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September 8, 2010
On Unintended Consequences: Tenured Law Profs Who Helped Make Blogging a Mainstream Medium in the Legal Academy
The NLJ writes "[j]ust five years ago, the notion of law professors delivering quick and cogent commentary to the masses — with the opportunity for instant feedback, no less — was a novel concept." in a special Law School Report supplement titled "A look at professors who have made blogging a mainstream medium." The report features brief interviews with OSU's Douglas Berman, Sentencing Law and Policy, Cincinnati Law's Paul Caron, TaxProf Blog, Chicago's Brian Leiter, Leiter's Law School Reports, UCLA's Eugene Volokh, The Volokh Conspiracy, and Illinois's Christine Hurt, The Conglomerate. Except for Hurt, I know them all. Gene Volokh by way of email exchanges over the years. Berman, Caron, and Leiter by way of the Law Professor Blogs Network.
Caron's Blog. Back in December of 2003, I suggested to Caron that he start blogging. He had been managing listservs, etc., and I thought blogging was a perfect medium for him. On April 15, 2004, we launched TaxProf Blog and the rest one may say is history. It is the source to go to for news and announcements about tax developments and its audience extends well beyond tax profs to include tax practitioners, agency officials, and others. Caron publishes multiple stories each and every day. He puts on his newspaper reporter's cap, researches what's going on, and churns out posts for one of the most visited tax blogs on the planet.
Berman's Blog. In the summer of 2004, Doug Berman contacted Caron and suggested an affiliation of sorts. He had launched his own blog, designed much like Caron's and using TypePad as we were, but was looking for some tech support (ah, that would be me at the time). That inspired Caron and me to launch the Law Professor Blogs Network and the rest one may say is also history. Berman's take on blogging was different than Caron's. He tends more toward commentary and analysis but it produced the same results, one of the most visited blogs in the blogosphere. While "death and taxes" are always good topics to blog about, I was surprised by the audience Bermans's blog garnered on sentencing law and policy. Perhaps we should say "capital offenses and taxes" are good blog topics. Like TaxProf Blog, Berman's audience extends well beyond academics. His blog has been cited in court opinions in part, early on, because the links to resources he provided were the first available on any web destination but also because of his informed opinion of issues he covered.
Leiter's Blog. Brian Leiter's blog is the web destination to go to for his personal professional opinions about the legal academy. He calls it like he sees it and some don't like how he sees it. But just about everyone in the legal academy reads Leiter's Law School Reports. Let's say he is a force of nature. I've known Leiter for years by way of working with him, emails, etc. Perhaps it is just because we have both read Nietzsche and understand what "human, all too human" means but I really like this law prof. His moral compass is dead-on. A conversation with Leiter is never boring and although we no longer have a business relationship, we still communicate from time to time and I read his blog regularly.
Volokh's Blog. Gene Volokh and his blog is what I call a free-range blog. He finds co-bloggers and lets them loose on the blogosphere to write about whatever they want. Volokh does the same in his posts. The result, well, the blog's RSS feed is one of the most subscribed to in the blogosphere, and VC is regularly recognized as one of the best publish-whatever-interests-your blogs because of its stimulating posts. Just take a look at the comment trails to VC posts.
Personal Law Prof Blog Publisher Observations. A number of prominent law prof bloggers were omitted from the NLJ article but at least a number of once interesting law prof blogs that are now also-rans were also omitted. My point to this post is that the listed bloggers did not make blogging by law profs mainstream but they were most definitely ground-breakers. As co-owner of the 40-plus blogs published by the Law Professor Blogs Network since 2004, I cannot tell you how many times un-tenured law profs wanted to blog in the early days (2004-2006) but were worried about what that would do to their prospects for acquiring tenure.
All the blogger-law profs I refer to above had tenure when they started blogging so acquiring tenure wasn't a concern for them. By 2007, law prof blogging was mainstream in no small part because many junior law profs also took the plunge. The blogging law profs featured in the NLJ article each have a unique and personal perspective on blogging. Each took the medium and did with it what they wanted to do. Along with other law prof bloggers they made blogging acceptable in the legal academy. The NLJ article glosses over that but credit is certainly due to them all.
I, for one, got in this crazy law prof blogging business to give younger (read un-tenured) law profs a means to gain exposure, and once blogging was "accepted" by the legal academy, that's exactly what has happened. No, I have no intention to write about the rise of law prof blogging in much detail. However, someday I may write a history of the Law Professor Blogs Network because it has a unique place in the history of this manifestation of web communications.
Whether the interviewed law profs thought about the consequences when they started blogging is an entirely different matter. However, every sociologist will tell you that the unintended consequences of behavior is the more interesting topic to study. In this case, it produced desirable outcomes. [JH]