Law Journals Have Come A Long Way Since 1995

It’s not often that you get to be a part of history. But in the Spring of 1995, I was part of a pioneering group of law students, led by Rick Klau (now Vice President of Business Development at FeedBurner), that published the Richmond Journal of Law & Technology, the first exclusively online law review. With institutions such as the University of Michigan, Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall and others nipping at out heels, it was a mad dash to the finish in order to be able to claim the #1 spot.

Back then the idea of publishing exclusively online was revolutionary. In fact, many within the legal community thought it quite limiting. But as Rick explained, the advantages were clear:

“With the benefit of hind-sight and experience, I can safely say that the benefits to electronic publication far outweigh any concerns we might have…

On March 9 [1995], the First Circuit reversed the lower court in Lotus v. Borland. As soon as we realized this (the day before Spring Break no less), we quickly downloaded the opinion from Westlaw and updated all the cites in the three articles containing footnotes to this case. The significance of this cannot be overstated — with a publication date set for April 10, the issue would have already been sent to a printer and we would have been unable to make the necessary changes to keep the article current.

The benefits don’t just stop at the advantages it accords us, the publisher. The medium of the World Wide Web allows the reader to follow hypertext links to all ends of the world. By searching the web for related information to each article in The Journal, we have tried to show you just a sampling of the substantive information that is available out there.”

Now, a decade later, a new wave of legal research and scholarship is taking place. The latest example of this is Ian Best’s work (thanks to Diane Levin of  Online Guide to Mediation for the pointer). Best, a 3L at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, is creating a taxonomy of legal blogs on 3L Epiphany.

One of the most interesting parts of his work, however, is related to his soon-to-be-published “Recent Development” article about Campbell v. General Dynamics Govt’ Sys. Corp, 407 F.3d 546 (1st Cir. 2005) for the Ohio State Journal of Dispute Resolution.

As Ian explains in his Footnote 123 post:

“This post you are reading is actually an electronic footnote…

That is, you are now reading the footnote of an article that does not yet exist in published form. The article still needs to go through a final editing process. My own editing is over, and I can therefore give this electronic footnote a number, ‘123,’ based on its number in the print version….

Part of the complexity of doing this is that if the numbering of the footnotes changes in the print version (for example if an earlier footnote is removed), it will change the number of this footnote. I will then need to create a new blog with the updated number in the URL and in the heading….

I will use this footnote to do further research on this case… [and] demonstrate how online media can transcend the time and space limitations of traditional publishing forms….

And one aspect of this footnote I consider to be especially significant: Before my Recent Development is published in JDR, I will post it here. This article will exist in its final form here, in this footnote you are reading now, before it exists as a hard copy. So the footnote will contain the article, which will contain the footnote, which will contain the article, ad infinitum….

I predict that this attempt to blend old and new forms of legal publishing will become more common among law reviews in the future. And even if a student doesn’t get into journal, he can always ‘self-publish’ his blog.”

He adds in a comment to his post:

“I’m not sure any law student has ever written a case note and then made the last footnote a reference to a blog post (on his own personal blog), where the footnote can be extended to include unlimited future information.”

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