The future of law reviews

HLS logo, via JLA site.HUP logo, via JLA site.It seems that sales of paper law reviews and journals are declining. For example, the Harvard Law Review had 8,760 subscribers for its 1979/1980 volume, but only 2,610 for its 2007/2008 volume. Now, via Volokh and Ambrogi, I learn of the appearance of the Journal of Legal Analysis, published by Harvard University Press.

It is a welcome departure in many directions. It is faculty edited, rather than student-edited; the latter is the norm in the US, but is regarded with some skepticism in the outside world. It is peer reviewed, with judgments being made on the quality of a piece not by the student editors but by experts in the relevant fields. It requires exclusive submission, which is the norm outside the US, but very different to the games in which authors and student-editors currently indulge to barter better placements. It is a general journal, publishing articles from all disciplinary perspectives and in all styles, rather than being confined to a specific legal field or theoretical approach. And, in an excellent development which will surely come to be seen as a some kind of apostasy, it has eschewed the Bluebook for a very minimalist house-style. Finally, it is open, free, digital: the articles will be published on a bespoke open-source platform and made fully available under a Creative Commons licence [specifically Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported] as soon as they are ready for publication. As they say on the website:

This journal provides immediate open access to its content on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge.

Though there is a nod towards traditional journal publishing, in that the articles will be gathered into bound volumes and made available for purchase, in an inversion of the current model, the online publication will happen first, and the paper publication will follow later.

Harvard University Press has not published an academic journal in nearly thirty years but has long wanted to enter the realm of online journal publishing. The Journal of Legal Analysis is their first foray into this realm. At the time of its announcement last Summer, Legal Theory Blog and Brian Leiter gave it enthusiastic (if cautious) welcomes. It is not the first foray into this kind of legal publishing. The Web Journal of Current Legal Issues has been pioneering this model since 1995. But if the Journal of Legal Analysis is as successful, it could become the template for future US law reviews. And this would be a very good thing.