Students as Editors!?!?! A Law Journal Bleg

22 November 2006 at 2:16 pm 3 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

My employer, Copenhagen Business School, has recently decided to adopt a “Top 60 Journals” list. It contains the usual suspects (SMJ, AMJ, ASQ, Org. Science, etc.) and a number of lesser journals, including some distinct outliers (such as Scandinavian Journal of Management :-)). It has now been proposed by the Dean that the list be used in connection with promotions; for example, a Full Professor must, according to the proposal, have at least one article published in a Top 60 journal. An extremely modest requirement, one would think. Not so.

One problem among the many, many extremely serious problems that the opponents of the list have identified is that it does not include law journals. And the law department at CBS is therefore unhappy with the list and the fact that it be used as an instrument in connection with hiring and promotion decisions. The law professors argue that the institutions of journal publication are 1) not as important in law as in management research and 2) are very different between management and law.

Thus, to my great astonishment, I learned from a law professor that the major US law journals are not edited by peers. They are in fact …. [gasp!] … edited by students! Here is how Wikipedia describes the editing of the Harvard Law Review:

Using a competitive process that takes into account first-year grades, an editing exercise, and a written commentary on a court decision, The Harvard Law Review selects between 41 and 43 editors annually from the second-year Law School class, which numbers 560.

Two editors from each of first-year class’s seven sections (fourteen in all) are selected half by their first year grades and half by their scores on the writing competition. Another twenty are selected solely on their scores on the writing competition. The other seven to nine are selected by a discretionary committee, either to fulfill the review’s race-based affirmative action program, to select students who just missed the cut by either of the other two processes, or by some other criteria as the committee sees fit.

Apparently, the journal has been edited by students since it was founded in 1887. It has published papers that even an economist knows of (e.g., the famous Calabresi and Melamed paper in 1972), in addition to papers by Louis Brandeis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and many other luminaries.

It seems fair to conclude that this strange institution has survived the test of time. Here are some questions:

  • Were these journals recognized as major journals from the beginning?
  • To what extent are senior people (law professors) involved — after all?
  • Can you see any distinct advantages in this way of organizing the editing process of these journals that more traditional journals may miss?
  • Are there successful journals in other disciplines that are also being run by students?

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Institutions. Tags: .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bo  |  23 November 2006 at 12:59 pm

    Interesting. I don’t know of any student editors, however, “esteemed” business journals like JIBS utilize PhD students as reviewers frequently – while I see nothing wrong with this per se, it may, however, account for the inconsistency in reviews.

    Again, I strongly advocate for journals adopted a “professional” reviewer corpse. Educate reviewers and give them (extrinsic or intrinsic) incentives to do timely and high quality reviews. This would also reduce the time-to-publishing significantly, because given a certain incentive, reviewers could be “pursuaded” to treat the review process with more ugency (why does it take 6 months for people to review an article? Do they really spend more than one/two days on it?)..

  • 2. Peter G. Klein  |  23 November 2006 at 8:27 pm

    Another peculiarity of the law-review business is the practice of multiple simultaneous submissions, which is strictly verboten by the management and social-science journals. I’m sure someone has done an efficiency study of this type of selection process (I can see pros and cons).

    Law professors, can you help us out? Why are your publication institutions so different from those in other disciplines?

  • 3. Dirk Friedrich  |  24 November 2006 at 1:10 pm

    German law journals usually are not based on peer review but have professional editorial staff. There are no student editors either. Thus, the reason for student reviewers in the US probably is not the law itself as a special discipline of science (if one thinks law is or can be scientific at all), but a specificity of the US legal and/or educational system.

    Side note: having been on the editorial staff of a journal is a huge plus on CVs.

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