Celebrating Law & Social Inquiry
Cambridge University Press was proud to chair a session at this year’s Law and Society Association Annual Meeting in Washington DC to commemorate the journal Law & Social Inquiry’s move to publication with Cambridge in 2019. The panel celebrated LSI being at the cutting-edge of socio-legal scholarship for over 40 years and looked ahead to the journal’s future and the future of law and society publications more generally.
The group of panellists included past Editors of the journal Terence Halliday and Laura Beth Nielson, its current Editor Christopher Schmidt, past editorial team member Bernadette Atuahene, and Ashley Rubin, a recent addition to the LSI Editorial Board and a regular contributor to the journal.
The session was structured around two questions posed to the panel, one on the journal’s past and one on its future, both set in the context of the wider law and society environment. Following the remarks by the panellists, the audience—which include a mix of those who have published in LSI and those who aspire to do so, regular LSI readers and peer reviewers, and editors of other socio-legal publications—joined in the discussion.
The past and the present
In describing the journal’s early years, Halliday explained the specific intention to create a journal which would be distinct from the Law and Society Association’s prestigious Law and Society Review. The aim was for a journal open to longer length articles, varied methodologies, papers with a conceptual/theoretical edge, coverage of big issues and, crucially, the journal would have disciplinary eclecticism. LSI’s review section (led for its entire history by Review Section Editor Howard Erlanger) also gained the journal a reputation for propelling the law and society literature forward through its unique review symposiums.
Nielson discussed efforts during her tenure as Editor to bring legal scholars and practitioners in conversation together, through innovative forums called ‘From the Trenches and Towers.’ Both Nielson and Atuahene discussed LSI’s efforts to publish new voices in socio-legal scholarship and its inclusion of junior scholars in its editorial process. Nielson initiated an expansion of the editorial committee based at journal’s editorial home at the American Bar Foundation beyond senior ABF scholars to include pre-and post-doctoral scholars, providing important education for those individuals on the peer review process while bringing new perspectives into the journal.
Schmidt has edited the journal for the past six years and sees the transition to Cambridge as an opportunity to reflect on what the journal does well and what it can do better. He expressed his commitment to building on the journal’s key strengths: the consistently high quality of its content, its militant interdisciplinarianism, its international coverage (in 2018 alone LSI published pieces on China, Turkey, Denmark, Romania, Pakistan, Brazil, Egypt, France and Chile), its premier position for socio-legal scholarship on the legal profession, its engagement with young scholars (including its annual Graduate Student Paper Prize) and its reputation for being less predictable than other journals and more open to new approaches to socio-legal scholarship. His current ambition is to make the journal’s content more engaging and accessible to scholars from across disciplines and to readers beyond academia, including practitioners, non-profit organisations and policymakers.
Nielson reflected on how each of the LSI’s Editors, including Schmidt, had succeeded in bringing fresh ideas to the journal while preserving those key elements that make the journal distinct and consolidating its position as one of the top two socio-legal journals in the world.
Looking into the future there was an excellent discussion on potential new content types for LSI including reflective essays, op-eds, focal articles accompanied by brief response pieces, an annual symposium issue dedicated to socio-legal theory and even data visualisation through video or audio content. This raised to what extent an academic journal should have a duty to balance content experimentation with the provision of space for research articles in support of career progression.
Drawing on her own research, Rubin initiated an important discussion on whether law and society had a different meaning for different scholarly societies and different countries, what ‘international’ content really means and whether a journal with its roots in North America could ever truly be global.
The impetus for opening up research and data was also highlighted. Back with a university publisher after starting with Chicago University Press but moving on to many years with Wiley, LSI is now with the ideal partner to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the increasingly ‘open’ publishing landscape and ensure the journal remains in tune with its authors, readers and the entire socio-legal community.
The session ended with a sense that whatever the future might bring, the crowd in the room were keen to see LSI stay true to the things it has stood out for and continue as one of the key champions of interdisciplinary law and society scholarship for years to come.
Rebecca O’Rourke is Publisher for law journals at Cambridge University Press.
The latest issue of Law & Social Inquiry is freely accessible here until the end of June. Read Editor Christopher Schmidt’s helpful blog posts Why Publish in Law & Social Inquiry and Tips on Publishing in a Peer-Reviewed Journal then consider submitting your paper to the journal here. Find out more about the LSI Graduate Student Paper Competition.