A Day in the Life of a Journal Editor – A Postgraduate Perspective

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Ronan Cormacain

It is hard to define what a typical day in the life of magazine, newspaper or journal editor is like. Here, after a year with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Student Law Review, Ronan Cormacain gives his views. 

My name is Ronan Cormacain and I am the Editor in Chief of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Student Law Review. The Review is an open-access peer-reviewed law journal run by PhD legal research students, which publishes articles written by students, academics and practitioners. It was established in 2013 and we are currently editing materials for our third issue – a special issue on reforming the law on mandatory reporting of child abuse.

The workload is shared with my co-editors – Dr Mazhar Ilahi, Chris Stears and Ahmet Mustapha – but on average I spend a couple of hours a week working on the Review. We are all students or Fellows of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) and run the Review with academic support from Dr Constantin, a senior lecturer at IALS and director of its LL.M Programme in Legislative Studies.

The interesting part of my work is reading each article submitted for publication. We receive papers on a wide range of legal topics. These have included aviation law in China, international arbitration law, investment protection in the UK, Italian constitutional law, psychopathy and criminal law. It is enlightening to be exposed to different legal subjects from around the world.

Part of my role as editor is to engage with the authors and make suggestions on, for example, what works, what needs clarifying, what arguments need evidence, what is unclear. I enjoy taking part in this academic debate and always bear in mind that, while criticism must be honest, it must also be tactful.

A good editor fully appreciates the effort that authors make in preparing a paper and I am grateful when they submit it to the Review. What is most difficult is when there are some flaws in a paper which render it unsuitable to be published. I don’t like turning down a paper which has been submitted to us. The dull part of my work is the mundane administration – finding someone to do peer review for an article, informing authors of the progress of their paper through the editorial process, keeping track of the various iterations of a paper.

Then there is the painstaking and time-consuming task of editing, checking and proofreading submissions. Luckily we have excellent IT support from Steve Whittle at IALS who does a great job of putting the Review online.

Authors sometimes have unrealistic expectations of how quickly their work will be published. There is a huge variation in response times from academic journals. At the Review, we try to do things as quickly as we can, but it does take time to read an article, find a reviewer, wait for the reviewer to give their opinion and then discuss it with the other editors. I find myself frequently apologising to authors about the delay between submission and publication.

It can be difficult to find the time for editing the Review. As a PhD student I am continually told to focus on my own research: but I am also told to publish, network and get teaching experience! This all eats into the time available for editorial work. However, editing the Review does give me valuable experience which I hope will stand me in good stead later on.

My nagging worry is that there will not be enough articles for the next issue – I am sure that all but the most successful of journals share this worry. My new annoying character trait is to solicit papers from every new academic that I meet. On that note, I conclude with an advert – the Review is always happy to consider articles on any legal subject, feel free to drop us a line!

Ronan Cormacain’s research topic is the interaction of legislative drafting with the rule of law and he is on the second year of his PhD. He is director of the Sir William Dale Legislative Drafting Clinic and teaches and writes on legislation and legislative drafting. He also works as a consultant legislative counsel, which means he drafts legislation professionally for governments, parliamentarians and NGOs from around the world. He can be contacted at: ronan.cormacain@postgrad.sas.ac.uk.

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