Behind the Scenes: The Editorial Process at the Journal of Law and Society

Phil Thomas, Ben Woolhead and Jasmine Hagger

We have several editorial operational criteria we seek to follow when dealing with publication submissions. These are transparency, speed, efficiency, collective decisions, anonymity and author support. Our procedures developed and were refined over many years and soon they will again be revised in the light of the introduction of ScholarOne. However, whatever process is followed we will continue to apply these basic criteria whenever possible. Our commitment to the author is to help improve the paper to the point of publication in the JLS or in an alternative academic journal. We encourage and seek to publish papers of the highest REF level: papers with global reach that demonstrate social and policy significance.

We encourage the author to review the contents of the JLS to ensure it is an appropriate forum for their paper. Failure to do so may result in a disappointing editorial decision and further delay in the final publication in an appropriate journal. Potential authors are advised to select their target journal at the start of the writing process. This may appear paradoxical but, for example, the JLS publishes socio legal research underpinned by theory often tested and supported by original data. Doctrinal papers are best sent elsewhere.  Even the readership and style of writing may vary from journal to journal. A highly specialised journal can anticipate an author to write in a particular style for its specialist readership whereas the JLS has a wide-ranging global readership. Authors are encouraged to submit only when the paper is ‘oven ready’ rather than almost there! The author has to live with and be publicly judged by that paper. There is a temptation to lose the high level of commitment that drove the research and writing. Seldom is a paper ‘oven ready’ as missing, incomplete footnotes, syntax and grammar errors, bear witness. Make sure your paper it is the best it can be, and you are proud to put your name to it.

On receipt of the paper, our administrator Jasmine Hagger will acknowledge the submission and undertake the first editorial check, which is word length. Because of pressure on space our maximum word length is 12,000 which includes footnotes but not the abstract. We do not accept or read drafts. Initially, the submission is read by the editor-in-chief, Phil Thomas, and then sent anonymously for internal review to two editorial board members. The entire editorial board is informed of the paper, so that they may request to act as an additional reviewer, or simply read the paper so that they can contribute to discussions about it.

The Editorial Board meets monthly, usually the final Friday of the month. Internal referees provide a written report about the strengths/weaknesses and suitability of the paper. These reports are circulated in advance and discussed at the monthly meeting. Sometimes if the decision is negative, both obvious and conclusive, it is possible to contact the authors quickly thereby allowing them to pursue alternative publication outlets. Publication decisions at the Editorial Board level are deliberate and sometimes lengthy. The decision will be either reject, accept, or progress the paper. It is extremely rare to accept a paper as submitted. A progressed paper will be sent anonymously to two or possibly three external referees for their expert opinions. Authors are kept up to date with this process, because it is at this point time delays may occur, due to referees being both busy and unpaid, although we request a turnaround time of not more than a month for external reviews.

Ultimately, we have at least four reviews and these are discussed as an editorial collective. Here the paper is either progressed or returned unsuccessful, with constructive comments, to the author. If progressed it is usual for this decision to involve further work on the part of the author.  Detailed comments are provided from the referees and an invitation to rewrite and resubmit is sent to the author. No author should be disheartened by such a response: it is common. On receipt of the resubmission, with the author’s explanatory cover note detailing the responses to the referees’ comments, the process is repeated. It is resent to all referees for what is hopefully their final review and decision. Even at this point some further work might be required before a final decision is reached. Ultimately, all reviews are considered at the Editorial Board and a collective decision is reached. We have never felt the need to vote on a paper! If the paper is accepted the reviewers and the Board are informed of the name of the author although names of reviewers are not shared with the author. The Editor congratulates the author and gives an indication of its publication date, based on the issue to which it is assigned. As the JLS employs Early View and Open Access / Paywall the appearance of the paper may been sooner than its official publication date.

After acceptance, the author will be requested to send a final version of their paper and abstract, which are then passed to our in-house copy-editor/production manager, Ben Woolhead. He prepares it for production, checking such things as correspondence details, figures/tables, heading levels, and especially notes and references, as well as making edits to ensure consistency with house style and raising queries/making suggestions where the meaning is unclear or the expression could be more elegant. Queries/suggestions are then resolved/approved in direct liaison with the author(s), and once the agreed edits have been made, the paper is sent into production with Wiley.

Initial proofs are checked onscreen, first by the author(s) and then by the copy-editor/production manager. Revised proofs are produced in PDF form and checked by the copy-editor/production manager to ensure that all proof corrections have been made. The article then publishes in Early View ahead of the publication of the relevant issue.

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