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Virginia Law Review's "In Brief":
The Virginia Law Review recently joined the group of law journals offering an online version with at least some unique content. You can visit "In Brief" here. (Hat tip: Larry Solum)

  I'm sure the VC's readership includes law students who are on journals that recently added online companions. I'd be very interested to hear from them as to whether the online versions have proved worthwhile. How much traffic are these sites drawing? What formats are working or not working?
DNL (mail):
They're never going to draw significant traffic unless they becomes interactive.
1.24.2007 8:52am
Jake (Guest):
We had a good experience with the online symposia over at the NYU Journal of Law &Liberty. The articles that we featured on the sidebar were downloaded by more people than have subscribed to the journal, in some cases by a considerable amount. The traffic for the new content was pretty solid, as well. I think they're aiming to get a couple more out this academic year, so hopefully the success will continue.
1.24.2007 8:56am
Anthony Ciolli (mail) (www):
I think a lot of this is relative. Having articles downloaded by more people than have subscribed to the print version of a journal might be a big deal for a journal, but that likely translates into total page views that are less than 1% of the traffic the Volokh Conspiracy gets in one day.
1.24.2007 9:04am
Anthony Ciolli (mail) (www):
Also I'm not sure why these journals continue to try to spin being published "exclusively online" as a positive. How hard would it be for Virginia LRev to publish these pieces in the print version of the law review? If it did that submissions to "In Brief" would likely increase a hundred fold and the quality/prestige of the thing would also greatly go up. It's not like these journals don't have the money to do it, and since they're editing these things to the same standard as their print articles it's not like there'd be any significant amount of extra work created.
1.24.2007 9:07am
U.Va. 2L:
Also of note to VC student readers, In Brief accepts essays from current law students.
1.24.2007 9:21am
Doug Berman (mail) (www):
Great query, Orin. Over at this post at Law School Innovation, I am seeking comments from law professors about whether they enjoy writing for this new kind of forum and whether they believe such writing is generally "counted" in any assessment of their scholarly productivity.

Of course, I'd be happy to see law prof comments in this thread, too.
1.24.2007 9:35am
Anthony Ciolli (mail) (www):
Some more thoughts on online supplements available
here
at First Movers.
1.24.2007 11:19am
Mark Spottswood (mail) (www):
Over at the Northwestern Colloquy, we've been steadily building up readership (base rate of about 25 unique visits per day, more when a new piece is posted, and spikes to over 200 vistors/day when a piece makes a splash). We think that the Colloquy is great as a way to draw readers into the Law Review's site in general; but we've also found that there is a lot of demand to write the type of short-form scholarship we feature. I think too many other journals have assumed that short content needs to act like an op-ed; we are seeing great interest in publishing assertive, argument-focused pieces on novel topics coming in at under ten pages, with the added flexibility of a fast-track publication schedule that can bring a piece from submission to publication with a fortnight.

This dovetails nicely with some of Prof. Solum's arguments about the future of legal scholarship (short, open-access and disintermediated). We edit to the same standards as the print journal, but we also think that the blog format allows for a sort of ongoing, interactive peer-review. Mistakes made in a Colloquy post can be pointed out in the comments, or addressed in a response piece. This heightened interactivity keeps authors honest and makes for a much more interesting forum in which to develop ideas.

I think that, in the end, the success or failure of these ventures will depend on Law Reviews being willing to embrace what is different about the web as an added-value. Too many of these endeavors seem to close off opportunities for interactivity, preferring to have a very closed format (such as the mini-symposium model of many companions). Likewise, too many Reviews are excessively discouraging citation in these pieces, which really works to prevent them from being recognized as scholarship. This is particularly ironic, because the hyperlinked citation is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the web, allowing readers to rapidly move back and forth between the primary document and relevant source material.

I think that, in the long run, the advantages of the web are going to mean that journals have to be moving more and more of their content online. It's just a question of when journals (which are very conservative institutions) are likely to be willing to start making the leap.
1.24.2007 11:27am
Anthony Ciolli (mail) (www):
I have to agree with much of what Mark has said. Not surprisingly, I think the Colloquy is one of the only law reviews that truly understands how to run a successful online version (and it would be absolutely perfect if it got rid of the ridiculous citation format and published all of its content in print instead of just a few select essays).

That said, I don't think it's desirable for these supplements to continue to proliferate, especially if they're not going to go the Colloquy route and put contributions in print. For one thing, I'm concerned that the proliferation of online supplements will kill short scholarship in print law reviews ("Sorry, we won't accept anything less than 30 pages in our print journal -- that's what our online supplement is for!").
1.24.2007 11:43am
frankcross (mail):
Mark, my former student,

Good post. Their are some tough choices for law reviews to make here. More editorial stuff will get more attention, but it's not very scholarly and doesn't add much to the VC and other non law school sites.
But it's tricky to say how much demand there is for these shorter scholarly pieces, which are easily stereotyped as weak scholarship and may not add a lot.

I would think about having dialectics, where two invited people would debate a topic back and forth. While not so scholarly, it could be highly intelligent and a real benefit to those who want to inform themselves fully on a topic.
1.24.2007 11:59am
James Grimmelmann (mail) (www):
Gosh, but that layout sure resembles the Yale Law Journal Pocket Part. I also couldn't find an RSS feed, which makes the odds that I'll read it regularly infinity-to-one against. If there is a feed, the link perhaps be added to the In Brief home page?
1.24.2007 12:06pm
Mark Spottswood (mail) (www):
Prof. Cross,

I agree that dialectics are something online supplements can do well; one of our highest traffic segments was our dialogue between Prof. Bennet and Prof. Solum on the theoretic foundations of original meaning originalism. But short format can be used more dynamically as well - one scholar can write a short opening piece expounding a sketch of an idea, which then gets refined and analyzed as others and the original author write supplemental pieces attacking or supporting the original piece. I worry that it is ultimately very limiting to only publish pre-formatted dialogues, rather than letting discussions arise organically from content.

And as far as demand goes, we are already seeing an uptick in that direction. A scholar who has written a long, analytical blog post on a topic might well want to expand and polish it so that it can be published in a more authoritative, permanent format. Likewise, more and more scholars are following Prof. Solum's advice and publishing short think-pieces on SSRN in advance of writing a more detailed treatment of a topic. I think that over time more and more scholarly interaction is going to be occuring in the context of such pieces, and that it makes sense to offer resources that select and filter high-quality short essays, to reduce the search time for other academics. It's very easy for a resource as vast as SSRN to become overwhelming in terms of it's information content, and name recognition then ends up becoming a proxy for quality of content in a way that might not always be helpful. By reading a similar piece on the Colloquy, a reader can be assured that the basic ideas have been verified, that the sources support the work, and that their time is less likely to be wasted. At least, that's the idea, and I think it has real potential.

Ultimately, of course, the next five years or so are going to see a great deal of turbulent change in the practices of law reviews, as they finally come to terms with the possibilities offered by new technologies. Law Reviews don't like to change very much, because each manager has a very limited time window and there is a constant fear of losing prestige relative to other journals. This is why most journals are locked in an archaic model that was left behind more than a decade ago in many other disciplines. And I think that in the long run, those journals that will survive and grow will be those who can understand how to modernize in ways that interface well with the needs of scholars.
1.24.2007 12:48pm
Christopher Yeung (mail):
As one who was involved in In Brief's development, I have been reading these comments with great interest, and wanted to share some of my thoughts.

I believe that the main issue faced by any journal's online companion is how it fits in with legal blogs and law review print editions. Clearly, we do not have the time nor resources to update content at a speed that can compete with the blogs for readership without risking a severe drop in the quality of what we publish. On the other hand, online companions do not seem poised to replace print editions anytime soon. Print editions, for better or for worse, serve a function within the legal academy that online companions likely will not displace in the near future. The trick, then, is to find that middle ground, where meaningful discussion can take place, in an attractive and accessible format, and that does not take away from what a journal does in print.

To that end, we decided on In Brief. By no means am I suggesting that it is a perfect solution; subsequent board members will play a major role in determining the direction of this venture. But for now, I would agree with Prof. Cross and Mr. Spottswood that dialectics are something that online companions do well, and the niche that online companions fill with respect to legal blogs and print editions. I also agree with Mr. Spottswood that short-format can be used more dynamically. Accordingly, I would encourage readers to submit responses to essays found in In Brief. We do not expect the dialogue to stop once an issue of In Brief is posted, and we are more than happy to publish quality responses to any of our content.

Why don't we publish In Brief articles in our print edition? Yes, doing so may increase the quantity and perhaps prestige of online publications, but that does not necessarily translate into quality. Additionally, adding 30 pages of additional content may not seem like much, but it does increase costs in a noticeable way. Finally, printing these articles does not address a major problem plaguing law reviews today: the problem of lost scholarship. While we were looking into creating an online companion, I spoke with many professors who found it unfortunate that so few people actually read law reviews in print. Indeed, including our online content in searchable databases like Lexis and Westlaw is probably more important, and we can do so even without the cost of printing an additional 30 pages per issue.

I believe that one of the fundamental misconceptions about online companions is that they must supplement the print edition, or be bound by its content and conventions. That simply is not true. While the first issue of In Brief does build on an article we printed in December, we are not wed to that format. In fact, in our submissions page, we emphasize that In Brief submission do not have to have anything to do with our print edition: we will consider any interesting new law-related idea for publication. Online companions are companions, not supplements. They afford the journal the ability to facilitate legal discussion in a different way -- in a faster, timely, but still thoughtful and well-developed, manner. They do not have to be confused with the journal's print edition.

In sum, I believe that trying to replace and compete with what blogs and print editions is misguided. The online format's strength lies in what else we can offer. I do not purport to have the correct answer to that question, but I am glad that we at least joined the discussion, and will be involved in the process of seeing how everything shakes out.
1.24.2007 6:23pm
TMWSLV:
Late last year the Michigan Law Review added an online companion known as First Impressions
1.24.2007 8:11pm
Anthony Ciolli (mail) (www):
A couple of thoughts on Christopher's post available here.
1.25.2007 8:46am