Law Review Article Submissions Insights

A data-driven look into the yearly legal scholarship cycle

The Scholastica team read PrawfsBlawg’s “Some Results from the Law Review Submission Practices Survey” post and comments a few months ago, and it stuck in our minds.

Specifically, we thought it was clear that authors want to know: “For a legal scholar, when is the best time to submit a manuscript to a law review?” We realized that, as a portal for hundreds of top law reviews, we could dig into our data (anonymized and aggregated, of course) to see what the yearly life cycle for law reviews looks like and see if we can help answer that question.

Specifically, we thought it was clear that authors want to know: "For a legal scholar, when is the best time to submit a manuscript to a law review?"

Spoiler: we don’t know when the best time to submit a law review article is. Sorry about that!

The truth is, articles are accepted every day of the year. While there is a tendancy for legal articles to be submitted and selected during certain times in the year, it’s unclear how knowing that would affect any individual article’s chances of being accepted.

That said, and in the spirit of scholarship and transparency, we did want to share some insight into when activities tend to happen across the year. We've created a series of interactive charts to offer rich insight into our data.

When do law reviews open?

Many law reviews have periods when they are NOT reading articles – so knowing when journals are open for submissions (and presumably actively accepting articles for publication) is of great interest to aspiring legal scholars. The graph below maps out by day when journals actively open for submissions across the year.

Two dates really stand out: February 1 and August 1. My hunch is that there's a symbolic element here: the first of the month is a memorable way to mark the beginning of "submission season."

Another methodological note: Only 40% of law reviews using Scholastica actively open/close submissions across the year – the other 60% remain open for submissions year-round, much like traditional peer-reviewed journals that have year-round rolling review.

40% of law reviews using Scholastica actively open/close submissions across the year – the other 60% remain open for submissions year-round

A methodological note: Journals can close for submissions and often do twice a year, so a single journal could count twice in the above chart, once in the spring and once in the autumn.

When do authors submit?

Some legal scholars are concerned about being in the middle of a deluge of law review articles – and other authors worry about NOT riding the wave.

The graph below details when articles are submitted to law reviews.

The graph shows the bi-modal waves of article submissions that define the two busy submission seasons. The majority of articles, around 80% in total, are sent to law reviews in the six weeks following February 1 and the six weeks following August 1.

Along with the annual cycle defined by two large waves, there is also another pattern embedded in the data: a weekly cycle of dips and peaks. These spikes and troughs are 6-7 days apart, but my impression is that this pattern would be more clearly a 7-day cycle were the data not being aggregated across two years (due to the fact that the numerical day of the month did not have the same corresponding day of the week across 2013 and 2014). My guess would be that the dips are the weekend and that the peaks are Mondays and Fridays, but that would need more investigation to confirm.

Along with the annual cycle defined by two large waves, there is also another pattern embedded in the data: a weekly cycle of dips and peaks.

It is also worth noting that articles are submitted every day of the year, though the off-peak times (May-July and October-December) have fewer articles submitted by a factor of 20 or more. As noted earlier, many law reviews accept and review articles year-round, so this steady but muted submission of articles makes sense.

When do law reviews make decisions?

As mentioned in the introduction, law reviews make publication offers every day of the year – which makes sense given the complicated selection mechanics involved in matching articles to the journal’s subject expertise, timing when editors are selecting articles, etc.

The graph below shows when decisions are made in Scholastica across the year.

At first glance there are no surprises here: the number of daily publication decisions starts rising about two weeks after the February/August starting point for the two submission seasons and ultimately peters out about 6 weeks later (total of two months).

But what are those big large daily spikes? Based on discussions with law review editors, I'm fairly confident these spikes in daily decisions are caused when a journal selects their last article for publication and then rejects all remaining pieces.

Most decisions are made from January to the end of May and then August through the end of October – though there are still some decisions made outside that period.

...spikes in daily decisions are caused when a journal selects their last article for publication and then rejects all remaining pieces

Expedites by Due Date

As authors receive decisions, they generally alert other journals they would consider (or prefer) an alternative publication offer from. These “expedited decision requests” are a form of communication between authors and journals which some journals respond to quickly, some respond to in a moderated fashion, and other journals pointedly ignore.

The graph below shows when these expedited decisions are submitted by authors on Scholastica.

A reminder: authors create expedited decision requests, so this chart is a reflection of author activity and not journal editor activity

After seeing the previous graphs, this chart of expedited decision requests confirms the patterns already identified and doesn't offer too many new insights. Expedited decision requests follow a similar bimodal pattern with similar timeframes as submissions and decisions.

One potential extrapolation after comparing the decisions graph to the expedited decision request graph: I would assume that the spikes in the decisions graph are mostly rejections since we don't see a corresponding spike in expedited decision requests on those same days.

Closing Thoughts

While this post was numbers heavy, looking at the quantitative and temporal dimensions that affect law review article selection, there are also MANY more human and qualitative considerations that need to be understood to complete the picture. Each journal has an idiosyncratic mix of concerns that affects which articles they select, for example:

  • Editors might have filled all but one of their article slots earlier in the year and so might be looking for a particular type of article.
  • The journal might have a 3-day review process or a 2-week review process, which can affect when offers are made and how competing offers are processed.
  • The editors might have decided to prioritize articles about current events, or they might prefer articles about ahistoric legal themes.
  • The editors might want to build up a queue of hundreds of articles to compare all at once, or they might want to read articles as they come in a rolling fashion.

The best takeaway I can derive from the data presented here is: authors should not miss opportunities to submit when they know most law reviews are active – the two big submission periods – but they should also not ignore the reality that some law reviews make decisions year-round. I would encourage an author to avoid attempting to game the system in order to get their article published, but instead default to a more basic tool: communication. Target a journal for publication, and then ask the journal when the best time to submit an article to their editors is – they might just tell you, and in more concrete detail then these aggregated charts ever will.

Target a journal for publication, and then ask the journal when the best time to submit an article to their editors is

The previous charts offered insight on a calendar-year basis for activity by legal scholars and law review editors, but the data do not answer that question, "when is the best time to submit an article?" The answer depends on the article, the author, the journal, the editor, current events, communication – in other words, the normally complicated mix of individual and institutional dynamics that make up any social decision-making process.

In closing, we wish our legal scholars the best in their pursuit to have their work published!

- The Scholastica team

Commentary by Brian Cody. Concept and direction by Danielle Padulla and Elli Olson. Data and design by Nick Lewis and Rob Walsh, supported by George Diaz and Cory Schires. Editing by Anna LeSuer.