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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Man bites dog

In case you missed it, some of the nation's elite law reviews (Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, Texas, Penn, Virginia, Yale), are taking a stand for shorter articles.  Under the joint agreement, each review is going to develop its own standards.

The Harvard Law Review is out of the gate with its new rules, under which it will give preference to articles of less than 25,000 words and will not print articles over 50,000 words without good reason.  Click on the link for the Review's letter outlining the new policy.

                              Harvard Law Review
                       1511 Massachusetts Avenue
                          Cambridge, MA 02138

                                                             February 9, 2005

Re: Articles Length Limitations

Dear Professor,

I wish to report an important development in the Harvard Law Review's policy regarding the length of law review articles. As many of you know, last December, the Harvard Law Review conducted a nationwide survey of law faculty regarding the state of legal scholarship. Nearly 800 professors completed the survey and submitted their feedback. As promised, we will soon post complete tabulations of the survey on the web.

Importantly, the survey documented one particularly unambiguous view shared by faculty and law review editors alike: the length of articles has become excessive. In fact, nearly 90% of faculty agreed that articles are too long. In addition, dozens of respondents submitted specific comments, identifying the dangers of this trend and calling for action. Survey respondents suggested that shorter articles would enhance the quality of legal scholarship, shorten and improve the editing process, and render articles more effective and easier to read.

We are very grateful for your feedback and have shared your concerns with a number of law reviews across the country. Recently, these law reviews issued a statement that reflects a commitment to play an active role in moderating the length of law review articles; we have posted this statement on our website at the following address:

Joint Statement: www.harvardlawreview.org/articles_length_policy.pdf  [Ed. note, the link provided in the actual letter does not work; this one does.]

Ultimately, however, individual law reviews will have to decide for themselves how best to resolve these concerns. At the Harvard Law Review, we agree with your diagnosis and apologize for whatever role we have played in encouraging the submission and publication of lengthier articles. In an effort to respond to these concerns, we are committed to doing our part to counter this troubling trend and to break what we perceive as a vicious cycle. To that end, we now adopt the following articles submission and publication policy:

The Harvard Law Review will give preference to articles under 25,000 words in length-the equivalent of 50 law review pages-including text and footnotes. The Review will not publish articles exceeding 35,000 words-the equivalent of 70-75 law review pages-except in extraordinary circumstances.

Although academic publications from a range of other disciplines regularly use length limitations, we are aware that we are abruptly introducing a constraint to which the legal academy is unaccustomed. Not surprisingly, then, we anticipate growing pains and acknowledge that our approach runs certain risks. Still, we hope the policy we announce today will play a modest role in reversing a trend that has cost legal scholarship dearly. To ease the transition, we have installed a fully functional electronic submission system and recommend the following practices:

- We encourage contributors who have submitted articles that exceed the new length limitations to resubmit abbreviated versions of their articles. We are sorry for the inconvenience this mid-year change will cause and the additional work it will surely require. Please understand that these policies, however burdensome, are intended to enhance legal scholarship in the long run. Indeed, the Review conceives of this new policy as a modest first step in a longer process toward substantially shorter articles.

- The electronic submission system allows contributors to submit articles and request expedited review through a web interface. Contributors who are resubmitting a piece to meet length requirements may feel that the material removed from the original submission would be helpful background for a reader unfamiliar with the subject matter. If so, please feel free to include the material as a supplementary document through the new electronic system, which can be reached at the following address: www.harvardlawreview.org/manuscript.shtml

We are well aware that our policy will draw some praise and some criticism. Rest assured that we plan to monitor this issue carefully, and we acknowledge that modifications may be needed in years to come. For now, though, we announce and adopt these policies to try to catalyze some change for the good. We hope you will support our efforts.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me [by e-mail].

All the best,

Thiru Vignarajah
President, Volume 118
Harvard Law Review

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