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In recent years many law reviews have started blogging and launching online companions in order to publish timely works more quickly and advance new legal writing formats. While experimenting with these online outlets, most law reviews have stuck to printing their traditional volumes. However, given the current law school landscape, Katharine Schaffzin, professor of law and director of faculty development at University of Memphis Humphreys School of Law, argues it may be time for law reviews to make a more drastic digital transition and start publishing all of their formal issues online only.

In addition to faster turnaround times and more flexible writing space, among other benefits, Schaffzin says law reviews should consider publishing all of their legal scholarship online for another reason - funding. In “The Future of Law Reviews: Online-Only Journals,” a recent article published in Touro Law Review, Schaffzin explains that given the decreased budgets many law schools face, law reviews could have more limited access to funds in the future. She argues that to lower publishing costs law reviews should begin to embrace leaner online publishing practices, which she believes will also have wider benefit to the legal community.

Changes in law school enrollment could affect law review budgets

According to Schaffzin, an indicator law reviews should consider when projecting future funding is school enrollment. “Law school applications have been down significantly in recent years, resulting in smaller class sizes. Fewer students results in decreased revenues on which law schools rely to maintain operations,” she said. “For law schools without significant endowments, this means they must do more with less.”

In her article Schaffzin outlines the cost of print law review publishing, explaining that on average it can be upwards of $40,000 a year to publish a print law journal. While subscriptions and royalties from research databases cover some of these costs, those revenues tend to fall short leaving many law schools with law review deficits as high as $16,000 a year.

In the unstable current law school enrollment landscape Schaffzin said many law schools will not be able to shoulder such subsidies and therefore some traditional law reviews should begin considering converting to an online-only format in order to cut costs. “Law review editors are unpaid students and authors are not paid for their content, so the only significant expense associated with operating a law review is hard copy publication,” she said.” “Adding an online supplement allows journals to increase content, but it does not alleviate the expense of publishing hard copy issues.”

Will the role of law reviews change online?

One question on the minds of some legal scholars is if and how the place of law reviews will change in the digital landscape as new online legal writing formats take hold. For Schaffzin the traditional law review, whether online or in print, remains a necessary pillar of legal scholarship. “Traditional law reviews remain relevant as the best forum in which to comprehensively address more complex legal issues,” she said. “To the extent that courts cite law journals in their opinions, they seem to rely on traditional law reviews, rather than online companions or blog posts.”

Schaffzin said faculty also tend to prefer publishing in traditional law reviews when building out the legal scholarship on their CVs given that the long-form law review article requires deeper expertise in a subject-area and more complex analysis than found in online supplements and blog posts.

In order to maintain their scholarly influence and legitimacy Schaffzin said in addition to maintaining editorial rigor online law reviews should make sure all of their articles are searchable on WestLaw, LexisNexis, and other relevant known outlets.

Blogs, companions, and law reviews will all have a place online

At the same time as upholding the benefits of traditional law reviews, Schaffzin sees a clear role for online supplements to play in the future of legal writing.

“Online law review companions and blog posts offer an opportunity to comment on legal issues closer to real-time. This is important for emerging legal issues, as well as arguments responsive to pieces published in more traditional law reviews,” she said.

Additionally, online law review companions and blog posts often reference scholarship published in traditional law reviews helping to draw more attention to it. When traditional law reviews are published online these references can be actual links to the content helping to connect the legal literature further.

Schaffzin believes that traditional law reviews will retain their prestige online and reap necessary benefits of their online counterparts. “Online publication will always result in faster publication and lower expense because the process avoids an actual publisher,” she said. The shortened lead-time of online publishing will allow the more carefully vetted and heavily edited articles in traditional long-form law reviews to be released sooner than they would be in print.

By publishing online-only law reviews would also be joining the wider academic movement to make scholarship open access. Publishing online-only would ensure law reviews’ continuation and open new opportunities to progress legal scholarship.