Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reading the Tea Leaves and Other Useless Exercises in the Denial of Being Rejected

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Our friend Gordon Smith at Conglomerate has a nice post about one of his articles being selected as a top corporate and securities article for 2006.  We congratulate him, but what caught my attention was his introductory comment about expecting the letter from Vanderbilt to be a rejection of his articleThumbsdown submission "the old-fashioned way."

I still remember the incomparably funny Rob Biniaz, a year or two ahead of me at Stanford, describing at a panel discussion on summer jobs what we used to call "bullets":  rejection letters from law firms.  Rob, I think, had sent a letter to some glam outfit like NBC or CBS, and received back the following (by return mail):  "Dear Rob:  In a word, no."

We can, of course, rationalize and even joke about rejection from student-edited law reviews.  I somehow persuaded the editor of a mega-university press that I had a book idea, but my mistake was sending him the manuscript.  As a matter of learning and courage, I forced myself to read the reviews on which he based his rejection, but I still start to curl into the fetal position thinking about it.  (Once you come to grips with the fact that they were right and it sucked things start to improve, psychologically speaking.)

I have spent the last couple weeks trying to persuade a very analytical colleague that NOTHING you receive from a law review other than something entitled "Offer to Publish" is meaningful.  It is meaningless if the law review acknowledges receipt of your piece via ExpressO.  It is meaningless if you get a nice acknowledgment letter.  It is meaningless if the Articles Editor tells you he/she is looking forward to reading your article.  It is meaningless if you get a little postcard saying that the law review has received your submission.  It is comforting and fulfilling to have an e-mail dialogue with an editor whose last name you recognize, and discover she is the second cousin once removed of a student you taught during a visiting stint at Wossamotta U, but it is meaningless in terms of the likelihood the review will take your article. 

Our incoming editor-in-chief here at Tulane is a brilliant and very nice young man, and ought to be a law prof someday (note to academy).  We chat in the hallways from time to time.  The piece I have into the reviews right now ponders fundamental assumptions in contract law, and plays with analogies to number theory.  I like number theory, even though I can barely make my way through the symbols.  When I was seventeen, I managed to place in a mathematics competition in Michigan by getting one proof out of five on an incredibly difficult exam (I answered this:  prove that the expression "n squared + 1 can never be divisible by seven").  I mention it to Haller, our new EIC, and he immediately said, "oh, you can do that in mod 7 arithmetic," bursting my bubble, because that was my "brilliant" insight.   Anyway, the point is that even this personal kind of exchange is MEANINGLESS:  within a couple of days, I received an e-mail beginning:  "um, highly awkward moment here. . ."

Alan follows this up with his own rejection thoughts above.

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While I agree with your observations that cards or letters from law review editors acknowledging receipt of a manuscript are meaningless in the sense that they say nothing about the likelihood of a publication offer, they are not meaningless in all respects. Rather, the fact that a review sends acknowledgment cards or letters means that its editorial staff is fundamentally courteous. It is courteous to acknowledge the receipt of a manuscript on which the author has doubtless worked long and hard. It is discourteous not to. (Remember your parents making you send birthday thank you notes to out-of-town relatives?) There is no law review editor who is so busy that he or she cannot scrawl an author's address on a preprinted acknowledgement post card, or, easier still, send a standardized acknowledgment e-mail. I always wonder whether editors who do not acknowledge manuscript receipt will return clients' phone calls when they start practicing (and I say this not as a skeptical in-house lawyer or disgruntled critic of the legal profession, but as someone, who like you, spent a number of years as a partner at a large law firm before accepting my present position).

Posted by: Doug Richmond | Apr 11, 2007 8:00:48 AM

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