The Top Three Law Reviews Strongly Prefer Articles Under 25,000 Words. But Their Articles Consistently Exceed 25,000 Words.

Over the past decade, articles in YLJ, HLR, and SLS have averaged 37,582, 35,917, and 31,725 words, respectively.

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In 2005, eleven top law reviews signed a joint statement regarding articles length: Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, Texas, Penn, Virginia, and Yale. The statement explained that "The vast majority of law review articles can effectively convey their arguments within the range of 40-70 law review pages, and any impression that law reviews only publish or strongly prefer lengthier articles should be dispelled." As far as I know, no journal has abjured that statement. Several journals still link to it on their submission pages.

Today, the top three law journals make specific requests about article length. Do the journals actually adhere to their limits? To answer this question, I created a spreadsheet that lists all of the articles published in the Yale Law Journal, Harvard Law Review, and Stanford Law Review between 2010 and 2020. (I only included articles, and excluded essays and student notes). For each article, I recorded the page-count, as well as the word count. None of these journals come close to their requests.

Yale Law Journal

The Yale Law Journal General Submissions Guidelines state:

For Articles, we strongly encourage submissions of fewer than 25,000 words, including footnotes (roughly 50 Journal pages).

The Yale Law Journal was the most flagrant violator of the joint statement. Articles averaged 37,582 words and 82.5 pages. Only 6% of the articles were less than 25,000 words. 94% of the articles exceed 25,000 words. And by my count, 14% of the articles exceeded 100 pages!

Harvard Law Review

The Harvard Law Review submissions page states:

The Review strongly prefers articles under 25,000 words in length including text, footnotes, and appendices. Length in excess of 30,000 words will weigh significantly against selection. Only in rare cases will we unconditionally accept articles over 37,500 words.

Over the past decade, articles in HLR have averaged 72.3 pages and 35,917 words. Indeed, only 12% of the published articles are less than 25,000 words. Counted differently, 88% of published articles exceed HLR's strong preference. 78% of the published articles are greater than 30,000 words. And 54% of the articles exceed the upper limit of 37,500. By no measure is 54% "rare." (For purposes of full disclosure, I published in the Harvard Law Review SCOTUS issue, and my article was ~28,000 words).

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review offers these guidelines:

The Stanford Law Review has a word limit of 30,000 words (including footnotes), and a preference for 20,000 words or fewer. We value brevity and look favorably on pieces below the 30,000-word ceiling.

Stanford Law Review came closest to meeting the standards. SLR articles averaged 31,725 words and 66 pages--just a smidge above the stated ceiling. Still, only 12% of the published articles are less than 20,000 words. 20% are less than 25,000 words. And 42% are less than the upper-limit of 30,000 words. Better than Harvard and Yale, but still inconsistent with the joint statement

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It wasn't very hard to create this spreadsheet. Top journals no doubt have the ability to keep track of their volume lengths. Indeed, they likely have much more accurate records than I was able to find on Westlaw. Yet, the journals routinely flout their own standards.

These journals, and others, should reconsider their stated policies. Moreover, articles that exceed these limits should not be summarily disqualified. Indeed, dinging articles based on length can be used as pretext.

At some point, I will do something more formal with these numbers. For now, my research is tentative. If you spot any errors, please drop me a line. And if any journals want to chat, you know how to reach me.