Annual Scholastica Law Review Submissions Insights
A data-driven look at the latest legal scholarship cycle
Updated for 2022
So much of the legal scholarship cycle comes down to timing as law reviews race to fill their volumes.
Whether you're an author or editor entering the law review submission milieu this year, you likely have many questions on the brain that start with "WHEN?".
Like, when will peak submission times be? When will the majority of law reviews issue decisions? And when will expedite requests start rolling in?
At Scholastica, we hear these kinds of questions all the time, both from those new to the law review landscape and seasoned veterans, and we get it! So much of the legal scholarship cycle comes down to timing as law reviews race to fill their volumes, so authors and editors naturally want to know when key activities tend to take place and if and how that's changing. Unfortunately, there isn't a crystal ball for seeing into the submission season future. But we do have another powerful tool at our disposal to help provide some insight — data.
Over the years, Scholastica has dug into our law review data (anonymized and aggregated, of course) to provide a clearer picture of the annual law review submission cycle.
With that said, can we definitively answer all of those big "when" questions mentioned above?
Spoiler: Unfortunately, no. While there are observable submission trends (which we unpack below), it's unclear how knowing that would affect an author's chances of having an article accepted. Many other factors go into it!
However, in the spirit of scholarship and transparency, we still want to share when submission activities tend to happen and how patterns are shifting over time. So we've created the below series of graphs highlighting findings from the most recent submission cycle (January 1, 2021 - December 31, 2021).
We'll update this resource at the start of each legal scholarship year, so stay tuned for future submission season insights to come. Now, without further ado, let's get to it!
When do law reviews open?
We know it's helpful for scholars to get a sense of when law reviews historically tend to open (and presumably initiate article selection) since many have periods when they are NOT actively seeking papers. The graph below maps out, by day, when law reviews opened for submissions during the 2021 article selection cycle (January 1, 2021 - December 31, 2021).
Off the bat, there is an apparent trend of law reviews beginning to open for submissions in late January and late July. As in previous years, the days with the most law review openings are February 1st and August 1st, respectively.
There's a symbolic element here: the firsts of February and August have long served as memorable days to mark the beginning of the spring and fall "submission cycles" and so many law reviews aim to open by these dates (something we've also anecdotally heard from editors at Scholastica).
However, looking at the above data, it appears that some law reviews chose to wait to open until slightly later in the 2021 "spring submission season" (which begins in January), contrary to patterns observed in previous years. We see noticeable spikes in openings later in the season on February 8th and 15th, 2021. One possible reason for this is law reviews adjusting article selection timeframes to give editors and authors more time to prepare amid added work/life stressors from the COVID-19 pandemic, as some did during the 2020 fall season, which saw opening spikes as late as August 10. In line with this theory, some law reviews did announce that they would be pushing back their spring 2021 opening dates to mid-February early in the year, as seen in this Twitter thread by Adam Zimmerman, Professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles.
Law reviews appear to have more closely adhered to historical patterns during the 2021 fall submission season, with most openings occurring on August 1st and 2nd, respectively, and diminishing opening activity after that aside from a smaller spike on August 23rd, 2021. As the pandemic continues, it's possible that some law reviews may open later in the 2022 spring and fall submission seasons or possibly remain open longer, but, of course, only time will tell.
A methodological note: historically, only around 35% of law reviews using Scholastica actively open/close submissions across the year – the other ~65% remain open for submissions year-round, much like traditional peer-reviewed journals that have year-round rolling review.
~35% of law reviews using Scholastica actively open/close submissions across the year – the other ~65% remain open for submissions year-round.
Another methodological note: Journals can close for submissions and often do twice a year — so a single journal could count two times in the above chart, once in the spring and once in the fall. Scholastica strongly encourages law reviews to close their accounts when not reviewing submissions and to add a note to their "For Authors" page letting authors know when they plan to start reviewing submissions again should they remain open outside of their regular article selection period. Over the years, we have heard from some lower-ranked and specialty law reviews that they sometimes remain open when not actively reviewing submissions to get more papers to consider when they are ready to start filling their books.
When do authors submit?
To submit to law reviews during peak opening times or "off-season?" That's the question many authors ponder when preparing law review submissions. As noted in the introduction, it really depends on the article in question and the situation of the particular law review an author is interested in, so we can't answer that question directly. But we can help you get a sense of when other authors tend to submit to law reviews to know the usually busy and slow times.
The graph below details when articles were submitted to law reviews looking at all of 2021 (January 1, 2021 - December 31, 2021).
The graph shows the bi-modal waves of article submissions that define the two busy submission seasons (February - April, and August - September). As in 2020, around 80% of submissions were sent to law reviews in the six weeks following February and August 1st, 2021.
While the fall 2021 submission season followed essentially the same pattern as fall 2020 (i.e., the majority of submissions occurring in the first two weeks of August), the spring submission season was somewhat different than the previous year.
Submissions appeared to peak earlier during the spring 2021 submission season than 2020, with the highest spikes occurring February 1 and February 15, 2021 (both dates tied), compared to February 11 and 14, 2020.
Weekly peaks and dips in submissions are also observable in the 2021 data, with Mondays and Tuesdays standing out among the days of the week with higher submission volumes, particularly in the spring. This suggests a shift in behavior from 2020 when Mondays and Fridays looked to be the highest submission volume days overall. In both 2020 and 2021, Saturdays and Sundays were among the lowest submission volume days.
The 2021 graph displays one notable spike in submissions on a Sunday, August 1st. Since the start of August is considered the symbolic start of fall submission season by many in the legal scholarship community, as noted above, this is not surprising.
With all of that said, it's important to note that the above graph does not yield clear trends as far as days of the week when authors were most likely to submit, so these observations are based only on what is discernible from a glance at the high-level data. To try and uncover trends would require digging into the data further.
Weekly peaks and dips in submissions are observable in the 2021 data, with Mondays and Tuesdays standing out among the days of the week with higher submission volumes.
It’s 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. As explained 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 law review's subject expertise, changes in submission volumes/cadence, etc.
The graph below shows when decisions were made using Scholastica looking at all of 2021 (January 1, 2021 - December 31, 2021).
At first glance, there are no surprises here: the number of daily publication decisions starts noticeably rising about three weeks after the February/August starting point for the two submission seasons and gradually declines over the next eight weeks.
But what are those large daily spikes? Based on discussions with law review editors, we're fairly confident the cause is journals selecting their last articles for publication and rejecting all remaining pieces. 2021 saw the highest daily spikes in law review decisions on February 28th and March 16th, with noticeable smaller spikes in decisions between March 31st and April 24th.
The above dates follow usual patterns, as most decisions are historically made from February to the end of April and then August through the end of October. However, there are still decisions made outside those periods.
Law reviews make publication offers every day of the year – which makes sense given the complicated selection mechanics involved.
It's worth noting that these peak decision times appear to correlate with the academic calendar. At most universities, law students start preparing for midterms and final exams in November and May, respectively. Knowing that and observing the data, it doesn't seem like a leap in logic to infer that most law reviews are making article decisions before those more hectic times of the year.
Expedites by due date
As authors receive publication offers, some choose to ask other law reviews they would consider (or prefer) an alternative publication offer from to make a decision on their article. These "expedited decision requests" are a form of communication between authors and law reviews, which some respond to quickly, some respond to in a moderated fashion, and others pointedly ignore.
The graph above shows, by due date, when these expedited decisions were submitted by authors on Scholastica looking at all of 2021 (January 1, 2021 - December 31, 2021).
A reminder: authors create expedited decision requests, so this chart reflects author activity and not journal editor activity.
After seeing the previous graphs, this chart of expedited decision requests confirms the patterns identified. Expedited decision requests follow a similar bimodal pattern with similar timeframes as submissions and decisions.
However, while the peak fall 2021 expedited decision request date period was closely in step with that of 2020, with the highest expedite levels from late August to about the first week of September, the spring 2021 data appears to deviate from the previous season somewhat. The peak spring 2021 expedited decision request dates were from March 8 - March 26, whereas the peak spring 2020 expedited decision request dates occurred February 28 - March 20. It's a relatively slight shift, but interesting to note that authors appeared to be somewhat slower to expedite in 2021 compared to the previous year, and/or offers may have come back somewhat slower during the 2021 spring submission season resulting in later expedite requests.
There are also MANY more human and qualitative considerations that need to be understood to complete the picture.
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. All law reviews have individual historical trends and known opportunities and concerns that will affect when they open and which articles they select. For example:
- There may be times when journals are looking for very particular articles because they filled all but a handful of available slots earlier in the year.
- The length of each law review’s article selection process (i.e., three days vs. two weeks) will affect when it can make offers and consider competing ones.
- While some editors prioritize articles on current events, others prefer articles on historical themes or regional topics (always check submission guidelines!).
- Some editors want to build up a queue of hundreds of articles to compare all at once, while others want to read articles as they come in a rolling fashion.
The best takeaway we can derive from the data is that authors should not miss opportunities to submit when they know most law reviews are active, but they should also not ignore the reality that law reviews make decisions year-round. We would encourage an author to avoid attempting to game the system 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 than these aggregated charts ever will.
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 the question, "when is the best time for law review submissions?" The answer depends on the article, the author, the law review, the editors, current events, communication – in other words, the complicated mix of individual and institutional dynamics that make up any social decision-making process.
In closing, we wish legal scholars and law review editors the best in their publication pursuits!
- The Scholastica Team