I’m convinced that law professor misbehavior is driven by the group’s rather unhealthy obsession with rank and prestige. More specifically, many law profs have never practiced law, and most of those who have practiced have done so for very short periods of time (1.4 years, according to one study) in very sanitized settings (e.g., writing briefs but never meeting a real-life client, let alone representing one in a business transaction or jury trial). Without any law practice experience to draw upon, this leaves the law profs to judge each other by the U.S. News ranking of their law schools and of the law journals in which they publish.
In order to jack up their law schools’ rankings, law profs (and, more commonly, law school bureaucrats) have engaged in numerous scams, including (1) outright falsifying their schools’ admissions and employment data, (2) touting misleading employment statistics to entice today’s mushy-minded college grad to enroll in their law schools, and (3) under-reporting their law school graduates’ debt load, among other scams. You can read about these and other law prof tricks in Ben Trachtenberg’s recent article, Law School Marketing and Legal Ethics.
And then there’s the profs’ law review publishing ploys. I recently wrote this essay explaining several tactics that law profs use to maximize the prestige of their article placements. These tricks include fabricating offers out of whole cloth in order to request expedited reviews from journals, fudging the terms of their otherwise legitimate offers when expediting to “better” journals, and submitting articles to low-ranked journals (where the profs would never, under any circumstances, actually agree to publish) just to get that first offer and jump into the expedite game.
But since publishing that essay, I have become aware of an additional law prof trick. As Ryan Scoville writes, when submitting their articles to law journals, some profs will “insert exaggerated claims of novelty or significance into their submission to student editors and then, after securing a satisfactory offer of publication, moderate those claims in drafts made available to colleagues and the public. By doing so, the authors manage to improve their chances at a desirable placement and avoid unscholarly claims before peers.”
It’s yet another gross, slimy ploy in the law profs’ prestige-driven bag of tricks. (I just wish I knew about this scam when I wrote my essay.) You can read more about this bait-and-switch tactic, and its prevalence, in Scoville’s article The Ethics of Baiting and Switching in Law Review Submissions.
And with the Spring 2018 law review submission season nearly upon us, the lesson for law review editors is this: Be leery of law professors’ claims. For example, if a law professor has to explicitly tell you (in the cover letter, abstract, or the article itself) that his or her “piece” is “interesting,” “novel,” or “groundbreaking” — well, buyer beware.