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Is your e-board considering ways to expand your law review’s online presence?

If so, launching an online law review supplement or building out an existing supplement has likely crossed your minds. It makes sense; online supplements are ubiquitous among law reviews and have helped many grow.

Supplements, as the name indicates, are online components of law reviews. Supplements house extra content that either literally or figuratively does not fit in the main law review but is still relevant to its readers. The scope of online supplements can range from articles and opinion pieces on timely events to responses to articles published in a law review’s print edition, and everything in between.

While a surefire way to generate online awareness and engagement for some law reviews, for others there can be downsides to having an online supplement. At the most basic level, supplements are another moving piece for editors to manage. Additionally, for law reviews struggling to get in front of more authors supplements can create unforeseen complications.

Before putting all your eggs in the online supplement basket, consider it from all angles and bear in mind that running an online component is not the only way to enhance your law review’s digital presence. Below are some pros and cons of having an online law review supplement and some alternative options your e-board may want to consider.

Pros of online supplements:

Online supplements are a great way for many law reviews to build out their online presence and offer additional value to readers. Law reviews can use their online supplements to cover previously uncharted research territory and generate greater online awareness and engagement. Among the benefits of running an online supplement are:

  • Publishing articles you wouldn’t get to in the law review: Law reviews can use online supplements as a place to publish articles they would not be able to otherwise due to the article length, topic, author position (e.g. if you don’t publish students), or other factors.
  • Expanding your law review’s online presence: Additional content from online supplements can lead to more authors finding your law review and engaging with it. Since you’ll publish content in your online supplement more frequently than your law review, it’s a great way to keep readers coming back in between issues.
  • A place to experiment: Online supplements also enable law reviews to experiment more with their content including publishing in different formats and dealing with current events as they unfold.

Cons of online supplements:

Online supplements can also have their drawbacks, particularly for journals that see limited article submissions, as might be the case for some specialty journals. Online components mean more articles to find, edit, and promote. Among the downsides of running an online supplement are:

  • Finding articles: First, the obvious, running an online law review component means managing two submission channels (print and online) and finding enough articles for each. If you have any trouble finding articles for your print journal, think twice about having a supplement.
  • Confusing authors: Online supplements can also be a source of confusion among submitting authors. If your supplement and print journal do not have distinctive and separate presences, the lines between the two can become blurred. For example, if an author thinks they’re submitting to your print journal but you offer to publish them in your online supplement instead, that may damage your relationship with the prospective author.
  • Competing against your own online presence: Particularly if you have a website for your print law review, your online supplement “competing” against your law review is a real possibility. You’ll need to be sure to promote both sides of your law review brand to ensure that they don’t become muddled and that authors who publish in each will have equal opportunities to be seen and heard.

Considering all options and choosing what’s right for your law review

There is no “right way” to grow your law review’s online presence. While online supplements are pervasive among law reviews at present, that doesn’t mean they’re the only way to grow a law review online.

For law reviews that follow a print publishing schedule, simply moving their print journal online and publishing articles on a rolling basis may be a better move to establish a more robust online presence. In an article published in Touro Law Review, “The Future of Law Reviews: Online-Only Journals,” Katharine Schaffzin, professor of law and director of faculty development at University of Memphis Humphreys School of Law, argues that all reviews will and should eventually move to online-only publishing.

Publishing your law review online can significantly cut down on the time and costs of traditional print publishing. By publishing online, journals can also circumvent many of the limitations of print publishing that spurred the initial idea of online supplements such as only being able to print a certain number of pages and not being able to print timely content while it’s most relevant. Law reviews that publish online can publish as many articles as they like, publish articles as soon as they’re ready, and organize their websites to showcase different types of content rather than relying on a supplement to house it.

For example, using online journal publishing software like Scholastica Open Access Publishing law reviews can create their own websites and organize them to fit their needs. Law reviews publishing via Scholastica can easily customize their websites to have sections for related content, such as a section for constitutional law articles and a section for shorter opinion pieces. Law reviews can also easily add a blog to their Scholastica website to house more casual pieces as well as to write posts promoting new articles and calls for symposia speakers.

By focusing on how to reorganize content into sections and/or starting a blog, law reviews can achieve many of the benefits an online supplement might produce without the complications that can come with managing an additional publication. If an online supplement is or has the potential to confuse authors submitting to your journal, or will add undue stress for your e-board, you may want to consider moving your print journal to rolling online publishing and building out journal sections instead.

Ultimately, the question of whether your law review should add a supplement is up to your e-board. Consider what you are trying to achieve, and all the options available to reach that goal. This will help you choose the solution that will bring the most benefit to your journal. Above all, keep an open mind - online, your publishing opportunities are boundless!