by Jeff Sovern
As law students, law professors, and lawyers know, most law reviews are edited by law students, which means that law students select the articles that appear in their journals. The prime submission season is just underway, and so newly-minted law review editors—most in their second year of law school—are choosing among the flood of articles submitted by lawyers and law professors.
Most second year students have been exposed to only a limited range of legal doctrines and a limited number of articles. That surely must make it harder to assess the quality of an article. Consequently, it is only natural that some rely upon signals of quality. For example, some observers claim that law review editors are subject to letterhead bias; that is, the tendency to give excessive weight to the affiliation of the author, with the result that prestigious journals publish weaker articles by professors at top law schools over better articles by scholars at schools that are ranked lower.
I am wondering about the effectiveness of a different signal to suggest that an article is significant: media attention for the research reported in the article (Warning: self-serving statements ahead). My co-authors and I are in the process of submitting to law reviews an article (which will be familiar to regular readers of this blog), “Whimsy Little Contracts” with Unexpected Consequences: An Empirical Analysis of Consumer Understanding of Arbitration Agreements. It’s been the subject of coverage in The New York Times DealBook, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, American Banker (here, here, and here), and a couple more places have stated their intention to run things on it. While I wrote most of those pieces (but not all), the various outlets undoubtedly would not have used my pieces if they did not deem them newsworthy. So will all that signal to law review editors that the article is significant? Of course, one article is a miniscule sample, but if the article gets a good placement, law review article writers might be well advised in the future to seek more media attention for their writings (I should note that media attention is valuable for reasons other than obtaining good placements, including that it can lead to useful comments on the underlying article and also help promote the ideas expressed in the article).