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Time for law journals to be less precious about rejected articles

I had an experience this week that reminded me of something that happened to me in the late 1980s and it was not particularly pleasant. I wrote a piece for a conference knowing that the organizers were not going to publish the papers. So, I sent it to a law journal who sent a slightly odd reject letter. In truth, I was not sure where I should have submitted it.

So, I looked up another publication in which a number of pieces of mine have appeared over the years, particularly in its first decade. Its webpage indicated that it was not interested in anything which had been submitted elsewhere. Why? What is inferior about a piece that was sent to another journal whose editors decided not to use it.

It brought me back to my very first law journal publication which may actually be the best I have ever written. As a pupil barrister, I watched the House of Lords’ hearing (actually it was not much of one) in the Antaios case concerning the right to appeal on a question of law against an arbitration award under the 1979 Act (now section 69 Arbitration Act 1996). I obtained a scholarship from the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law to write an article on this subject (in reality to help them with their Arbitration project which became my first book). I sent my 1979 Act piece with an international and comparative law angle to the International and Comparative Law Quarterly (ICLQ), an august affair and, with hindsight, the wrong destination for a first publication.

The late Peter Carter had a ferocious reputation among students where I studied as an undergraduate but taught a superb introduction to conflicts of laws at the Inns of Court School of Law. We had met briefly but pleasantly at an arbitration conference. So, I sent my manuscript to him. He wrote back a friendly personalised letter, explaining that the ICLQ was turning away from publishing on private arbitration law for the moment. He suggested that I send it to the Journal of International Arbitration (J Int Arb) that had recently opened up for business. The J Int Arb published my 1979 Act piece, three subsequent efforts and a book review, all written between 1985-1989. For this reason, I will always have a soft spot for the late Dennis Thompson who created the journal and Jacques Werner who bought it off him and Peter Carter for his excellent advice. For a young academic in the late 1980s, they were a dream.

Jan Paulsson contacted me during this period and asked me why I always wrote for the J Int Arb and not his Arbitration International. My reply was that I never thought that his team would publish my stuff, considering the way that most of their content seemed to come from the great and the good. What Jan was really saying was that his journal was open to a wider range of contributors and would I like to do something about this. A fair number of articles of mind ended up in his hands for that reason.

The point about all this is that young writers and frankly quite a few not so young ones find it really difficult to identify where to send their work. If Dennis Thompson had implemented a no-reject policy, my first article would never have appeared. My general swing towards writing for Arbitration International was actually driven by my discovery that Jacques Werner had introduced one. Jacques sold JIntArb to Kluwer and yes, it is the publication with the no reject policy described earlier.

A few years ago, I supervised a superb dissertation at the University of Westminster on the difficult subject of money laundering and arbitration. With a bit of cleaning up, it was more than worthy of publication. Perhaps fortunately for me, the student had other things to do and has never asked me for a journal recommendation. I would never have known the answer. Yet, why cannot this student hawk his effort around to any of the journals in the field? Any acceptance can always be made conditional on him ensuring that the piece does not appear anywhere else. Journals with more ego than sense are losing out on some very good pieces. Where an article has previously been seen in private really should not matter.

Step forward law journal editors and say to the world that you welcome submissions that meet particular criteria that relate to the journal’s subject-matter or editorial constraints (notably length) and not whether something has been previously submitted elsewhere. Make it easy for us to encourage students and young lawyers to have a go and publish what they have to say.


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