The vagaries of publication

By Legal Eagle

One of the more difficult parts of being an academic is submitting work to be published. Sometimes you don’t hear back from the journal for ages, sometimes you never hear back. Sometimes you get a vicious response from a reviewer. But I’ve never had an experience like the one related below.

I’ve noted before that Professor Bainbridge is not a fan of student edited law journals. Well, no wonder, after he submitted an article for publication and was treated very shabbily by an unnamed law journal . I think I need to quote the entire string of correspondence so that you get the picture:

EMAIL # 1:

Dear Professor Bainbridge–

[redacted name of chief editor] has assigned me the pleasant task of doing the initial edit on your fine speech at the Rutter Teaching Award ceremony. Attached is my markup with some suggested additions marked in red and deletions and comments appearing in balloons in the margin. All changes have been tracked, and you can easily accept or reject any of them, as well as make any other changes you wish. The most substantial issue I noticed is how your clever critique of Saul Levmore’s classroom Internet ban late in the piece (a view, btw, that I happen to share) may create the impression that Levmore was the nameless UVA torts prof mentioned earlier in the piece. It seems to me fwiw that clarifying that Levmore either was or wasn’t this torts prof may be a worthwhile. [SMB: He wasn’t.] Beyond that, I’ve inserted a few citations for you (but do you have a page reference for the cite to McCormack?), and made some other nonsubstantive suggestions. I hope you will find at least some of this work helpful, and I look forward to hearing back from you at your convenience with a revised final draft that I could then send along to [redacted name of chief editor] for conversion into galley proofs. And please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

EMAIL # 2:

Professor Bainbridge:

I have a number of additional comments about the piece (some of which are substantive) that my earlier email did not reflect and which I hope you will forgive me for not mentioning sooner. …

[SMB: All stuff I would have been happy to fix.]

As with my other suggestions, I hope that you will find these helpful, and I hope that in particular you will do your best to address point #1. And as before, feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns or to let me know of any other way in which I might be helpful. … But should you have any concern that requires immediate attention, you could always contact [redacted name of chief editor].

EMAIL #3:

Dear Professor Bainbridge

I am writing to apologize. Although, as [the author of the first two emails] points out, there is a lot to like about your Rutter speech, we have opted *not* to publish it in the [journal name redacted]. We do hope you will keep the [redacted] in mind for future projects. I am very sorry for any time and trouble our scrambled communications have caused you.

Sincerely,

[redacted name of chief editor]

Professor Bainbridge continues:

Contracts was 20-odd years ago, so my memory is a little hazy, but couldn’t you argue that my submission of my article was an offer and the first email was an acceptance by the journal?

Anyway, after an 8 hour drive, I’m too tired to come up with any thing witty to say about this. Suffice it then to say that I’ve never had a student-edited law review pull such a lame stunt. Suffice it also to say that not only will I not be keeping this journal “in mind for future projects,” I’ve cancelled my subscription. I find the episode highly unprofessional. You don’t accept an article, start editing it, send an email asking for changes, and then unaccept (disaccept?) the damn thing!

That does seem very, very unprofessional to me. I would have thought it would be better to publish the article than to lose face by withdrawing the offer of publication like that! I don’t know if they have estoppel in the US (surely they do?) Although whether one would want to estop the journal from asserting its “unacceptance” after that kind of unprofessional behaviour is another question.

I think the Professor should write to the Law Journal in question and say that he is very disappointed with the conduct in question, that he will be discontinuing his subscription to it and he will certainly not be submitting any further material to it. It’s just really poor form, particularly given the fact that the Professor had already put some work into rewriting the piece. Presumably someone made some kind of administrative mistake (thought the “maybe” pile of articles was the “definite yes” pile?), but still, pretty hopeless. I would have thought that they could at least make a personal phone call to apologise and explain what happened, rather than just send a smarmy letter unaccepting the article.

I note that in the comments section to the blog post, the George Mason Law Review has offered to look at the article with a view to publication – well, at least they’re entrepreneurial. Maybe the article will find a home after all, and there will be a happy ending to the story?

5 Comments

  1. Posted June 10, 2008 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Shit. As a former student editor of a student edited law review, this is pretty bloody appalling, mainly because it’s just so incompetent.

    We’ve had a good run, lately – incompetent law clerks, incompetent journal editors… wonder which subsection of the legal fraternity will drop crap on the rest of us next?

  2. Posted June 11, 2008 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    That is a disgrace. They are lucky not to have been named.

  3. Jacques Chester
    Posted June 11, 2008 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Do not meddle in the affairs of law professors, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

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