Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Advice to Law Journals: Part 9

Social_science_research_methodolo_2 9    do not reject out of hand pieces that are on esoteric subjects or that employ social science methodology

I've seen a lot of students over the years reject pieces because they are on topics that they (the editors) are not interested in--or perhaps do not understand.  In fact, a propos of this I was having lunch on Friday with a student who's working on a terrific empirical study of probate in antebellum Tuscaloosa.  (We've praised Lawrence Friedman et alia's recent empirical work on probate here.)  When talk turned to placing the article, he looked at me and said--rather pessimistically--"I guess a lot of editors will look at this and say 'I don't want to deal with cite-checking this.'"  I'm sure he's right; but that would be a mistake for an editor to say that.  They'll miss an opportunity in this case--and in lots of other ones, too--to publish something that's original and makes a significant contribution.

Alfred L. Brophy
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Here's an example. I wrote an article on zoning reform (available at )

The articles editor wrote:

"Unfortunately, I do not think that your article is a good fit for our journal because it focuses primarily on policy perspectives rather than on legal analysis."

Evidently, the editor believed that a discussion of local zoning ordinances is not "legal analysis." I think that some editors define "legal" as "cases" (as opposed to statutes, which are presumably not "legal" enough).

Posted by: Mike Lewyn | Sep 19, 2007 11:13:44 AM

Thank you for the advice--it is timely, and should be considered by any editor. I am editor for the Seton Hall Law Review, and we will be publishing a series of reports that are not traditional articles. The reports are not heavily footnoted, and rely mostly on statistical analysis of publicly available data released by the Department of Defense.

The publication decision was surprisingly difficult to make because the reports are, simply, different than traditional articles. Verification of the information in these reports will be much more difficult from our perspective, and we are publishing them with a perspective similar to many social science journals--that the author's conclusions will be studied by others, and if appropriate, challenged on their merits. Cases, statutes, journal articles, etc., can be readily verified; verification of statistical analysis & mass data compilation might end up being beyond our resources. At this point, we are planning on providing a thorough methodological description, along with citations to key documents.

I'm not sure if this the direction in which law journals should proceed, but we are experimenting with it. I think the gatekeeper function of a journal is important, and I hope that our precautions will fill this role.

Posted by: David | Sep 20, 2007 7:31:24 AM

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