A look at American Criminal Law Review's new website

Many law review editors we work with want to improve or establish their publication’s presence online. Oftentimes that means developing a new or revamping an existing website, while other times it can mean founding an online component.

Since most law school curricula don’t include courses in web design and development, tackling any updates to your law review’s web presence can seem daunting. That’s why we reached out to the editors at the American Criminal Law Review (ACLR) about how they recently redid their site and launched an online supplement. Below is our interview with Barr Benyamin, Chief Strategy Editor at ACLR, about how and why they redesigned their approach to publishing online.

Why did your board decide to undertake such a big project - revamping your website and launching an online publication component?

Almost immediately after the new Executive Board was composed, we began discussing what kind of legacy we wanted to leave as a class. We concluded that we wanted to give potential authors the sense that we are on the cutting edge, much like their scholarship. Expanding our online presence and publication platform was something that a lot of us saw as a logical next step to achieving this goal. We also saw it as a vital tool in maintaining the American Criminal Law Review’s reputation as the world’s leading academic publication on American criminal law and in turning the journal into a platform that is more accessible to both the general public and to authors. The new website has a modern and sleek look that is more inviting to readers and generally makes publication much simpler for the authors and the journal staff.

How did you plan and find the time to execute these projects?

Kelly McDonnell, our Chief Information Editor, and Rosie Gorn, our Editor-in-Chief, wasted no time in getting the project going. They created a plan of action as soon as the New Board was named and met with the Office of Journal Administration to sell them on the vision. They executed the plan absolutely beautifully and we have an amazing new website to show for it. This is something that we as a journal are incredibly proud of. There are so many positive words I can use to describe our staff, but one of the first that comes to mind is “efficient.” Plain and simple, our people are incredibly resourceful with their time. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been conditioned from day one of becoming members of the ACLR that deadlines are to be taken seriously—and that meeting deadlines only benefits us as a whole. With a yearly publishing schedule that includes three standard issues and the Annual Survey of White Collar Crime (the nation’s leading practitioner’s guide on white collar crime), we understand that there is little time to waste. Take that understanding and apply it to a bunch of overachievers that are involved in who knows how many other extracurricular and academic activities at Georgetown and you really create an environment where people are going to complete their tasks as efficiently as possible in order to be able to tend to their other obligations. When people think about the ACLR we want them to rest assured that they are going to be working with an excellent team that is going to be ready to execute any project from day one.

How has (or will) the new website and online publication change the mission or scope of American Criminal Law Review?

Our mission remains the same: to be the world’s leading academic publication on matters of American criminal law. But I would say that the new platform changes our scope in the sense that it provides us with new opportunities to attract authors and distribute our content across the globe to practitioners, students, and academics alike. We are really excited about the new types of content that we will be able to publish and the amount of content that it will allow us to release to the public. We also sincerely hope that the increased accessibility to our content will help foster conversations by academics, students, policymakers, and the general public about the most relevant issues in criminal law our country faces today. We are proud to be the world’s leading American criminal law journal, and we do not take that reputation lightly. The new platform allows us to build on that reputation in a way that the old one didn’t.

Does your new website and online publication change what ACLR offers authors? Are there any new benefits authors have when they publish with ACLR?

Absolutely! Creating new offerings and benefits was one of the critical driving factors behind the project. With our new publication, ACLR Online, we’re excited for two things in particular: one, it gives us a chance to publish the type of subject matter that we haven’t had the opportunity to publish before, and two, it offers authors — whether they be students, professors, or seasoned practitioners — new opportunities to publish their work quickly and contribute to the ever-growing body of legal scholarship that helps mold and develop our legal system.

With traditional publishing you’re limited in the number of articles that you can publish each year and have to take into consideration criteria such as article length, the number of footnotes, and author recognition when selecting articles. In the past, these barriers have required us to forego dozens of articles that we would be ecstatic to publish. ACLR Online allows us to move past these traditional barriers in several ways. We’re no longer limited by the physical space in our print issues. If we find an article that we like but for some reason can’t publish in print, we can offer the author publication through the online platform.

Additionally, ACLR Online allows authors to publish shorter pieces on relevant topics at the height of their relevancy. Gone are the days of having to write 40, 50, even 60-page articles that take months to draft. With ACRL Online, authors can submit and publish shorter pieces on a shorter timeline. Our platform allows us to distribute leading academic ideas on hot topics while they’re still part of the news cycle.

Finally, we hope that ACLR Online will provide budding academics and authors with a platform that they can use to kick off their careers and gain respect throughout the academic community. Altogether, we hope that this will allow us to continue to attract the best and brightest legal minds in the world to our journal to seek publication.

Do you have any words of wisdom for editors at other law reviews that are planning to revamp their publication’s online presence?

First, conduct an honest assessment of your publication’s current strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it’s hard to be critical of something you’re so attached to. If that’s the case, asking your readers, subscribers, and authors for their opinion certainly shouldn’t hurt.

Once you analyze your platform’s strengths and weaknesses have a vision for what you’d like to achieve. Are you trying to increase traffic to the site, increase the overall number of subscribers, or improve the journal’s social media presence, for example? It’s good to be ambitious, but it’s important to have concrete goals. Focus on a few things that you think are the most important to making the platform more successful. Once you’ve implemented those changes it will be easier to add the smaller ideas, and new ideas may arise as well. Creativity breeds creativity.

Finally, make sure that the rest of your team believes in the idea. It’s hard enough getting a project like this off the ground and implementing it when you have people’s support. A supportive team will make life much easier, help you sell the platform to authors, and make sure that the platform is operated properly and effectively once it’s in place.

Is your law review working on a project that you want to share with other editors and legal scholars? Let us know by leaving a comment below!