Prominent Law School Legal Journals
Creating cohesive, flexible templates for three student-run journals
Improved editorial control for three student-run legal journals.
- Improved administrative and editorial control
- Clean, responsive designs to harmonize web design with print publications
- Added ability to include detailed footnotes and citations
This Law School client is consistently one of the highest-rated law schools in the United States, offering a rigorous and interdisciplinary professional education that blends the study of law with the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. The school aims to train well-rounded, critical, and socially conscious thinkers and doers. Learning the law here therefore is a passionate — even intense — venture between and among faculty and students that begins with dialogue in the classroom, and extends beyond the classroom via a variety of opportunities, including the school’s well-regarded legal journals.
The Law School was looking to redesign the online versions of these student-edited legal journals, each with a different focus and audience:
- Journal One is a generalist publication, and is not restricted to a specific subject matter or topic. Journal One serves as a forum of the expression of ideas of leading professors, judges, practitioners, and students. Each volume consists of four print issues, the first of which is a Symposium issue containing shorter essays on a unified topic. The other issues contain articles, book reviews, and student-written comments.
- Journal Two publishes one issue per year, focusing on a single, cutting-edge legal issue. This allows Journal Two to present an authoritative and timely approach to a narrow area of the law.
- Journal Three publishes twice yearly, featuring scholarly articles as well as student-written works. It is an interdisciplinary forum for discussion and analysis of international law and policy issues.
The previous sites were hosted internally on a multi-site solution that was neither designed nor structured for the needs of the journals, and as such were creating limitations. For example, the visual theme did not allow for automated footnotes or clear delineation of content. The lack of flexibility in the content strategy created problems with guest blogging, citations of other articles, promoting articles, and adding multimedia. Each Journal also had 10 to 26 student editors — some of whom would graduate each year — requiring an easy hand-off and training for the new editorial staff.
The main business goals became the following:
- To create a visual identity cohesive with other materials and enhance the Law School brand. The Law School needed these sites to not only reflect existing print materials, but to visually reflect the excellence of the Law School itself.
- To increase online readership and article citations. Because the legal community at large reads journals from many sources in order to stay current on pressing legal issues, having the sites be user-friendly and easier to access was key to keeping traffic and interaction high and continuous.
- Make it easier for editors to add and edit content. Staff changes from year to year, and articles are frequently updated. An easy-to-update system requiring minimal training was critical for each journal, as well as a way to add footnotes without errors.
Design and UX
Typographically speaking, the sites needed to be striking as there is minimal imagery to support the text. Sensitivity was given to each typeface chosen to ensure easy viewing on all kinds of devices, and attention was given to subhead, quote, body text and footnote styles to aid legibility. While each journal shared the same template, a different brand color was chosen for each of the three journals to allow for visual separation. Social sharing icons were made clear for easy distribution on social media. But the biggest win of all was the footnotes, which were not only revealed during hover, but when clicked-upon sent the user down to the proper footnote at the end of the article.
To make the best use of the budget and editorial workflow, the same content type structure was shared between all three journals. New content types were introduced to allow for expansion into multimedia, including podcasts and live blogging for Symposia. The strategy also had built-in flexibility to give choices in which content to highlight and which features to use. All content was made available in both HTML and PDF formats, since the online-only content needed a PDF version due to legal citations requiring page numbers. Footnotes and margin notes were managed using https://www.drupal.org/project/footnotes, which allowed for inline notation and worked well with MS Word macros and the Law School's current workflow.
Governance and Publishing on Demand
In order to maximize both budget and the existing Drupal skillset within the School, it was determined to keep the sites in Drupal 7, and build off the current codebase.
Because each journal had a separate student editorial board responsible for all aspects of the content of their site, and the responsibility for the journals rested primarily in students’ hands, they needed a clear, uncluttered path to publishing content. This required that they have an effective system for creating drafts, moving drafts through a review process, and publishing.
Workbench was implemented to set the proper permissions between the three separate editorial teams, and provide clearly defined roles and permissions to mirror and enforce established relationships. The editor in chief position was given the authority to publish finished drafts, while the content editors could create new content, edit, and submit for review. Only Law School administrators were given access to global site settings. This definition of roles and associated permissions, empowered all editors, giving them functional tools to promote a fluid draft to published route.
Additionally, because previous versions of two of the the online journals were tied to the print publication schedule, new content was only available after it was in print. In the case of the Journal Two website, this meant that articles related to the yearly symposium were added once a year, and only after the lengthy process of creating the print pieces was finished. The new system allowed content editors and publishers to move content onto the website more efficiently and on a rolling basis. The students could publish on demand instead of being restricted by the availability of a pdf artifact from the print publication process, thus delivering timely content.
The final suite of sites worked within the overall University’s brand guidelines to create a distinctive look for each publication while maintaining brand cohesion. Governance was considered through each step to provide clarity to the publishing process.