Farewell to the Fall Submission?
posted by Michael Kang
Not long ago, the busy month for law review submissions was August, not March. As anyone who has been teaching law for more than six or seven years can confirm, law faculty worked on their manuscripts during summer break and had shiny new articles to send off as the fall semester approached. There was a spring cycle as well, with law journal submissions and publication offers split reasonably evenly between the spring and fall cycles, but at one point, the fall was probably the busier one.
It’s not quite yet time to declare the death of the fall cycle for law journal submissions—many journals still will receive and accept a number of articles this month—but we’re getting close. A nontrivial number of flagship journals didn’t open for business this fall—e.g., Duke Law Journal, Indiana Law Journal, University of Illinois Law Review, and Utah Law Review—each noting on ExpressO that they’ll begin looking at articles next in the spring. What’s more, many of the journals open for business reserved only a handful of publication slots for this fall from last spring. Demand during the fall for articles appears to be shrinking.
Why did this apparent shift from fall to spring cycle occur? My guess begins with the fact that the business of legal scholarship is increasingly competitive on all ends, and after boards turn over during the spring, there are more high-quality articles than ever pouring into journal offices. So many high-quality articles, in fact, that a top journal finds it difficult to resist filling their entire volume just from the spring submissions alone. Of course, top journals could resist the temptation, but they may not see the point once they’ve already invested the time to read and decide on a sufficient mass of articles. They may also fixate on the pieces in front of them rather than assume that stronger pieces will be available in the fall. This is just a version of the “unraveling of the market” that Dave Hoffman cited to explain why the spring cycle itself seemed to be creeping up earlier and earlier. All this hinges, of course, on the quantity and quality of spring submissions hitting a critical threshold such that journals tipped from saving slots for the fall to consuming almost all of them in the spring. By the fall, however, journals feel constrained not to steal even more spots from the subsequent spring, because it would be taking them away from the next board of editors and next volume.
There are at least two significant costs of the migration of publication slots from fall to spring. The first is that we may, before long, have only one cycle for submissions per calendar year—the spring. Spring versus fall as a matter of timing isn’t a big deal, but having two cycles per year for submissions versus only one is a big deal. If you have an article that isn’t quite ready for the spring cycle, then you would need to wait a full year for the next spring cycle to submit it. The result is increased turnaround time between completion of the average article and its publication date. Articles therefore become less timely on average, and scholarship takes longer to become widely disseminated in finished form. This development would cede one relative advantage of student-run law journals over academic peer review journals—speed.
The second cost is that the spring cycle, as the only cycle, would become even more chaotic and random. I don’t know whether authors have fully adjusted to the shift from fall to spring, but if they do, authors might submit all their work during the spring. The obvious result is that virtually all article selection for top journals would occur in basically a couple months. The volume of submissions would place additional stress on articles editors, and time pressures on both articles editors and authors in the competition for articles would speed up. More articles, more decisions, compressed into a shorter period of time.