December 29, 2009
Blogging as Thinking Out Loud Sometimes
Way, way back in 2006, I attended the "Bloggership: How Blogs Are Transforming Legal Scholarship" conference at Harvard Law School. Law profs had discovered blogging beyond the instant pundit genre but there were still plenty of raised eyebrows in the legal academy. I, for one, knew some tenure-track law profs who wanted to blog for our Law Professor Blogs Network but were worried about doing so until they had tenure.
The big issue at the conference was, is blogging a scholarly (read respectable) activity that contributes something intellectually beneficial to legal discourse? OSU law prof Douglas Berman weighed in saying blogging certainly could make scholarly contributions. His conference paper, Scholarship in Action: The Power, Possibilities, and Pitfalls for Law Professor Blogs, is still the best analysis in my opinion and his long-running Sentencing Law & Policy is an excellent example of a blog doing so. At the time Orin Kerr and many others were skeptical. See Kerr's conference paper, Blogs and the Legal Academy. But recently he changed his mind: "I now think my old self was wrong. Or at least a bit off. I now think blogging actually does provide an effective way to present new scholarly ideas in many cases." Kerr explains why in his Rethinking Blogging-as-Scholarship post on The Volokh Conspiracy.
About Kerr's post, Berman writes "the commentors to Orin's post usefully note that it seems what has really changed is how blogs are perceived as much as whether this medium of expression has changed. Thus, I will stick to my view that thoughtful blogs always were (or could be) a form of scholarship, just like any other form of communication can be a form of scholarship if deployed effectively to that end." (Due note the comment trail for Berman's post.)
Stephen Bainbridge also chimes in. "I think [Kerr has] got a good point, but it raises the question of which blogs counts as scholarship." In Blogging as Scholarship Redux, he writes
I've puzzled over this problem ever since I started blogging. On the one hand, I do believe that blogging about corporate law and governance can be a useful companion to my scholarship. On the other hand, I'd be bored to tears by a blog that was only about corporate law. So, as I've said before, I like mixed blogging.
Mixed blogging is recreational (as Larry Solum opined). It's a hobby (as Larry Ribstein opined). Mixed blogging is fun. But is it scholarship?
If we leave the matter to be determined at the level of the specific blog as an individual publication, I think we are missing the point that it's the blog post, not the blog, that may be offering something intellectually stimulating by being "scholarship-in-action" as Berman characterizes it or by being something akin to "thinking out loud sometimes" as I view it. Because of search engines, focusing on the specific blog is so last century. Of course, Chicago law prof Brian Leiter may be right that law prof blogs "loomed larger as a window into the legal academy" for law students and potential law students than as a means of contributing to legal scholarship. See his post, The Most Important Developments (for good or ill) in the Legal Academy Since 2000.
The more interesting question may be what, if any, influence do law prof blogs have on the judicial process? See J. Robert Brown's The Race to the Bottom post. Or how does one turn blogging into a TV pilot? The Washingtonian is reporting that NBC is developing a TV series based on the life of SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein. A partner at Akin Gump who has argued 21 Supreme Court cases, Goldstein spends about $150,000 a year of his own money to fund the excellent and rarely off topic SCOTUSblog. [JH]
I don't know about highbrow scholarship, but legal blogging is a godsend for students [like me] who're trying to write a paper/memo/etc. on a topic they know nothing about. Law firms blogs are like lighthouses--they steer you away from the rocks (for the most part) and help you get started on the nitty-gritty work of doing the hardcore research. Anything that cuts back on time wasted on wild goose chases is pretty nice.
Posted by: Jimmy | Dec 31, 2009 8:27:51 AM