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Monday, October 14, 2013

On online law reviews

Mark Tushnet shares a story and raises some questions about on-line law review supplements. I have had several great experiences with the format and am a big fan, both for myself and in offering suggestions to my colleagues. Mark raises two questions I wanted to respond to.

First, he wonders if the piece will be cited. It seems to me the answer is "as much as anything else by a high-profile author." Nowadays, people find scholarship on SSRN and Westlaw/Lexis. Most of the on-line supplements (certainly from the top-tier reviews) are published with hard-copy reviews. And authors will distribute their supplement essays through SSRN. So the articles will be seen.

Second, he wonders what P&T (and, I might add, although to a lesser extent, appointments) committees will do with these. That answer has a few more moving parts. Given the length limitations at most supplements, such pieces will not alone be enough to satisfy the tenure standard at most law schools. At the same time, the existence of such journals should provide an incentive to scholars to take advantage of them and might give committees an expectation that faculty will do so; more scholarly outlets means more publication opportunities. At many schools, the statutory minimum for tenure is 3 "substantial scholarly works" (whatever that might mean) by the beginning of the sixth year--roughly an article every two years. Perhaps a committee might think reasonable productivity is one big piece and one smaller piece (such as might run in a supplement) in that time?

As for what P&T committees will do, that is going to change quickly as the make-up of those committees changes. The really old guard, especially the mythical "dead wood," may not look kindly on such placements, seeing tham as little more than glorified op-eds. But committees are increasingly populated and influenced by people who begin their academic careers within the past 10-15 years, just as these journals were coming into existence, and who are therefore comfortable with and respectful of what goes into publishing in them.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 14, 2013 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink

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Agreed. There are also noticeable differences between some of these online outlets in terms of how they are "branded" by the mainstream journal the online venue is affiliated. If they are well-respected by the mainstream journal they will likely be well received.

Posted by: Mr T | Oct 14, 2013 11:23:44 AM

On one hand, in a world in which the final versions of articles are mostly found online, having a paper issue of the journal no longer matters in any practical sense. Some authorities are less likely to cite a temporary version of an article such as an SSRN draft, just because the draft can change, but that wouldn't apply to final versions of articles published by online supplements.

With that said, a significant open question with online supplements is how the market will eventually assess their relative prestige. In some contexts, prestige doesn't matter, or at least shouldn't. But in others, it may, for better or worse. And to the extent it matters, it's probably too early to know what to make of online supplements. For example, if a person publishes in the Top Law Review Online Supplement, is that akin to a placement in the Top Law Review, or at least something related to it? Or is a placement in an online supplement understood to be unrelated to paper journal, and instead viewed as more like a guest post on a blog, a result of a much less competitive process? In the case of online supplements to traditional journals, I don't think we know yet: The online supplements are too new for a relatively fixed view to have emerged. So to the extent prestige matters, in a particular setting, that's one open question.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 14, 2013 12:59:31 PM

as a recent law school grad who has published in an online journal, i also think they offer a great way for students/recent law school grads to begin publishing. i think it takes a while to gain enough expertise in an area of law to write a full-length article. i started with an online publication and recently had a print journal acceptance. they are also, of course, great for analyzing current events bc the turn over for publication is much quicker. i think certain authors will find this very valuable, while others who write about issues that are less time sensitive probably won't find them as valuable. Whoever is evaluating these articles' merits (like an academic committee) should consider how the format fits in with the individual scholar's focus area/work.

Posted by: new | Oct 14, 2013 4:21:10 PM

Orin: I agree that is the question. I think we're starting to see some hints. One is competitiveness--I know I have been rejected from on-lines previously, which tells me they are getting some content. Another is how the journal itself treats the supplement.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Oct 14, 2013 4:51:27 PM

I wonder the extent to which people will use the Washington & Lee rankings to judge online supplements. Currently, if you rank General, English language journals by "Combined Score," Northwestern University Law Review Colloquy comes in at #85.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Oct 14, 2013 6:39:40 PM

To the extent the skepticism of papers published in supplements reflect a length bias, this paper might be useful: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2209257.

Posted by: Scott Dodson | Oct 15, 2013 2:23:26 PM

Scott: Terrific article; I agree fully. Sorry I did not make the cut in the Famous Footnote 19.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Oct 15, 2013 8:58:44 PM

It seems to me there is a relatively easy way to determine whether the online forums are "worthwhile." While it may be early I have definitely seen citations to these forums in traditional journals. If "mainstream" law reviews and international law journals are publishing full length articles that cite to online journals that is an excellent indicator.

Posted by: Mr T | Oct 16, 2013 1:42:04 AM

To Orin and Howard's discussion, I recently had my first experience with an online supplement. It was the supplement to a T14 law review, and the editing quality matched that ranking. That said, I did not feel like placing the piece (the submission of which was targeted to online supplements because of the issue's timeliness and discreteness) was akin to placing with the print companion. The competition level is just not representative of what we see when submitting to flagships and secondary journals. Focusing only on relative prestige, my rough approximation has been that a T14 online supplement is comparable to a T40 or T50 print flagship.

Posted by: BAG | Oct 17, 2013 10:28:31 AM

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