Costs of Length Limits on Law Journal Articles

The other day I worried out loud that the new law review orthodoxy in favor of short articles would have some bad consequences in practice, especially as regards writing by junior faculty. Here's the first piece of real-world evidence that I was right to worry:

Conglomerate: Musings on Page Limits and Tenure Standards With some painful editing, I've gotten my article on VC compensation down to a svelte 25,000 words. All I had to do was take out the stuff that appealed only to people in my field (who also happen to be the only people who will read it other than student editors …). The key turning point for me was when I realized I could take out the empirical and quasi-empirical stuff and publish it as a separate paper in a specialty journal.

This experience makes me wonder … what's going to happen to tenure standards? How many short articles equal a long article?

Here at UCLA, it used to be the case that two articles was enough for tenure. No one really believes that anymore, but at the same time no one knows what the new standard is. Two may still be enough if they're really, really long. With 50 page limits, I'd guess the new standard will be more like four articles, or even six. Plus, no one knows how to count things like symposium articles and book reviews. I suppose in this case, uncertainty is good, as it drives people to “over-comply” to make sure they clear the hurdle. But it does create some anxiety among the junior ranks.

[Note: when I originally posted this, the date and time somehow got messed up, so I later corrected it.]

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One Response to Costs of Length Limits on Law Journal Articles

  1. Chris says:

    Again, I’m writing from the viewpoint of a different discipline, so please forgive my naivete here. Is page length really an indicator for article quality in the law schools, with a long paper better than a short one? It sounds like the real question is whether the prospective author is slicing the salami a little too thinly by taking the ideas that were sufficient for a single paper and publishing it as two papers. That is, two papers that are slight variants of each other. If that’s the case, there is a check and balance that I think is more effective than just adding more articles to the tenure quota–academia is a small world, and others in the discipline (and especially the departmental tenure committee) will see the basically duplicate articles and not be impressed.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read a law article, but I can only guess that a concise and focused manuscript offers greater potential for impact than a manuscript filled with distracting trivia and footnotes where the reader really has to work hard to figure out the main points of the paper are. Maybe it’s time for law journals to move to peer review, where subject matter experts (which would include those complaining about how unnecessarily long the articles are) can help the editor determine what narrative is worth keeping and what can be tossed out.

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