August 30, 2012
Has the Law Prof Blogosphere Established Itself as a Disruptive Publishing Medium?
Law prof blogging is no longer the latest "hot" thing to do. Hasn't been for years. After some ten years or so the law prof blog is a mature publishing medium. Denver Law prof J. Robert Brown Jr. has been publishing a series of posts entitled "Law Faculty Blogs and Disruptive Innovation" on the Race to the Bottom blog. [First post here]. The posts are based on and highlight themes from his Essay: Law Faculty Blogs and Disruptive Innovation [SSRN].
While relying on data [SSRN download link], I wouldn't characterize Brown's work as empirical infometric research; I hope that wasn't the author's purpose because he overreaches at times. It is best to view Brown's essay as placing this mature and accepted publishing medium in the context of academic legal serial publishing generally.
Brown discusses relative merits and postulates selected outcomes. Here's an excerpt from the essay's abstract:
Law faculty blogs arose in a state of nature and were often perceived as inferior technology used by faculty to convey random, often personal, views. Over time, however, a recognized class of law faculty blogs emerged, with at least one having been cited 45 times in court opinions and another having been cited by over 700 times in assorted legal publications. Widely read and regularly cited, they offered a superior method for the rapid dissemination of some types of legal analysis and facilitate the introduction of ideas into an ongoing debate. They also provide a form of intermediation that discourages low quality posts.
Law faculty blogs provide a form of scholarship that fills a gap left by traditional law reviews. Law faculty blogs overcome the slow publication process and dense analysis that often prevents traditional law review articles from playing a role in an ongoing debate. Said another way, law faculty blogs have altered the continuum of legal scholarship and reduced the role of traditional law reviews. Efforts by law reviews to fight back through the implementation of online supplements has so far failed.
Law faculty blogs have also had a disruptive impact on the determination of faculty reputation. Blogging allows law professors to route around the traditional indicia of reputation such as the frequency of publication in elite law journals. Providing a “prominence” dividend, faculty who blog are able to advertise their expertise through substantive posts and become better known to practitioners, academics and decision makers.
Content is king if content is original. Any given law prof blog can have a relatively long or short publishing lifespan in "blogosphere years." In the now decade-long publishing history of the law prof blogosphere, launch dates oftentimes are key to garnering readership because earlier blogs arrived on the scene before the law prof blogosphere became a fairly crowded space. Newer blogs can acquire sustainable audiences and can even become more widely read than established blogs if their blogging law profs take the long view in "blogosphere years" to establish their web destination as a place to visit because their blogs consistently publish interesting and stimulating content.
As a practical matter, new law prof blogs must face the reality that this is a fairly crowded web space. Prof blogs must also recognize that commerical law media outlets are now well entrenched and that unlike the good old days when Google searches would expose new readers to blogs regardless of published content, modififications of Google's SE algorhythm tends now to filter regurgitated content.
Content is king if content is originial. That can be real plus when law profs blog commentary and analysis based on expert assessments of legal news and developments. That "scholarship in action" blog writing takes more time and thought but when captured by Google's SE, at least today's web browsers now provide an easy means to take an RSS feed. No so back in the early days.
Establishing a Merits-Based Reputation. Having been involved in publishing law prof blogs since co-founding the Law Professor Blogs Network back in the relatively early days when blogging was the latest "hot" thing to do if tenured, in 2004, the acceptance by the legal academy of the blogging platform as being a legitimate publishing medium can have what Brown calls a '"prominence' dividend". The real plus here is the exposure junior faculty can acquire by "thinking out loud" to display their interests and expertise. I won't detail how often junior faculty wanted to blog on a Network blog or wanted to launch a Network blog between 2004 and 2006 but were seriously concerned about the negitive consequences that might have for earning tenure by doing so. At least the legal academy has accepted blogging as a legitimate publishing medium.
The benefits for junior law profs now being able to blog because blogging is an acceptable publishing medium are at least three-fold:
- A higher profile for a junior faculty may mean law reviews will take their article submissions more seriously.
- Demonstrated expertise may result in calls for comments and/or citations to timely posts on topics by or in major general and legal commercial media outlets, and/or an invitation for the law prof to right a think piece; and
- A solicitation for a public service contribution, an amicus brief, or a firm or advocacy group to work for hire on a specific topic or more generally.