Monday, February 1, 2016

Winning the Citation Lottery: Attracting Quality Articles to Lower-Ranked Law Reviews

Most law professors want to place their articles in the top law reviews. The higher the ranking, the better. Because of that, editors at schools further down the chain have trouble getting high-quality articles.

Personally, I think it’s inappropriate to judge articles by where they’re placed. I don’t trust the quality judgments student editors make. They lack the subject-matter background to judge the true quality of an article and they often have a preference for faddish topics. But placement matters to many people, and that has a negative effect on many law reviews. They never even see some of the best articles.

The Harvard, Yale, and Chicago law reviews are never going to have trouble getting good submissions. If you’re a law review editor at a top-20 law review, you can stop reading here. But what about the rest of the reviews?
One option many people have tried is to organize symposia, but that’s not always effective. Even if leading scholars are willing to participate in those symposia, they often don’t submit their top work.

My proposed solution: use money as a motivation.

Paying for each article is a possibility, but that’s financially difficult. Professors might be willing to publish in a lower-ranked review for a thousand dollars or two, but schools aren’t going to give their law reviews enough extra money to pay $2,000 for each article. And $100 or so per article isn’t going to motivate many law professors. There’s also no quality assurance; leading scholars might just dump their lower-quality work on the review to get the money.

But there’s a better way to spend the money that might work. Assume a law school is willing to cough up an extra $2,000-$3,000 a year to improve its law review. (That’s not a huge amount for many law schools; it’s certainly less than schools pay for symposia.) Instead of trying to spread that out among the authors, the review could offer a $2,000-$3,000 cash prize to the article in each volume that gets the most citations within 2-3 years of publication. The better the article (at least in terms of citations), the more likely it is to win the prize.

That amount of money might motivate authors. I’ve written things for foreign journals for cash payments like that.

It’s a lottery, but many law professors have big egos and would assume their article would win. It would be most attractive to the professors who are cited most often, increasing the review’s readership.

Law reviews could even phrase the payment as an award, giving professors something to put on their vitas. “I won the John J. Smith Award for Legal Writing Excellence.”

If you’re a law review editor considering something like this, let me know. I have this article I’m working on and I need some money for a backpacking trip I’m planning.

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