Paul L. Caron

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Downward Trend in Law Prof Blogging

Roger Alford (Pepperdine) and Peter Spiro (Temple) question the value of law prof blogging at Opinio Juris:

  • Roger:  I don't think that law blogs are really that important. They are not genuinely creating community are they? ... Sure, sometimes law blogs can be quite substantive .... But often law blogs offer no more than the latest news clip for people who care about a particular subject. We're not an army of Davids trying to slay Goliath. Sounds inspiring, but I rather doubt it. More like a gardener sowing a neglected patch of ground who, after a season, discovers to his delight that he has a nice little garden.
  • Peter:  I tend to agree with Roger's sober assessment of the value of blogging — if we can till a small patch of otherwise unplowed soil, that's something accomplished, but we shouldn't assume much more value than that. One sign that the blogging phenomenon may have peaked is the number of abandoned blogs one comes across these days — blogs that are still up, but on which nothing's been posted for months. ... There's something a little saddening about these sites, like a nice house that's gone vacant or a favorite restaurant that is closed "for renovations." (A related development: individuals who sign up as contributors to group blogs and then never make even a single post ...) The number of abandoned blogs shows at least that the medium is still a fluid and unstable one.

Dave Hoffman (Temple) and Peter had this interesting exchange in the comments:

  • Dave:  I wonder whether the number of abandoned blogs is a good proxy for "enthusiasm" (or faddishness, or popularity, or whatever the blog-academic-metric is). Restaurants fail all the time: that doesn't mean that eating out is passe. That said, it seems unlikely that law professors (the audience and participants I care about) will continue to blog at high numbers for much longer if (a) institutions don't commit to reward the activity; or (b) it doesn't pay. Since I think both of these possibilities are long-shots (and the first possibly normatively undesirable) I too see a downward trend in total bloggers. That doesn't mean that the ones left will die on the vine, just that the gold rush time is at a conclusion.
  • Peter:  Nicely put -- the gold-rush days are ending. Advantage to the first movers (the Instapundits and Volokhs) and, now, to those who really put some work into panning. To what end? Even if blogging doesn't help the tenure and merit files much (or fatten many wallets), one has to assume that quality blogging enhances reputation in a way that complements reputation established through traditional scholarship. But I think it only works that way where someone blogs on a regular basis (episodic stuff just doesn't stick), and that requires a serious commitment - hence again the high rate of receivership.

(Hat Tip:  Brian Leiter.)

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Maybe they should all add adsense, Prodoc, Thomson West, Lexis, and other various legal ad banners to their sites if remuneration is really the thing keeping them from blogging. I doubt that's really the cause, however.

Posted by: J | Jan 2, 2007 7:54:59 AM

Law professors are in a generally in a unique position to blog. They can, or should, know all of the substantive law on the subject, and major “players” feel free to provide them with inside tracks or advance notice.

With a few notable exceptions (e.g TaxProfBlog and SL&P), many professors demonstrate that they are 1) not willing to keep their blogs fresh with up-to-the-minute developments; and 2) not willing to attempt to demonstrate that they know more about a subject than many practitioners.

Seriously, I have my bloglines sent to track about 120 or so RSS feeds, and some professors are lagging two months behind, and the best they can do is offer a block quote, and very often they don’t even link to a free copy of the case. What good does this do?

Indeed, when blogging first got started, I looked forward to seeing how professors really knew subjects better than people that actually had clients whose lives/money were riding on these issues. I have been somewhat disappointed.

Instead, most professor blogs either 1) follow other blogs; or 2) follow newspaper articles. This is not why people respect professors.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 30, 2006 9:03:11 AM