After submitting an article on Expresso, I had the strangest feeling of deja vu. I received a rejection email from the George Mason Law Review. It was an email I had personally sent out more times than I could count, from an email account I used to check hourly. For a lark, I emailed the editor back and thanked her for her consideration, and explained that I sat in her seat 6 years earlier. She replied, and told me that an essay I wrote, “My Life as an Articles Editors,” is *still* in the Law Review Handbook. I had absolutely no recollection of writing this essay, so she kindly sent me a copy.
Here it is, in its entirety. (I would be well-served to take my own advice for writing!)
Josh Blackman, Articles Editor 2008-2009
My Life as an Articles Editor
The duties of an articles editor are significant, the commitment is perpetual, but the rewards are immeasurable.
- First Review of Article
o When the Senior AE first assigns you an article, it may or not be in your area of expertise.
o If it is in your area of expertise, you have an advantage. Read the cover letter, CV, and introduction. By that point, you should get a feel if the idea is novel or hackneyed. If you think it’s an overwritten topic, read on, but don’t spend too much time on it.
o If it is not in your area of expertise, it’s a little harder. You will need to read the argument much more carefully, and maybe, if you have time, run a brief preemption check. Often you won’t have time for this, but if it seems like a really unique topic, just enter a few keywords into Westlaw Journal and Law Review search.
o My process for reviewing an article is as follows:
- Before I do anything, run a word count. The text above the line:text below the line ratio should be about 2:1. Anything shorter than 10,000 words above the line is probably too short. More than 30,000 is really long.
- Read the introduction. Take note of what the author suggests he’ll discuss. Keep an eye out for BS, and lofty assertions that cannot be supported.
- Second skim through the fact and background section, just making sure there are adequate number of footnotes.
- Third, go through the argument section. Read the roadmap paragraph, and skim the Roman numerals. Quickly match this up with what the author wrote in his Introduction. If they don’t match, likely the argument is BS. IF they match, go through the argument in some detail. Check to see if it makes some sense, and whether it addresses any obvious criticisms you can think of
o Based on these steps you have to decide whether or not you want to publish it. When making the recommendation keep the following factors in mind
- Citeability- is this something another journal/court/brief will cite. No one ever reads an entire law review cover to cover. It’s a fiction. In reality, some lawyer will go to westlaw, type in a few keywords, and hopefully west brings up your article. The lawyer will find a single proposition/paragraph/section he likes, and cite to it. So even if the article you are reviewing has a weak background section, but a few really good paragraphs of analysis that have never been written before, that weighs heavily for citeability
- Quality of writing- if it is poorly written or has poor footnotes this creates a lot of work for the AE, and the RE, so consider this. But, in my experiences, I would rather fix up a brilliant piece of scholarship that have an easy editing job on a mediocre piece of scholarship.
- Timeliness- it has to be timely. If the author writes a fascinating article about an old precedent, its likely irrelevant. Who cares?
- Second Review of Article
o For the second round, I am highly deferential. Kind of like a clear and erroneous standard of review. Unless I see something I really don’t like, I will generally agree with the first reviewer. This confidence comes with time as the AE team develops a good symbiotic relationship. But this saves so much time and effort.
- Working with Fellow Articles Editor
o Try hard to develop a good working relationship with your fellow AE. You will work so closely with them, that it makes sense to get to know them well enough. You begin to understand what they look for in an article. If you want to sell an article, you can custom tailor your review. For example, if an AE is a stickler for footnotes, and an article might have less than perfect footnotes, make a comment how this can easily be fixed, and show where the author did this well.
- Making Initial Author Contact
o At first contact, be overly formal. A phone call may be helpful, but depends if the author is interested.
o As you develop, if you sense the author is acting more friendly, emulate him. It makes for a more relaxed environment, especially if something goes wrong.
o If the author screws up (he will), do whatever it takes to fix it, and don’t cast blame on him.
o If you, or anyone else on law review screws up, take the blame. He only knows who you are, and if you blame, say a RE, it is irrelevant. Man up to it, and do whatever it takes to make it right.
- First Round Edits
o This is where you review the article with a fine tooth comb. Go word by word, line by line. Don’t be afraid to make substantial changes. For example, if you want to rearrange paragraphs, move sentences around, add sentences, or even add an entire section that you feel is lacking, do so. But, do it respectfully. Insert comments into the document, and explain, in detail, why you are doing what you are doing. The author may or may not be receptive. Ultimately, it is his article, and he can just reject any changes. But if you don’t make them here, they will be harder to make down the line.
- Second Round Edits
o When you receive the article back from the author, go through his changes. Try to see what he accepted/rejected. Ultimately, you will accept all of his changes and send it to the Research Editor.
o When you get the spaded article back from the RE, go through it one more time, and send it the Author. Make sure you indicate that this is the last chance the author will have to make any substantive changes.
- Keeping Communication with Author during Process
o After the author sends the article back, and you forward it to EIC/EE for final review, keep in contact with the author, and let him know what is going on. When it is published, when it goes on the website, when the print copies come out. Always be in contact, as I’m sure he is anxious.
o After the final issue is shipped, send a thank you note. It will leave a good GMU taste in his mouth, and helps build our reputation.
- If you are an AE, and you think you have some free time, odds are you aren’t working hard enough.
- You should try to review between 5-10 articles a week, every week. Don’t slack off and let articles linger in your review folder, because authors will get offers elsewhere, and not tell us. If you review an article that was already accepted you waste everyone’s time. Just keep reading.
- When there is an expedite, take care of it right away. Whether or not another journal accepting an article is an indication of the article’s quality, an expedite means you have a good shot at losing the article. If you are the second round reviewer on an expedite, take care of that before anything else you are working on, as you only have a short window.
- If there is a mistake, and you need to rearrange your schedule, you just have to do it. When you miss deadlines, you push back the entire process, and everyone else suffers. Like Atlas, put the globe on your back, and carry forward. Just shrug.
- You will learn so much by taking this position seriously. You learn about cutting edge scholarship in every area of the law. You will learn how to write effectively, and what makes a good law review article. You will learn how to structure a logical argument persuasively. You will learn how to deal with professionals of all types, and how to deal with people in academic settings. You will learn how to work closely with your fellow law review editors, skills which will serve you will in any collaborative enterprise. You will learn a lot about yourself.