The online-only law reviews that sprang up a decade ago at Rutgers law schools in Newark, N.J., and Camden are entering the next stage of the Internet evolution: the blogosphere.
The Rutgers Law Record in Newark has begun inviting readers to post comments on articles, and the editor says she is hoping the heavily footnoted submissions by scholars become departure points for discussion, not just repositories of weighty wisdom.
“It’s really a way to move the law-review format forward,” says the editor, third-year student Sarah Nuffer.
And the Journal of Law and Religion in Camden will have the same type of interactive site after a Web design planned for early 2010.
Most law reviews around the country post their contents on Web sites, and the days are long gone when lawyers had to wander through library stacks full of law school publications to find the latest scholarly takes on issues that needed to be briefed. Besides being on Westlaw and LexisNexis, law reviews with a paper format reprint their articles on university Web sites.
The Rutgers Law Review in Newark, for example, has posted PDF files of all back issues dating from the initial number published in 1932 at its predecessor institution, the Mercer-Beasley School of Law.
The Journal of Law and Religion and the Rutgers Law Record appear only online, but their goal is no different from Mercer-Beasley’s 77 years ago. The school’s president wrote in a forward to the first issue that the review would not only keep readers abreast of the law, but would give students an opportunity to exercise their brains by “reading discriminately for the purpose of preparing case notes.”
The Rutgers Law Record, which started in 1996, bills itself as the first online law school review in the United Sates, though its founding editor, Steven De Castro, qualifies that, saying it was the first “general interest” online law review. There were online law reviews then, but they were all about cyberlaw.
De Castro, whose Manhattan firm represents tenants in housing cases, says the Rutgers Law Record was a lapsed student newspaper and Dean Roger Abrams recruited him to revive the publication in an online form.
“But I discovered it was a lot easier to get students to write about court cases than about the shortage of parking spaces and things like that, so we decided to make it a law review instead of a newspaper,” De Castro says.
The editors learned quickly, as the Internet gathered steam and electronic research became the norm, that scholars who wanted their work published and cited didn’t mind that there was no paper version. Nowadays, De Castro suggests, the only printed versions of law review articles that lawyers read are the ones they make by pressing the “print” button on their computers.
In its current form, the Law Record is like a traditional law review — a collection of articles on diverse subjects. In 2008, for example, the topics included a study of slavery law in colonial Argentina; a treatise on ethics, culture and gender bias in domestic violence cases; a guide to investment trusteeships; and an analysis of the effect of civil rights law on the hiring of college football coaches.
The grab-bag method is on the way out. The Law Record is moving toward a symposium-based selection process, in which the editors will issue calls for papers on a single topic. Some of the topics will be inspired by submissions deemed by the editors to be particularly strong, like a recently posted article on consent searches by Rutgers-Newark Law Professor George Thomas III.
The Law Record has issued a call for papers for an environmental issue. And on the topic of eminent domain, there will be dueling submissions by state Public Advocate Ronald Chen, a former Rutgers-Newark law professor, and Robert Goldsmith of Greenbaum Rowe Smith & Davis in Woodbridge, who represents developers.
Chen and Goldsmith may not generate as much heat or mirth as the point-counterpoint debates of “Saturday Night Live” in the 1970s, but the editors are hoping that articles on specific topics compel readers to click the “comment” button and weigh in with their views. The comments will be vetted to make sure they have the necessary gravitas for a serious legal discussion.
Changes also are in the wind at the 10-year-old Journal of Law and Religion in Camden, the first online law review to set up intellectual shop at the crossroads where secularism and theocratic ideals meet, often with calamitous results.
In the most recent issue, the lead articles were about churches’ financial operations and the effect of religion on stem cell and education legislation. Like the staffs of traditional law reviews, Editor-in-Chief Megan Knowlton Balne and her colleagues spend a lot of time “spading” manuscripts — ensuring the legal and stylistic bona fides of the citations — and writing notes for the publication.
Unlike others, however, the Journal has a “new developments” section that gives students an opportunity to write scholarly articles of 10 to 20 pages. And because the publication is online, those articles can be posted on the Internet in advance of the twice-a-year rollout of the collections of articles.
“The students love it,” Balne says. “You can be published up to three or four times, and it is fun because you are ahead of the curve.”
For late 2010, the Journal is planning an interactive site that will allow readers to post comments.
For students looking for interaction with authors and practitioners in a law review format, the cutting edge may be a new quasi-student online publication started by Bennett Wasserman, a New Jersey legal malpractice lawyer and an adjunct professor at Hofstra University School of Law in Hempstead, N.Y.
Started just two weeks ago, Wasserman’s Legal Malpractice Law Review is a hybrid that could be called a “blawreview” — part blog, part law review. Students write digests of leading legal negligence cases, and the postings are open to comment. The site is for lawyers and insurance professionals, and rants by disgruntled litigants are going to be flamed quickly, the “rules of use” section of the site suggests.
Wasserman is counting on comments from a board of contributors he assembled that includes lawyers on all sides of the malpractice wars, such as plaintiffs practitioner Glenn Bergenfield of Princeton, defense counsel Thomas Campion of Drinker Biddle in Morristown and pioneering legal ethics scholar Monroe Freedman, Hofstra Law’s former dean.
Melissa Goldberg, one of the student contributors, is also on the staff of the Hofstra Law Review, where she spends a lot of time checking citations in articles. Not only does her work on the malpractice site have a more practical effect on readers, she says, it gives her an opportunity to have her name on published work.
“You are interacting with people you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to meet and you are getting your name on the Internet,” she says. “If you Google your name, it comes right up. It’s cool to have a presence on the Internet.”
It also has helped widen her horizons. “I didn’t even know until I got to law school that you could sue a lawyer,” she says.