Judge Herbert Dixon, newly elected chair of the ABA Journal Board of Editors, joins Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway to discuss the publication’s plans for the future. They take a look at the longstanding importance of the ABA Journal and its efforts to reach the profession as a whole, and Judge Dixon gives a few sneak peeks at what may be coming during his time as chair.
Judge Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., is a senior judge with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Alert Communications, Blackletter Podcast, Scorpion, and Smokeball.
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors, and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You’re listening to the Legal Talk Network.
Sharon Nelson: Welcome to the 164th edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cyber security and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today, our topic is New Horizons for the ABA Journal.
Sharon Nelson: First, we would like to thank our sponsors, Alert Communications, the Blackletter Podcast, Scorpion and Smokeball.
Jim Calloway: Our guest today is Judge Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., a senior judge with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, who is the newly elected chair of the ABA Journal Board of Editors, the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association and the signature publication for our profession. Judge Dixon is the technology columnist for The Judges’ Journal Magazine and chair of the ABA Judicial Divisions Book Editorial Board. He’s a former member of the ABA Tech Show Planning Board, former chair of the ABA Standing Committee on American Judicial System and former Chair of the National Conference of State Trial Judges. Thanks for joining us today, Judge Dixon.
Judge Herbert Dixon: Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Sharon. I am pleased to be a gift on this podcast. I recall when I met the two of you, slightly different times, but involving the same thing, involving the ABA Tech Show, when I was expressing my interest in it and both of you responded the same way, “Since you’re so interested, come and participate.” And I did.
Sharon Nelson: It worked out very cleverly on our part. Judge Dixon, you served as chair of the ABA has National Conference of State Trial Judges over 30 years you had as a Trial Judge on the DC Superior Court and you became known as The Technology Judge in DC. How ever did you find your way to becoming chair of the ABA Journal Board of Editors?
Judge Herbert Dixon: Sharon, that’s the question I am still trying to answer is about as easy to answer that question as it is to give you a response to what is the real meaning of life. Somehow, I don’t know, but somehow throughout my career, starting in high school, I ended up being involved with publication entities. In high school, the high school yearbook. In college, editor-in-chief of the yearbook, editor-in-chief of a magazine in the ABA, chair of the board of editors of the Judges’ Journal magazine, and then after that, chair of the Judicial Divisions Book Editorial Board.
I consider writing one of the most difficult things that I have to do in life, even though I’m involved in quite a bit of it. All I can tell you is that perhaps because of the organizing experience and the management experience, my fellow board members thought that it was sufficient enough and considering my work with them over the years, for me to be elected as the next year board of editors. That’s the best answer I could give you because it’s still a mystery to me.
Jim Calloway: Well, how does the ABA Journal relate to the greater American Bar Association?
Judge Herbert Dixon: Now, even though the journal is a part of the American Bar Association, one point I want to emphasize, is that it enjoys full editorial independence from the greater ABA. The content is not limited to items or news articles about the ABA, is not limited to advocating ABA positions. The staff is made up of professional journalists and they have Decades of experience including experience before the ABA Journal. They identified the most important legal stories and trends. They then provide independent coverage of the issues that delivers a high-quality product of interest to all of its readers and members alike, but I do want to emphasize that although we produce articles about the ABA and of interest to the ABA, the journal enjoys full editorial independence from the greater ABA.
Sharon Nelson: Well, I’m kind of curious as to how many people the journal reaches both in print, online via newsletters, et cetera, do you have reliable stats on that?
Judge Herbert Dixon: We have some pretty good information because we do analytics reports each month. First of all, the print edition is sent to others, they’re member benefit to all of the members of the association with the exception of law students and international members. They receive electronic copies of the magazine. Online, the journal generates more than a million two hundred thousand page views each month, that’s on our website, abajournal.com. The website is updated throughout the day with news, original content, podcast and more.
In addition, the staff curates and assembles content each week in an email newsletter and would you believe that that newsletter is sent out every Friday in nearly a half a million subscribers, both member and non-members. Another half million subscribers, that’s in addition to the half million I just mentioned, received the Tech Monthly newsletter, which focuses on stories and columns about legal technology.
Overall, my best guess is we reached out and touched about a million and a half people on a monthly basis?
Jim Calloway: Well, that’s pretty impressive. So board of editors can do many different things. What is the role of the ABA Journal Board of Editors?
Judge Herbert Dixon: Thank you for that. I really appreciate that because a lot of folks have the impression that we write articles. A lot of folks have the impression that we are involved with editing the articles and choosing the articles before they’re produced. That’s not quite correct. We have the job of overseeing the journal. We provide guidance to the professional staff, especially in terms of how to carry out their important editorial mission.
We advocate, that is the board, advocates on behalf of the journal to the public and to the greater ABA. Just one example with respect to budget issues, we have to get in line with every other ABA entity and the board has to advocate on behalf of the journal. We do provide crucial feedback with respect to the work produced by the journal. We go through a process of evaluating articles both online and print every month, we submit that feedback to the editorial staff, it’s shared with them and in many instances, it provides them guidance for what to do going forward. Our role is oversight and evaluation but our role does not involve writing articles or editing articles before they’re produced.
Jim Calloway: Thank you for that explanation. If there’s anything harder than writing, it’s certainly editing other people’s work. I appreciate that. Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is New Horizons for the ABA Journal. Our guest today is Judge Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., a senior judge with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia who is the newly elected chair of the ABA Journal Board of Editors, the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association and signature publication for the profession. So, here you are, you’re the rookie Judge Dixon, what are your plans as chair?
Judge Herbert Dixon: That is a great question. They’ve certainly changed since yesterday and no doubt, they will change more tomorrow. Describing my plans as chair, the best example I can give you is like a high-octane race vehicle running into stone cold reality.
This was an elected position and it was a contested election and I shared my vision to the board of editors who were the ones to vote for the position before I was elected. And I had quite a few thoughts and I’m not going to go into those thoughts now, but I want to tell you, immediately after I was elected and the election results were announced, the next item on the agenda was an executive session. Went in to the executive session and the first thing that I found out about was some new budget cuts that were coming our way, that we were going to have to deal with.
That’s what I mean by just running into reality. In my first meeting, we had a very robust agenda. It was just like last week, it was hybrid because some people, because of the current pandemic situations told it was not in their best interest to travel and, of course, some people were there and it was approximately 50%, which is what I’ve experienced with other entities that have started moving back towards in-person meetings. But the agenda sort of tells you some of the things that we will be moving forward with.
For instance, we had an extensive discussion about strategic planning. There was a strategic plan that had had been done by about five years ago, but, for whatever reason, it was on the shelf. That was resurrected and after extensive discussions, including a report from board members at that time who prepared the strategic plan, who were no longer on the board and after full discussion about the board, we are now back into strategic planning.
We also had to discuss issues related to a pay wall experimentation. Right now, ABA Journal online and even print magazine, they’re all available to everyone online. Now, that’s somewhat of a disadvantage to people who became members of the organization of the ABA who are getting access to those materials. So, one of the things that we will be doing as we’re going forward is moving to some pay wall experimentation. We don’t have any intention of putting everything behind a pay wall because a lot of the news produced online are breaking issues with respect to matters that are very new and are very fluid.
But as articles develop into full-blown research thesis, full-blown essay pieces, full-blown descriptions that are helpful to individuals who are in practice or who are attempting to move from stone age practice of law to using technology, a lot of those are valuable and are valuable to members and you should be a member if you’re going to have access to those materials. We will be moving forward with our pay wall system.
There are other things that we are looking into but because they’re preliminary, I hesitate from speaking about them because I don’t know the extent to which they will come to fruition, except there is one I’ll mention even though even though it is in the very early stages. The ABA Journal is attempting to establish. We are in the very early stages of this, a literary award that is for a book about legal and right now, I think it’ll be about legal fiction, to build this brand so that it will be coveted by future authors as something that they would like to be considered for and like to be awarded. It may not reach the status of the Pulitzer Prize or some other outstanding awards, but we expect to build it into a brand assuming we can establish and have it as an annual award. I think I’ll stop there in terms of telling you what other plans are because they’re really just as preliminary and I have to see how things develop.
Jim Calloway: Well, that’s great, Judge Dixon. We really appreciate you giving us a tabloid clickbait headline of ABA Journal paywall. That’ll get a lot of clicks for the buck.
Sharon Nelson: Jim, we’re thinking as we often do along similar lines because I was going to tell the judge that something like the word goldarn, but a little stronger, it’s always in front of the word payroll every time someone runs into it. Pay walls are not beloved of those who wish to consume content.
Judge Herbert Dixon: Well, ABA members won’t have to worry but those ones who are not.
Jim Calloway: Well, back on topic, since you’re talking about strategic planning, how has the ABA Journal evolved over the years and how do you see it continuing to evolve? Okay, first of all, I want to point out that the ABA Journal was established in 1915, so that makes it 106 years old and a key element of what has occurred from the original print edition which look more like a law review journal than anything else, it’s really evolved into the magazine with pictures, but now, it has already evolved digitally online with website, podcast, email, newsletters.
The staff is devoted a lot of time to digital content. They still produce the top-quality print magazine and the journal has also been ramping up the amount of digital content produced for the website throughout the year. Right now, it posts about hundreds of items every month at abajournal.com. Now, in terms of continuing evolution, we are still looking for new ways to interact with our readers, wherever they may be and whatever type of device that they’re using.
Last year, the journal unveiled a new app for smartphones and tablets. So now, our readers can access that amazing content in the palm of their hands. The print magazine remains a priority and it will continue to remain a priority but every staff member, every professional staff member works on both the print and the digital operations of the ABA Journal.
Sharon Nelson: As you’re looking at each issue of the journal, how do the folks decide what’s to be covered?
Judge Herbert Dixon: That’s an amazing process and there are several sources and several ways that it happens. First, your staff considers a number of factors. They look at emerging trends. They look at stories about the legal profession and the justice system and then they figure out what’s the best way to cover those stories. Sometimes, that can mean the print edition, but many times, it means getting a quick story online. Timing plays a lot. For instance, it takes much longer from conception to publication to get an article in print, whereas articles go online the very same day or the very next day.
In addition, some of the online articles are so popular that they actually turn into print edition stories or based on the topic being covered, they might turn into a first person. And by first person, I mean, an opinion piece by one of the journalists. We have several columns in the journal that are standard. For instance, there’s the standard ABA president column where the president offers perspectives on the association and what he’s doing. We have some regular coverage of what the house of delegates did at the annual meeting or the ABA mid-year meeting. And they also cover significant events or programs by ABA sections or divisions or forums. We don’t just cover ABA stuff, but we cover items of interest that are of interest to the legal community.
Jim Calloway: Judge Dixon, how can we and all other ABA members assist the ABA Journal in achieving its mission?
Judge Herbert Dixon: That’s but I want to mention just a couple of ways. There’s some hidden features in the ABA Journal. The reason I say hidden features is because people read them, but they don’t necessarily think about where those speakers come from. For instance, we have a column that’s called Members Who Inspire. These are about members of the American Bar Association who do important work or unique work and this is a column that’s produced at least on a monthly basis.
We find out about those members who inspire from members of the ABA, because the articles are about members of the ABA. We look to the sections, divisions and the forums to suggest candidates because of the work that’s being done. A recent article about Members Who Inspire concerned two young Native American lawyers whose called for action on missing and murdered indigenous women was causing quite a bit of interest.
Now that, we have other columns like that. For instance, we have a column that’s called Mind Your Business. Now, I’m from the deep south and when we use that term, mind your business, it meant stay out of my business, don’t bother, don’t look at what I’m doing, but we took that title, if you would, Mind Your Business from something. that Ben Franklin said. Mind your business is really about matters that relate to running a law office or running a law practice, how to adopt technology and these are articles that are quite often written by members and other contributors who are not on the journalistic staff of the ABA.
Once again, this is primarily a digital production, but quite often, the digital article finds its way into the print magazine quite often in an enhanced way. That is, it’s longer and more details.
Now, there’s just one more thing I want to mention in terms of how ABA members can help. We have a nine-member elected board and we have four ex-officio members. The four ex-officio members are the president of the ABA, the president-elect, the treasurer of the ABA, and the chair of the House of delegates. As you can see, those are your four top offices in the American Bar Association, and their ex-officio positions are established in the bylaws.
And so, not only do we have the nine elected members, but we have those four offices and just describing them as ex-officio, I don’t want anyone to make any stake. They are full board members and quite often, what they say carries the weight of their office behind them with respect to the discussion. Now, the reason I mention that is there are two vacancies occurring at the end of this year. It’s a three-year term and there is an option if renominated of an additional three-year term.
We have two members who are going off of the board this year and so, that means they’re going to be two vacancies. I can supply you in the very near future with a letter telling you how individuals can apply or how they can nominate, but I want to mention the deadline is December 10. And so, we’re counting on your listening audience and members of the ABA to send us their best candidates because as you can see, the journal means a lot to the American Bar Association and we want to use the best people in the Bar Association to oversee those operations.
In a nutshell, those are the ways that you and others and ABA membership can help us out.
Jim Calloway: Well, thank you for that insight information, Judge. Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Judge Dixon, you mentioned earlier that you ran into these budget reductions. How are they going to affect the journal’s operations? And as a follow-up question, I think you’ve sort of indicated that you would never go all-digital with the journal, but it would certainly save a lot of money, so explain your thinking there, if you would.
Judge Herbert Dixon: Terrific, the questions get easier as we go along. Thank you, Sharon. Just as other entities within the American Bar Association, we fall within the category of individuals who are affected by the budget issues and I did mention that that budget cut here earlier. Our staff over the years is dropped from a high of over 30 to now somewhere in the range of 17 people. I mean, that’s one way the budget issues have affected us.
Notwithstanding that, we have ramped up and when I say we, I’m talking about the professional journalists, the amount of content that’s provided especially the online content. The journal, as I mentioned, has been in existence for 106 years. The pandemic has not stopped us. As a matter of fact, the 1918 pandemic didn’t stop us. We just keep on moving along like the Energizer Bunny and even though the staff size over several years has been significantly reduced, we have continued to produce a high-quality product of, since March of 2020 when the pandemic started, they’ve still produced 10 outstanding issues of the magazine.
Since the pandemic started, the staff has ramped up its online digital content. I am so proud of the digital content because some folks have compared the journal’s online content with the likes of Bloomberg, forbeslaw.com and even the New York Times. It is outstanding digital content and we plan to do that.
Now, here’s another obvious thing getting to your last question. Some cost savings are possible by decreasing, if you will, the number of print, of publications. Some members have noticed that the journal has gone from a monthly publication to a bimonthly publication. Now, budget played one part in that, but so did surveys of our readership indicating that a bimonthly publication would be sufficient for their purposes because it’s an amazing amount of content and the surveys indicated that we would not be adversely affected by dropping down to bimonthly from monthly.
Now, getting to your last question, going all digital. Yes, volunteer organizations have moved from print publications to doing strictly online, but also remember that we receive a significant amount of advertising both in the print edition and both online. With respect to the digital edition, the revenues from advertising exceed what the cost is for the actual printing, not journalist salaries, et cetera, but for the actual cost of printing and distributing the magazine.
If we were to just stop distributing a print issue, there is no guarantee that those advertisers would stay with us for the digital edition. The advertisers for both the print edition and the digital edition are looking for different things. They’re looking for a different audience and there is just no guarantee and I would say, there’s a probability that we would lose a significant part of that advertising revenue and so, we would end up losing financial if we stop printing the print issue.
But beyond that, right now having that print issue of the magazine in the office reception area, on the coffee table, being able to hear among lawyers is just something that we don’t want to do right now. We want to keep that high-quality product right in front of everyone, but two reasons because number one, we would probably end up losing money and because we want to keep the print edition in the offices and hands of our membership and others. There is no thought at this time to getting rid of the print edition.
Sharon Nelson: Thank you so much for joining us today, Judge Dixon. It really was nice to talk to you to learn more about the journal and the inner workings of it. I remember the old days thinking that it was old, tired, boring and I’ve watched it grow into a magazine which is slick, much more conversational, tackling hot topics without just going after whatever is out there that lawyers really care about and that’s made it a really splendid magazine. So, my compliments to the entire board and thank you for sharing it.
Judge Herbert Dixon: Thank you, Sharon. The one thing that I want to mention is unlike most chairs within the ABA, I have a three-year term. So if I don’t get it right in my first year, I’ve got two more efforts where I can try to get that good years. I’m looking forward to it.
Sharon Nelson: Well, we know you, so we know you’ll get it really good in the first year.
Jim Calloway: That’s right.
Sharon Nelson: That does it for this edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. And remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com, or on Apple Podcast, and if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate US in Apple Podcast.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye, Ms. Sharon.
Sharon Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.
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Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com