Monday, November 10, 2014
As some of you know, I have been a defender (although perhaps not a staunch one) of student-edited law reviews as a good learning experience for students. I have worked with students in ways that I really have enjoyed over the years. I also have had some lousy experiences. But even I admit that between the overwhelmingly negative blog commentary (to which I now add), including posts here and here by Steve Bradford here on the BLPB, and the experiences I relate here, I am having trouble sustaining my support for student-edited journals . . . .
My Expectations and Experiences
I routinely issue two instructions/requests to law review editors when I submit draft articles for staff review and editing (after solicitation or acceptance of an article). The first is to leave in the automatic footnote cross-referencing that I have used in the draft until we finalize the article. The second is to notify me if the staff believes that new footnote citations or citation parentheticals need to be added (specifically noting that I will handle those additions myself). I always work in Microsoft Word.
The rationale for the first instruction/request is obvious. How many of us like manually updating footnote cross-references each time there is a change to the footnotes? And if you wait to the end, you sometimes cannot track the original cross-reference down without looking through all of the intervening drafts.
The reason why I issue the second instruction/request is that I have had staff members add footnotes and parentheticals quite a number of times in the past that, while somewhat in the subject-matter ballpark of the cited sentence, are inapposite to the point that I am making in the text. (It's often obvious because the parenthetical comment the staff has inserted in the new or existing footnote plainly does not address the point in the text.) Having done the primary research for the article, I typically can find needed citations or construct needed parenthetical comments pretty quickly.
Law reviews sometimes mess up on one or the other instruction/request. Typically, the editor-in-chief or symposium editor apologizes and lets me know the staff will fix the cross-references or the review will give me extra time to correct the wayward footnotes and parentheticals. Not optimal, but certainly professional.
My Recent Nightmarish Experience
Recently, a law review with which I was working on a draft article violated both instructions/dishonored both requests without notice or apology. Here's how the process "went down," in a nutshell.
After sending in my original draft in Word, I received back a clean .pdf (rather than a marked Word) copy of the document for review several months later. Apparently, this law review works in WordPerfect. So, the staff had converted my Word document to WordPerfect. Automatic footnote cross-references were lost in the process. Bummer.
Needless to say, I had to re-read (for my own satisfaction) and cross-check every aspect of the article. I read the text in its entirety. The text edits the law review staff made were minimal and helpful. Whew. Sigh of relief.
I had my research assistant initially look through the footnotes to notify me of changes. There were many changes to the footnotes. One notable pattern? Footnote references had been added to the topic sentences of a large number of paragraphs. These sentences really were topic sentences--statements that introduced the reader to the contents of the paragraph and, in some cases, transitioned the reader from the preceding paragraph. Yet, in all but one case, the footnote citations that were added did not include support for all of the points made in the sentence and paragraph.
On some level, I might have understood a request to insert footnotes after topic sentences using a "see infra" signal and pointing to the sources cited in support of all the remaining sentences of the paragraph--which were footnoted, as applicable. But that seems silly. Eventually, I did include one of those "see infra" citations--after the law review agreed to remove the footnotes altogether for the rest.
It was admittedly frustrating to not be able to edit the article in Word using the "track changes" feature. I spent many hours pouring over and commenting on the .pdf drafts. I was concerned that, in transcribing my comments from the .pdf version to the law review's WordPerfect version, a staff member might miss a change or create a new error. (And that did, in fact, happen.) I asked to see a CompareRite copy in WordPerfect after the first draft (we still have WordPerfect on our office computers, so that was not a problem for me), but it was not as immediately useful as a track changes draft. (Lots of looking back and forth from one version to another . . . .) Also, while I am grateful for the comment tools in Adobe Acrobat, they are clunky in comparison to Word's track changes and comment features.
Oh . . . and did I tell you that the longest review period I was afforded on these unmarked .pdf drafts was one week? To be fair, I asked for and was given additional time. But during the editing process, given the extra hours it was taking me to review and comment on the drafts, my schedule was incredibly pinched (i.e., I was getting less than five hours of sleep a night). I was so glad when this experience was over . . . .
A Colleague's Recent Nightmarish Experience
As rough as my experience was, I was baffled when a colleague shared with me his recent experience with another law review. He turned in a stack-check draft to the journal for review and editing and when it came back, it had three times the number of footnotes as the draft he turned in! When I asked him why, he said that the law review had answered that question by telling him that their policies provide that the staff must provide a footnote for every sentence in an article submitted for the journal--but (and this is meant to be a comfort) the editor-in-chief has discretion to remove the footnotes that are unnecessary. Seriously? Oh, boy . . . .
One Takeaway (and I Know There are Many More)
Other than acknowledging general discouragement with these counterproductive editorial and publication processes, it is hard to make sense out of these law review nightmares.
Having said that, it does seem fair to note that some law reviews appear to have lost sight of the reason for footnotes. I always have valued footnotes as support for propositions in the text that come from or rely on prior work. I stand on the shoulders of giants when I write. Those who have gone before have laid amazing foundations for my work. For the reader, footnotes both enable an assessment of the accuracy and strength of a footnoted proposition in the text and indicate where one can look to get more information about the subject matter being addressed in the text.
I am sure that many of you have similar stories and additional observations on the law review process. Feel free to leave them here in the comments. And if you want to remind me of why I thought supporting student-edited law reviews was a good idea, that's fine, too.