Sunday, March 12, 2006

Should Law Professors Blog?

There is so much written these days about the pros and cons of blogging that inevitably the debate has turned to law professors who blog. And there are a lot of them.

Law professor blogs are often different animals than ordinary blogs. For one thing, many read like they are written by, well, law professors. And clearly many of them are written for consumption by other law professors. (Of law professors, by law professors, and for law professors?) Yet this very inward focus has opened up a lively debate in the legal academy--namely, whether law prof blogging is a good idea overall.

There is a recent National Law Journal article that tees up the issue nicely, as well as a recent post by Brian Leiter on Leiter's Law Reports. Take a look at them; they're good. As they frame the issue, it is whether law prof blogs promote legal scholarship and the sharing of ideas within the academy, as opposed to the traditional slow-motion law review article route. Answers given range from "yes" blogging is useful to "no" because blogging has "nothing to do with scholarship" and is "not very thoughtful."

But I wonder: is this focus entirely correct? Or to be more precise, is this focus incomplete? Should blogging by law profs always be primarily about scholarship? Might some other focuses also be useful for both the professors and their schools?

To my mind, the answer to the last question is "yes." Blogging is the perfect vehicle for outreach to the masses by a traditionally stuffy profession. It is painfully obvious to me, and many others in law, that the legal profession has undergone a period of unprecedented hyper-specialization in recent decades, and that the trend generally continues. The same trend is apparent in law teaching. Specialists in this and that. That does not trouble me so much, but what does bother me is that with such specialization, the gap between the legal academy and its students--and society--is looming ever wider.

What do I mean? Clearly, some of the incentives for law professors are not directly linked to the daily concerns of students. Law review articles are an example of that. Now, I firmly believe that scholarship clearly informs teaching (and vice versa), and I have experienced that sort of synergy first-hand. I love it. (You can link to my articles here). But what about students and members of the public who don't understand what we do? Who think we are nothing but a bunch of naval gazers who sit around and theorize instead of effecting real change in society? How do we convince them otherwise and gain their support for our institutions? By writing law review articles? I think not. In the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (see my recent post), George F. Will wrote that "The institutional vanity and intellectual slovenliness of America's campus-based intelligentsia have made academia more peripheral to civic life than at any time since the 19th century." In other words, there is a huge disconnect.

So how to re-engage the legal academy with a society that often sees us as overly liberal and self-important ivory-tower dwellers? One way is through blogs. Take this blog for example. It was never aimed at being solely a theoretically- or technically-inclined legal blog. Rather, it is intended as an outlet for the pent-up frustrations and passionately held beliefs of a one-time practitioner turned professor. A superb example of a strong and engaging law blog is Sports Law Blog. It bridges the gap between accessible and intellectual exceedingly well.

Quixotic though it may be, I believe that law schools and society at large would be better off if we engaged the "real world" a bit more often and if non-scholars (including our students) understood better what we do and why. I suspect there are many in the legal academy who would agree with me on this, so I am not trying to take a self-righteous stance. I am simply suggesting that the debate thusfar has been somewhat incomplete. There will be a conference at Harvard on law blogging in April of this year, and perhaps this can be discussed there. (If not, perhaps I should write a law review article about the problem!)

1 comment:

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