Scholastica Law Review Submissions Insights

Annual Scholastica Law Review Submissions Insights

A data-driven look at the latest legal scholarship cycle

When is the best time to submit to law reviews? When do authors usually send expedite requests? When do editors issue the majority of decisions?

Each year, we hear similar questions about the law review submission cycle, all centering on one word — when. And we get it! In the crowded legal scholarship landscape, authors trying to place articles want to be able to make informed decisions so they can more confidently time their submissions and be selective about the law reviews they target.

At Scholastica, we understand that authors spend hours researching, writing, and preparing law review submissions, and we want to make it easier to find a home for those articles. In addition to introducing platform features to help authors quickly see which law reviews are open/closed and narrow down their target journal choices, over the years we've worked to dig into our data (anonymized and aggregated, of course) to provide a clearer picture of what the yearly law review submission cycle looks like. With that said, can we definitively answer the big "when" questions about the law review submission cycle?

Spoiler: Unfortunately no. The truth is, articles are submitted and accepted every day of the year. And, while there are observable peak submission and decision times (we unpack those below), it's unclear how knowing that would affect an author's chances of having an article accepted. There are, of course, many other factors that go into it!

With that said (in the spirit of scholarship and transparency), we still want to share when submission activities tend to happen across the year with you. So we've created the below series of charts to offer insight into our data.

We'll be updating these charts each year to reflect the latest submission season insights.

When do law reviews open?

Many law reviews have periods when they are NOT reading articles. So we know it's helpful for scholars to get a sense of when journals historically tend to open up (and presumably initiate article selection). The graph below maps out, by day, when journals open for submissions looking at a period of 12 months (from 11-1-2019 through 10-31-2020).

From this most recent data, we observe an apparent trend where law reviews begin to open for submissions late in January and July. There's a symbolic element here: the firsts of February and August have long served in the law review community as memorable ways to mark the beginning of the spring and fall "submission cycles." This latest data shows that, similar to previous years, the days with the most law review openings are February 1st and a tie on July 31st and August 1st, kicking off the spring and fall "submission seasons," respectively.

A methodological note: Only 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.

Another 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 fall. Scholastica strongly encourages law reviews to close their accounts when they are not reviewing submissions and to add a note to their "For Authors" page if they should choose to remain open during times when they are not actively vetting articles. Over the years, we have heard from some lower-ranked and specialty journals that they will sometimes remain open when not actively reviewing submissions so they have more articles to consider when they are ready to start filling their books.

When do authors submit?

Some legal scholars are concerned about their article being caught in the middle of a deluge of submissions – and other authors worry about NOT riding the submissions wave.

The graph below details when articles are submitted to law reviews looking at a period of 12 months (from 1-1-2020 through 12-31-2020).

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 are also weekly dips and peaks embedded in the data. At a glance, Mondays and Fridays stand out among the days of the week with higher volumes of submissions, particularly in the spring. With that said, there is not a readily observable trend as far as days of the week when authors were most likely to submit. To try and find an answer to that question would require digging into the data further.

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 – on average 16 times fewer articles per day compared to the peak periods. 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 looking at a period of 12 months (from 1-1-2020 through 12-31-2020).

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 gradually declines over the next 8 weeks.

But what are those large daily spikes? Based on discussions with law review editors, we're fairly confident spikes in daily decisions are caused when journals select their last articles for publication and then reject all remaining pieces.

Most decisions are made from February to the end of April and then August through the end of October – though there are still some decisions made outside those periods.

It's worth noting that these peak decision times appear to correlate with the academic calendar. Law students at most universities are starting to prepare for midterms and final exams in November and May, respectively. So it doesn't seem like a leap in logic to infer from the data that most law reviews are prioritizing making article decisions before these more hectic times of the academic year.

Expedites by due date

As authors receive decisions, some choose to 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 others pointedly ignore.

The graph above shows, by due date, when these expedited decisions are submitted by authors on Scholastica looking at a period of 12 months (from 1-1-2020 through 12-31-2020).

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 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: it seems fair to 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 we 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. We 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.

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