Making an Impact as a Law Journal Editor
posted by Dave Hoffman
How can student editors efficiently improve their journal’s reputation? The problem is a hard one, as standard measures of journal rank (see here and click on 2005 Rank, JNLS tab) are correlated with overall school US News ranking, itself a sticky number. However, the Washington and Lee ranking methodology offers other options, including the increasingly popular IMPACT and IMMEDIACY variables. In this entry, I’m going to explore some ways that journal editors might be able to increase their scores on these factors, and (in a virtuous cycle) the number and quality of submissions. In no way should this post be seen as an endorsement of the current system. Indeed, Joseph Slater’s recent critique is quite interesting. This is more of a user’s guide to the devil we’ve got.
1. Convince High-Profile Authors to Write Articles: High-profile authors are, by definition, cited more often. See Balkin & Levinson, How to Win Cites and Influence People. It is also conceivable that HP folks produce better work than LP folks (to know for sure, we’d have to have an agreement about what better work is. And, as Frank Pasquale has pointed out, we don’t). But, for believers in the HP strategy, there are a few variants:
- Symposium Issues
- Invite authors to submit book reviews or essays on substantive topics
- Invite tributes to famous judges
Of these methods, the best is the second. Symposiums may not always get authors’ full attention, in part because of collective action/collective benefit problems. Tributes, I think, are unlikely to be cited heavily, if at all. But even the second method has problems, as discussed below.
2. Turn Straw Into Gold: This is an editing strategy. Editors can increase the citability of pieces by making them easier to read. How? First, as many have noted, editors should back away from footnote-fetishization. Footnote-laden sentences are hard to read; hard to read sentences are easy to ignore. Second, editors should push authors to select titles that clearly explain the article’s purposes, and should help authors to write succinct abstracts for every piece.
3. Promotion: Some journals have begun to push authors to put up articles onto SSRN. There is no reason for the journals’ marketing to stop there. Journals should absorb more of the cost of reprints for authors who either are not affiliated with a law school, or whose law school does not pay for reprints. Journals also should aggressively promote (via email or fliers) journal contents to practitioners and judges, who may be unlikely to be reached by academic reprint mailings.
4. Gaming the System?: Reading W&L’s ranking methodology page, some obvious strategies are currently available. Impact factor is currently dependant on citations per article, ans is “biased against journals that publish a larger number of shorter articles, such as book reviews.” Thus, Strategy 1(b) above is in tension with increasing impact scores in the short run. It is better (at least for IMPACT purposes) to have one article cited 20 times than two articles cited 15 times apiece. IMPACT rankings can be increased if a journal publishes a long article that is cited by multiple sources – the model I have in mind is Georgetown’s annual criminal law summary, or a state counterpart. Because courts cite such summaries more often than they do “theory” articles, the IMMEDIACY factor would also likely be affected. As the W&L methodology makes clear, neither factor is particularly robust – they can be moved with one or two strong articles (i.e., they do not appear to control for outliers).
Thus, a strategy might be to recruit students to collaborate to write longer, doctrinal, judge and practitioner friendly, pieces. Journals often do this on an annual basis, but why not have summaries of various areas of law in every issue? Or to be more provocative, journals might consider replacing the case note and comment system entirely with a system of mini-treatises. Such a change would have the secondary effect of making law reviews more relevant to law practice. And a tertiary effect of rescuing rankings from charges that they are always pernicious.
The comment thread is open for other ideas.