it), but those articles were few and far between.
Before jumping into the contents, look at what Professor Baradaran has implied her question. Sometimes articles get published, and sometimes authors get published. The former is based on the quality of the article. The latter is based on the identity of the author. It's no surprise that a 3L student, who doesn't really know anything about anything, might use a prestigious CV as a proxy for article quality, but it's easy to see how this can quickly devolve into an incestuous academic circle jerk. Fortunately, Prout went on to explain that Stanford does blind reviews; the editorial board does not know who the author is. That's not the norm though, and a fancy letterhead often does give a professor a significant advantage.
Now on to the contents. According to Prout, 80% of the submissions they get are unpublishable due to either poor writing or an uninteresting topic. If professors are spending about half their time writing articles, this would indicate that about 40% of a professor's job is spent writing unpublishable crap. ...That sounds about right.
And by "right" we mean "accurate" not "what ought to be."
What's worse though is that many of those crap, unpublishable articles will actually be published. After all, there are 200 law schools, some 10,000 articles get published every year, and most schools don't have the same standards as Stanford.
Just to be clear though, those 80% Prout referred to aren't the ones that are good but just not as good as the really great articles. They're not the equivalent of a 170 LSAT. They're just bad. They're the 145 LSAT thought ought never see the light of day, and certainly not be published in an academic journal.