Journal Placement and Letterhead Bias. How to get published when you aren’t famous?

December 7th, 2009

At Prawfs Blawg, professor Arcila writes about his desire for blind reviews on law review placements, and about letterhead bias.

There’s actually been a surprising amount of scholarship on the subject, and it all reaches the same conclusion: law review publication offers generally aren’t determined by quality, but by various proxies to quality that can be grouped under the general rubric of “letterhead bias” (such as the professor’s name, the law school at which the professor teaches, or where the professor has previously published). You’ll find a good, recent piece of this scholarship here (note, the citation is wrong; it actually starts on page 175).  It contains citations to a lot more of the scholarship in this area in case you’re interested. Now, it may well be that letterhead bias is a roughly accurate barometer of quality, but it is at best only that, and it’s probably worse. (Particularly compelling is James Lindgren’s reported “nonscientific study” (see here, pg. 610) in which he submitted the identical article on Chicago-Kent and University of Chicago letterhead. His best offers were from Arizona, versus Penn and Northwestern, respectively.)

As a former Law Review editor I know all too well how important the letterhead and C.V. of a prospective author are. Articles submitted by professors at lower ranked schools, or non-professors would be given less consideration than professors at better schools. I personally abhorred this policy, but as a matter of efficiency and expediency, it was a necessary sorting mechanism. Even if it is a weak proxy for quality, it is a stronger proxy for getting citations. An established prof is more likely to getter better cites, thus making our journal better.

Fortunately, despite my lack of a prominent letterhead, or any academic position to speak of, I’ve been pretty fortunate and have placed articles in The Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, the Santa Clara Law Review, the Loyola Law Review, the Memphis Law Review, and the George Mason Civil Rights Law Journal. I find that as I place more, each subsequent article receives more offers, quicker. To some degree, the number of previous publications seems to help offset my lack of pedigree.  But, if I were to submit in a double-blind type study, I likely would have been able to secure better placements.