Wednesday, September 5, 2007

blawgers and lawprofs

Fittingly, on Law.Com, Margaret Schilt has an essay in which she asks whether the future of legal scholarship is on the blogosphere. (Hat tip: Linda Christiansen.)

If you are looking for the future of legal scholarship, chances are that you may find it not in a treatise or the traditional law review but in a different form, profoundly influenced by the blogosphere. Law-related blogs are proliferating on the Internet -- more than 80 are listed on the blogroll of one popular law-related blog, Concurring Opinions. A significant number of the blogs -- sometimes called "blawgs" -- are hosted by law professors.

What do these blogs look like? There's a wide variety, from the weighty to the conversational or, in the jargon, the more "bloggy." On the Becker-Posner Blog, Judge Richard Posner and economist Gary Becker debate issues such as crime and economic development, health care reform and whether higher education is a good investment. Ann Althouse, professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, blogs ( in a more personal, less self-consciously scholarly mode, addressing subjects from Rudy Giuliani's campaign to the auto show to Mother's Day. (See "I Am in Love With Blogging.") Somewhere in the middle are blogs such as The Volokh Conspiracy, where Eugene Volokh fosters dialogue among 17 scholars on law and public issues, and the Law Professor Blogs, a collection of 50 different subject-related blogs, such as the ImmigrationProf Blog.

Who are the blawgers?

The uninitiated might think they would be young professors, those who have grown up with the Internet and are comfortable with self-publication in that format. While there are some of those, the legal blogosphere tends to be populated by mid-career professors who have tenure, are intimately familiar with traditional legal scholarship and see the Internet as a way to reach more readers in a less ritualized format. Younger scholars, in contrast, debate whether blogging is worth the time taken away from traditional legal scholarship, still necessary for achieving tenure.

Why do it?

...A blog reaches far more readers than traditional scholarship. Eugene Volokh said in 2006 that his blog gets about 20,000 unique visitors a day. Readers of traditional law review articles are not counted, but, he says, he's pretty sure that number is very far from 20,000.

Immediate feedback is another reason...With a law review publication schedule of six to 18 months, scholarly dialogue proceeded at a snail's pace. Bloggers explore issues as they happen, knowing that others will critique their opinions within days, if not hours or minutes. Supreme Court opinions are announced, and bloggers post within hours. Longer, more thoughtful pieces will eventually be published about an important case, but the initial assessment is over in a week or less. Scholars want to be part of that conversation.

What's the bigger picture for scholarly/academic activity?

Does blogging contribute to the scholarship, teaching and service asked of legal academics? It's easy to see how blogging could contribute to the dissemination of knowledge. Can blogging also be a part of the process of discovering knowledge? If knowledge is discovered by the assertion and exploration of ideas, issues and opinions, through an iterative process of dialogue, critique and reformulation, blogging is making that contribution. The form may be different and the pace accelerated, but it still looks and feels like scholarly activity.


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