Monday, April 3, 2017

Recent Law Review Experiences - Fewer Nightmares

From time to time, we at the BLPB offer our views on publishing with law reviews.  The excellent, the good, the bad, the ugly--apparently, we have seen it all (or at least close to it).  See, e.g., Marcia's post from last year that includes links to many of these prior posts.  This post carries forward that tradition.  

Two-and-a-half years ago, I published a post entitled Nightmare in Law Review Land . . . . That post included the two standard instructions that I routinely give to law reviews when I submit stack-check drafts.

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).

For the most part, this has worked well for me.  Recently, however, I received the following response to the second instruction:

Thank you for your notes. As part of our editing process, we add any needed citations and parentheticals. We build in time to do this and tend to be fairly thorough. If there are questions regarding sources or an individual has trouble finding sources, our Lead Article Editor (who will serve as your main contact) will reach out to ask you for assistance. As a general rule, our journal does tend to add a large number of parentheticals. I only mention this because it has sometimes caught Authors off guard in the past and I thought it would be worth mentioning on the front end. You will have two opportunites to review the parentheticals and added citations over the next few months to ensure they are consistent with your work.

I should have pushed back.  I didn't.  The result?  I got back a draft with a bunch of new, bungled footnote citations and parentheticals.  It took me hours to run down the new sources cited and consider  them.  I responded with significant edits in the draft and the following comments in my cover message, in pertinent part (edited to omit a few typos):

[F]ootnote citations were frequently inserted in places (especially in the introduction and other areas in which I have provided a “roadmap”—a summary of where the text will go next) where I do not believe they are needed. I have left specific comments in each place, although I fear they may not be well enough developed. But ask questions where you have them.

Relatedly, the citations inserted for a number of these new footnotes supported principles other than those in the cited sentence. . . .  In each case, I tried to go find the material being referenced in the cited source and evaluate whether it supported the stated principle. Then, if I found a disconnect, I suggested in the margin an alternative footnote. . . .  [I]f you decide under your editorial guidelines that a citation is required, please use the alternative I provided. . . .

Also, parentheticals were added in places where they are not required, e.g., in general citations to cases . . . .  I took them out. If you require parenthetical in these places, please just ask and I will supply them. The parentheticals that were added were either so general that they were unhelpful or included inapposite information.

I am not sure my tone was right on the message.  But I admit that I was frustrated and disappointed--maybe more with myself than with the law review students who worked on editing the article--when I wrote the message.  My time in cross-checking all those faulty citations and parentheticals was entirely wasted.  I could easily have added some footnotes and parentheticals where I had missed including them in the draft I submitted, as necessary or desired.  It would have taken a lot less time (more like ten, instead of thirty, hours).

Have any of you had this same issue with law review editors?  I originally experienced this years ago, which led to my standard instruction.  But it seems the problem persists.  So, it must have something to do with the way law review editors are instructed--or instruct each other.  Perhaps that instruction requires more thought . . . .

At any rate, since I started issuing my two standard instructions, I have had fewer dissatisfying experiences.  I plan to continue with the practice of including them when I submit draft articles for review.  And I guess next time a law review insists in response on supplying new footnotes and parentheticals, I will send the editors a link to this post . . . .

Joan Heminway, Law Reviews, Writing | Permalink


I think the pre-editing instructions do tend to help a good deal. That said, the instructions are not always followed, as you note. I haven't had the excessive parenthetical problem, but I have had articles that were heavily edited for style and lost the intended meaning in the process and had to be rewritten.

More recently, I have had contrasting experiences -- one law review set a clear schedule and (mostly) stuck to it and the other one had no schedule and is still dragging its feet a year later. Of course, sometimes law professors are to blame for the delays and sometimes for very good reasons. When I was providing advice to our law review on a symposium issue, I recommended a deadline two weeks earlier than they really needed it and that proved helpful. Also, I think law reviews should have schedules, even if they have to update them a bit along the way.

Maybe setting all these terms could be done when professors are choosing between offers. That would only work if you had a few journals you were equally happy to publish in and would not work well for symposia situations where you either accept or decline and don't usually negotiate much. And one of the big problems is that neither side has much, if any, leverage if the agreement isn't honored.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Apr 4, 2017 6:43:52 AM

Thanks, Haskell. I also have had contrasting scheduling and overall timing experiences. I admit that I appreciate schedules. But I recently had a law review ask for drafts to be returned by 5:00 pm on a specific day (on a relatively short--I think two-week--turnaround) and get very prickly with me when something came up in the final few days that delayed my draft by a few hours. Obviously, that law review had experienced significant delays in the past (at least that's what I assumed). But the way the editors and staff approached the problem seemed like overkill . . . .

Posted by: joanheminway | Apr 4, 2017 7:17:01 AM

I too recently had an experience with the heavy adding of parentheticals. But that same edit was very light in stylistic changes to the main text. I must admit, stylistic edits bother me much more than parentheticals, so I let all those new parentheticals slide, except for one or two that were blatantly wrong. Perhaps it's a bad attitude, but I have never grasped the value of parentheticals, so I always ignore them in other people's work. If student editors feel they need to waste their time on something, better that than endless pointless edits to the main text.

Posted by: Brett McDonnell | Apr 4, 2017 7:29:24 AM

We are in agreement, Brett, on most points. Interestingly, I do add parentheticals in all places in which the Bluebook requests/suggests them (e.g., after "See generally" and "See, e.g.," signals). Yet. staffers and editors at law reviews still seem compelled to add them elsewhere. I would not be troubled by this at all if the added parenthetical addressed properly the point from the textual sentence that bears the footnote . . . . But more times than not (and maybe it's my poor writing skills that are at fault here . . .), the parentheticals that are added do not illuminate--or even relate to--the related text . . . . Very frustrating.

Posted by: joanheminway | Apr 4, 2017 8:32:41 AM

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