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In a five-part series, Bar & Bench interviews the editorial board of some of the more popular legal journals in the country.
In this piece, the team at the NUJS Law Review talks about the selection process followed, challenges faced by academic journals, and the most common errors that authors make.
Bar & Bench: How are editorial board members selected?
NUJS Law Review: The NUJS Law Review comprises of a three-tier structure dedicated to legal mentorship and research – the Board of Editors consisting of 6 Editors, 12 Senior Associate (Grade A) Members and 12 Junior Associate (Grade B) Members, selected from the student pool of NUJS.
The Board, in consultation with the Editor-in-Chief (Vice Chancellor), has devised a three stage process for selection of Associate Members. This includes a writing sample, an editing assignment and finally an interview. With the aim of fostering academic research and writing, the Associate Members are required to co-author a paper under the guidance and mentorship of a supervising Editor.
A variety of factors are considered for the selection of the Editorial Board. The selection is based on a continuous evaluation of the performance of the Associate Members through their tenure on factors such as the quality of their paper, editing and research skills, discipline, team work and their contribution to other managerial tasks. The-Editor-in-Chief, in consultation with the Board of Editors, interviews shortlisted candidates to assess their ability to lead and mentor and gauges their vision for the Review. On assuming office, the Board of Editors oversees the functioning of the Law Review in its entirety and takes up the responsibility of furthering the objectives of the Journal.
B&B: Broadly speaking, what are some characteristics that all good articles have?
NUJSLR: With academic legal writing, authors have the freedom to adopt different styles of writing and argumentation, and hence there is no single formula for identifying a good article.
Broadly speaking, however, the most crucial aspect of a good article is the substantive arguments it makes- in terms of analysis, originality and innovation in thought and ability to add value to existing literature. The arguments must be backed by exhaustive and qualitative research of primary and secondary sources on the subject.
In addition to this, a good article must be well-structured and coherent in its argumentation. Language and clarity of articulation are also important factors. However, this is not an exhaustive list of criteria, and is only indicative of the most fundamental characterises of a good article.
B&B: What are some of the more common errors that you find in the submissions?
NUJSLR: We have noticed four common errors. First, authors often fail to make any novel contribution to the existing body of literature on the subject. Instead, their articles contain a descriptive reiteration of existing literature. Additionally, they pack the article with excessive information, and compromise on or neglect the substantive arguments.
Second, authors’ failure to limit the scope of their articles is a problem we have noted. While writing an article, authors often fail to delineate the specific issues they intend to or have addressed in their article. This can manifest in either the author failing to address all the issues he or she has set out to address in the introduction, or superficially addressing several issues at the same time.
Third, articles are often haphazardly structured. A well thought out structure ensures logical flow and smooth transitioning. At times, we notice how the argument is well-founded, but lacks logical flow and consistency.
Lack of attribution or incorrect attribution is another problem that we often encounter. Any well-researched paper entails relying on and building upon the ideas and arguments of other authors and researchers. Further, ideas that appear to be your own at the first instance may actually be enmeshed in others’ arguments. Inexperienced authors, and sometimes even seasoned authors, occasionally disregard the importance of proper attribution.
B&B: What is the editorial procedure once a submission is received? Do you have blind reviews?
NUJSLR: Once received, a submission goes through three stages of open editorial review. The submission is then independently reviewed by two Editors on a range of criteria including originality of argument, content, structure, flow of arguments and language. If the paper passes both stages of review, it is considered for publication and a provisional confirmation is sent to the author. We then provide detailed feedback to the author on ways in which they can improve their paper. At this stage, research assistance may also be provided by Grade A Associate Members of the Law Review. Once the paper is finalized, it is sent to the Editor-in-Chief for approval and feedback.
However, if there is a difference in opinion between the Editors, it is sent to a third member of the Board for their opinion. In some instances, where the subject matter of the paper is very technical or specialized, it is sent to an external expert in the relevant field for their opinion. We believe that this is a fairly rigorous process that ensures fairness and transparency in the selection procedure.
B&B: Thoughts on present academic research environment in Indian law schools?
NUJSLR: Law has been described as a dynamic process of social engineering that seeks to balance competing interests of society. This balancing act requires more than a mindless application of the letter of the law. It demands a nuanced understanding of the interests at play as well as innovative thinking, which can only stem from well-rounded academic research.
However, the “banking system of education” that is the cornerstone of educational institutions in India presents itself as antithetical to a conducive environment for academic research. Indian law schools are no exception to this phenomenon. Resultantly, students are seen as passive recipients of knowledge that is delivered to them via the lecture method. Osmosis through this mechanism leaves little to no room for critical thinking.
Admittedly the curriculum demands that students submit research papers in the semesters they spend in law school. At this juncture though, the passivity in learning is so internalised that the papers tend to be a reproduction of scholarly opinions.
It is true that critical thinking cannot be taught. This is not to say however, that an atmosphere that would foster critical thinking cannot be created. In order to create a better environment for academic research, students and teachers need to become equal and active stakeholders in education.
Given the dynamic nature of law, academic research is of critical importance as a tool that helps the law to adapt and morph according to contemporary needs of the society. Indian law schools need to create an academic research environment that is an embodiment of innovation and critical thinking, as opposed to schools of rote learning and reproduction. They ought to equip students to translate theoretical knowledge into practical application.
The Board of Editors of the NUJS Law Review for 2014-2015 include Aparajita Lath, Ashna Ashesh, Nivedita Saksena, Pankti Vora, Sadhvi Sood, and Sohini Chatterjee.