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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Lawyer Shuttering Stuns Legal Community

(CN) - The abrupt recent demise of longstanding legal magazine California Lawyer has shocked and raised suspicion of lawyers and legal reporters, who wonder why the Daily Journal would suddenly pull the plug on its sister publication.

"I was taken totally by surprise by the demise of California Lawyer, as was the staff. We had no warning whatsoever," said Santa Clara University Law School professor Jerry Uelmen, a member of the magazine's editorial advisory board.

"It came as a real shock. Everybody in the legal community is pretty surprised," said longtime legal journalist Susan Kostal, a writer for the magazine whose last piece on the hidden cost of police body cameras was published online only.

Kostal found out about it from a friend, who sent her a link to a Sept. 30 blog post by Jim Romenesko, the day the bombshell was dropped on the magazine's staff.

"California Lawyer was the first magazine where I was a staff editor and I learned a tremendous amount from the very talented people there. There were some real pros who worked there and I'll miss it," Kostal said.

She still remembers her first cover story, written for the magazine back when she worked for the Daily Journal. It was an investigative piece on the murder of Dexter Jacobson, an attorney who was looking into fraud in the bankruptcy courts.

Kostal later confirmed the news that the magazine was folding with Daily Journal editor David Houston. Calls to Houston and the Daily Journal's San Francisco office were not returned.

The memo posted on Romenesko's blog reads: "At 9:30 this morning a representative from the Daily Journal Corporation announced to staff that California Lawyer would cease publication in the print and digital editions, as of the October issue. Termination for all staff is immediate, as of Sept. 30, 2015. At the close of work today our dailyjournal.com email will no longer function."

But aside from Romenesko's posting and a item in the San Francisco Chronicle, the collapse of California Lawyer has gone largely unreported in the legal media, even by the magazine itself or its parent company, the Daily Journal.

I do not understand what's going on with the Daily Journal," former writer and editor Clyde Leland said of the silence, noting that California Lawyer's website still features its October issue and no mention of its recent shuttering.

"That it hasn't appeared in the Daily Journal's publication seems like heavy-handed censorship. It's obviously a legal news story," he said.

California Lawyer was started in 1980 and first belonged to the State Bar of California until its sale in 1989 to the Daily Journal, with the agreement that it would continue to be distributed to every lawyer in the state.

By all accounts, the magazine did not appear to be floundering. It had just hired a new senior editor, a position that had been open for some time.

"Our general sense was in a tough economic environment for magazines, California Lawyer had done a wonderful job moving to digital and getting first-rate writers. They were doing everything right," said editorial advisory board member Jeff Bleich, a former ambassador to Australia and a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson in San Francisco.

Leland, whom Kostal praised for his "impressive analysis of the California Supreme Court," said California Lawyer was not necessarily meant to be profitable.

"It was never bringing in huge profits and it never was supposed to. It was supposed to be Charlie Munger's giving back to the profession. And so it was a generous act," said Leland, who wrote for the magazine from 1983 to 1991.

Leland is now a consultant who teaches legal writing and presentation skills to attorneys, but he sat on the magazine's editorial board up until last year.

Speculation abounds as to what went wrong, but the general consensus is that shrinking ad revenues is squeezing print publications out of existence.

"In my opinion, it is another example of the disappearance of print journalism in the age of the Internet," Uelmen said.

Kostal said it's possible that law firms have found new methods of drawing in business through online ads and social media marketing. "Advertising strategy for law firms is changing drastically," she said.

"Theoretically the goal is to break even. I think ad revenue went down to where it wasn't workable anymore," Leland said. "But that doesn't explain the suddenness and the silence. And it doesn't explain the lack of concern for the staff."

He added, "I think it is sad. I think it does leave a hole in legal affairs reporting, even if it had just gone to digital. One of the things often said at editorial board meetings was 'When I'm getting on an airplane, I always pick up California Lawyer.'"

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