Our LIIBULLETIN publication is really two publications in one, delivered through the same e-mail channel. It rapidly notifies subscribers of Supreme Court decisions, usually minutes after they are handed down. More, it delivers sophisticated but accessible analysis of upcoming Supreme Court cases about two weeks before they are argued. The analyses are student-written and student-edited, and so it's tempting to think of them (and of the LIIBULLETIN) as a kind of law review. That's a little misleading, but not because the BULLETIN analyses demand any less of our students. I think it's a different kind of experience, with unique strengths.
The LIIBULLETIN is written by 30 students. 24 are associate editors working in teams of two. Each of four student "managing editors" supervises three or four of these teams. An executive editor and editor-in-chief supervise them in turn, assigning cases to teams and performing a second review of the product. They are also responsible for a "print edition" that appears in the Federal Lawyer, the magazine of the Federal Bar Association, which reaches all members of the Federal Bar Association, all Article 3 judges, and all members of Congress. Everything is aimed at producing high-quality writing and insightful analysis that remains accessible to non-lawyers.
The editor-in-chief and executive editor are chosen by the LII, usually with strong input from the current editor-in-chief. The incoming editor-in-chief and executive editor participate in the choice of supervising (historically "managing") editors. All six then run a selection process for the associate editors, which consists of a written sample and an interview process. All involved are paid a very small stipend.
We ask the editors to do something hard: to write for the person they would be if they weren't law students. My slogan for that approach used to be "write as though you were writing for your mother". I quickly discovered that an amazing number of law students have mothers who are lawyers. Now I just say "write for the person you were a year ago, and for the clients you'll have two years from now". We stress that "non-lawyer" does not mean "unsophisticated". Where popular writing about the Supreme Court often consists in large part of human-interest stories about the parties, we ask students to produce thoughtful discussions of cases and their implications from a legal perspective, and to try to draw out the larger, non-technical implications of what the Court may decide.
This is different from law reviews in a number of ways:
- The writing is by students, for attribution
- The writing is pitched for people who will one day be their clients.
- Deadlines are absolute, and frequent.
- Teamwork and a mentoring process (particularly on writing) are built in.
- Substantive consultation with faculty is frequent and rewarding.
You can, of course, judge the product for yourself. We know that the BULLETIN is widely read -- and that we often hear from those representing the parties and from academic observers of the Court. Their feedback is usually positive and always valuable for the editors, though there are always partisans who want to relitigate the case with us. District of Columbia v. Heller provided a great example of how different an experience this can be. It was rewarding to watch the students patiently and persuasively defend the objectivity of their analysis in the face of attacks from advocates on both sides of the issue. Via e-mail and blog posts, they made their case.
Last month we decided to find out more about the LIIBULLETIN's audience, via review of the subscriber list, by reviewing the inbound-link census we get from Google Webmaster Services, and by means of survey. What did we learn?
First, we learned that we need to be careful with survey results. It is sometimes hard to know whether respondents are talking about the LIIBULLETIN that is a notification service for decisions, or the LIIBULLETIN that provides pre-analysis of upcoming cases. This is particularly the case because the analyses are a relatively recent addition -- they were started in 2005, while the notification service has existed since 1993. Still, we know that about two-thirds of the subscribers read the analyses in their condensed form, and roughly half of those read the full version on the Web.
Second, we learned that we are at least 15% more popular than we thought. According to its subscriber list, the LII reaches about 18,500 people and has grown at the rate of 1,000 subscribers per year for the last 3 years. In reality, we reach at least 3,000 more people than that via "rebroadcasting" from our subscribers. Often they relay it to whole firms (the largest of which has 450 lawyers), or to professional-interest listservs (as with criminal-defense attorneys in Alabama); sometimes it's just to five or ten other lawyers in a practice group or small firm. But, like everything else on the Internet, it adds up.
Third, we learned that we have a very diverse audience. We have subscribers in:
- all 25 of the AmLaw top 25 law firms;
- 12 US Circuit Courts and 65 District Courts
- a slew of Federal agencies
- many corporations, including media outlets
- 589 colleges and universities
- 63 foreign countries
They're a diverse group, including many, many extraordinary citizens, lawyers and judges, a Senate staffer, an RV transporter, an advisor to the president of an African nation, a forensic psychologist, a prison warden, the president of a Christian women's college in Japan, an American Shari'ah law judge, and any number of people who want to hear a clear and objective report of what the Court has done or is about to do.
It is, if I modestly say so, an impressive list of accomplishments for any law school publication. But if you were to ask me what I'm proudest of, it would be a toss-up between the high value we've created for our audience and the management model that we've perfected over the last few years. I think we've found a scalable, stone-soup-based way of making high-quality law content.
We are going to do a lot more with what students have taught us as we worked together to perfect that model. We have a plan that may surprise you.... and we'll be revealing it soon (yes, this is a blatant attempt to heighten suspense).
If, after this, you're moved to subscribe to the LIIBULLETIN, you can do so here.