February 22, 2006

How will blogging affect legal scholarship?

For the better! That's what I've been saying. Here's an article in the Wall Street Journal on the subject:
[A]ccording to Daniel Solove of the George Washington University Law School, professors shoulder much of the blame for the plodding prose of many law review articles. "We academics," he recently blogged, "like to dress up our ideas to make them sound more elaborate, complex, and obtuse." When it comes to article length, tenure committees often don't help matters, says a junior professor at a law school in California. "It's a self-perpetuating process," he explains. "Senior faculty had to produce massive articles in their own bids for tenure, so now we're expected to do the same thing."
Yeah, I wrote a law review article saying this -- "Who's to Blame for Law Reviews?" That was over 10 years ago. I really thought we could switch over to a livelier essay form, but somehow that didn't happen. The damned things just got more bloated. Law reviews let lawprofs get away with writing what are (essentially) unpublishable books. Law reviews are our own vast vanity press!
The focus of much current scholarship -- theoretical work with no real application for judges, practitioners, or policymakers -- has reduced the audience for it outside the legal academy.
Even in the academy, lawprofs rarely read these things, unless they're trying to help out a colleague. And even then, I think they skim.

But I think blogging is a powerful force that can change things, certainly more that my old, heartfelt essay. We blogging lawprofs have a demonstrable readership, and we interact with each other and with the mainstream press about legal issues. This is all in plain view. That has to provide some motivation to the lawrevs to adapt.
Twenty years ago, little outside of the occasional book or magazine article deflected attention from law reviews. Today, legal blogs are siphoning away the attention of law professors and lawyers on issues of the day. Blogs such as The Volokh Conspiracy, Opinio Juris, and SCOTUSBlog attract tens of thousands of readers and feature informed discussion on everything from constitutional theory to law-related television shows. Blogs now occupy so many professors, in fact, that at the American Association of Law Schools annual conference, a panel was held to debate the influence of blogs in the legal academic community.
Oh my! Imagine something so important that there was a panel on it at the AALS meeting! The mind boggles!


Truly said...

You're in a punchy mood today.

Anonymous said...

I think that all judges and law professors should be encouraged to blog. It's the best way for the hidden, natural biases of the individuals that make up the system and the system itself to become transparent. It will help take these "lawyers" (intentional scare quotes) off their pedestal. It will help open up the legal jargon, the legal mumbo jumbo, the legal incantations and illogic to public scrutiny.

And it will help keep American Idol that much more interesting.

Ann Althouse said...

Quxxo: I agree. Law review article involve a tremendous amount of fakery. That's one reason sensible people don't take the time to read them.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Ann, you're 100% right on this. I think about 98% of all law review articles were actually written by Professor Irwin Corey. Remember him?

Ann Althouse said...

Alaska Jack: Yes, I loved Professor Irwin Corey! For some reason, I lump him together with Brother Theodore. Do you remember Brother Theodore? Both of these guys were smart enough to make a comic character out of an intellectual.

Wieland said...

Couldn't agree more on the current worthlessness of law reviews. I got into a short exchange with a young professor over self-defense (I'm a defense lawyer). He was off on some lark about whether a person can claim s-d where she knows that her effort will be ineffectual. My view, "whatever," is the defense there? Will the judge give me the instruction? Will the jury buy into my defense? The professor's analysis had no connection to real world in any meaningful way.

Marghlar said...

Ann, a question:

What do you think law reviews should be doing to do it better? Should law reviews be more present online? Should they run shorter, even blogier, content?

Any thoughts on the innovations we are seeing from Harvard or Yale on their websites?

I am curious to hear a professor's take on this. I think its critical for journals to speed up their production process and get their stuff out their on the web and not just behind the gates of Lexis, but I wonder what it should look like.

Any thoughts?