Michael Conklin*

If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner. -Omar Bradley

 Since the first online-only journal (“OLJ”) release in 2005,[2] they have steadily increased in both prevalence and prestige.[3] There are now ten OLJs in the Washington & Lee top 100 law journal rankings.[4] Because articles in print journals have been decreasing in length,[5] while OLJ articles have been increasing,[6] this has allowed authors to sometimes consider submitting the same manuscript to both print and online journals. Due to vast differences in opinion on how to weight OLJs compared to their print counterparts, a 2020 survey of law school faculty was conducted to measure perceptions of OLJs.

The survey asked participants to consider what OLJ placement would be equivalent to placement in the flagship print journal at the #80 law school. The following chart shows the wide variety of how faculty perceive OLJs should be weighted.

However, the results allow for an average rule of thumb to be extrapolated from the highly disparate responses. Namely, placement in the general interest print journal at the #80 law school is roughly equivalent to placement in an OLJ at the #20 law school. Therefore, this creates a 4:1 weighting ratio when considering flagship print journals to OLJs.

Controlling for faculty demographic measures allows for further insight. More experienced faculty had more positive views of OLJs than less experienced faculty. The more prestigious the law school attended by a faculty member, the more likely they were to hold a positive view of OLJs. Finally, there was a correlation between the emphasis on scholarship relative to teaching at a faculty member’s institution and how the faculty member weighted OLJs. Namely, the higher the focus on scholarship over teaching, the lower the perceived value of OLJs. There were no significant correlations between the weighting of OLJs and age, gender, rank of the institution at which currently employed, technological savvy, experience publishing in an OLJ, or faculty rank.

It was hypothesized that being older, less tech-savvy, and having already acquired tenure would correspond to more negative opinions of OLJs.[7] This study produced no such result in any of these areas. Therefore, the notion that negative views of OLJs are primarily relegated to the septuagenarian, tenured law professor who can barely send an email is discredited. But this finding is likely bad news for OLJ advocates, as it means perceptions will not necessarily improve as older professors retire.

The disparate responses to how OLJs compare to flagship print journals demonstrate the need for this research. The rough 4:1 ratio established in this research provides an average to consider for faculty working toward tenure and faculty serving on tenure and promotion committees. Furthermore, this research will help guide journals considering transitioning to an online-only modality. This transition has gained popularity[8] with even some flagship journals moving to a fully online modality.[9] Such a transition frees up library space, saves money (for both libraries and law reviews),[10] benefits the environment, and allows for the faster dissemination of content.[11]

[1] This post is from the following upcoming full-length article to be published in Jurimetrics. Michael Conklin, Online Law Journals as Legal Scholarship: A Survey of Faculty Perceptions, ___ Jurimetrics ___ (forthcoming 2020), available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3613220.

* Powell Endowed Professor of Business Law, Angelo State University.

[2] Katharine T. Schaffzin, The Future of Law Reviews: Online-Only Journals, 32 Touro L. Rev. 243, 246 (2016). The first law journal was the Yale Law Journal Pocket Part which is now called the Yale Law Journal Forum.

[3] Id. at 248.

[4] W&L Law Journal Rankings, Wash. & Lee U. Sch. L., https://managementtools4.wlu.edu/LawJournals/ (last visited May 28, 2020). Based on impact factor.

[5] Michael C. Dorf, Thanks to a Joint Statement by Top Law Journals, Law Review Articles will Get Shorter, But Will They Get Better?, FindLaw(Feb. 28, 2005), https://supreme.findlaw.com/legal-commentary/thanks-to-a-joint-statement-by-top-law-journals-law-review-articles-will-get-shorter-but-will-they-get-better.html.

[6] Chris J. Walker, How Do I Make Sense of Online Law Reviews?, PrawfsBlawg (Apr. 8, 2016), https://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2016/04/how-do-i-make-sense-of-online-law-reviews.html (“[Short, 2k-6k word articles are not] the case with at least some online law reviews . . . . Scholars now seem to be publishing much longer pieces in online law reviews.”).

[7] This belief is consistent with many of the survey comments that blamed older professors for why OLJs are viewed negatively.

[8] Darah Reis, Deconstructing the Durham Statement: The Persistence of Print Prestige During the Age of Open Access 19 (June 30, 2016) (unpublished manuscript), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2785307, (“Of the 108 specialty law journals published at top 14 law schools, 27 are electronic-only publications (25%).”).

[9] Id. at 8. Western New England Law Review, Lincoln Memorial University Law Review, Belmont Law Review, Concordia University Law Review, and Northeastern University Law Journal. Id.

[10] It is estimated that—for non-elite law schools—an exclusively online journal costs $24,000 less annually on net than a print journal. Schaffzin,supra note 2, at 250.

[11] Reis, supra note 8, at 5.


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