Paul L. Caron

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Harvard Law Faculty Use Blogs To Expand Their Influence: 'The Audience And Impact Per Word Are Large Compared To Traditional Academic Work'

Harvard Law BulletinLaw’s Influencers: HLS Faculty Blogs on Law-Related Topics Are Reaching Key Audiences, Harvard Law Bulletin (Winter 2019):

Jack Goldsmith didn’t plan on building a behemoth. When the Harvard Law professor teamed up with University of Texas at Austin law professor Robert Chesney ’97 and Brookings Institution writer Benjamin Wittes to start the Lawfare blog in 2010, it was launched, he says, with “very modest ambitions and no planning.”

The trio wanted to use the platform as a way to elevate public conversations about national security. From the start, they tackled issues from cybersecurity to the state secrets privilege. It turned out that there was an audience hungry for the blog, which filled the space between slow-moving, rigorously vetted journal articles and one-off op-eds in general interest publications such as The New York Times.

Almost immediately, Lawfare took on a life of its own. “Our readership steadily grew,” Goldsmith says. “It came to include lots of people from government, including Congress, courts and the press.” ...

The Lawfare blog is a bright star, and it is also part of a larger constellation of faculty-linked blogs aimed at making an impact in their fields.

The first was begun in 2006 by HLS Professor Lucian Bebchuk LL.M. ’80 S.J.D. ’84: The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation. The blog quickly became the go-to source on corporate governance.

Today at least a half-dozen HLS faculty members have launched blogs in their areas of expertise. They are attracting readers and contributors from the very highest levels of their fields, and they’ve become hubs for discussion, with insightful and quick-moving commentary.

Take, for instance, Professor Matthew Stephenson’s Global Anticorruption Blog. Stephenson ’03 launched the blog—which covers law, social science and policy—in 2014. Nudged along with mentorship from Goldsmith, Stephenson has built a highly respected blog with more than 7,000 email subscribers and more than 10,000 readers in any given month. ...

Professor Intisar Rabb says that her desire to share diverse viewpoints was a key reason she launched SHARIAsource, a blog she describes as “a SCOTUSblog for Islamic law.” ...

The idea of becoming a trusted resource was also what drove Professor Benjamin Sachs to launch the On Labor blog in 2013. He was eager to reach an audience of academics, policymakers, decision-makers, and practitioners through his blog, which covers workers, unions, and politics. ...

This type of real-time intellectual processing may be one of the biggest benefits of these platforms. While few would describe any of the blogs as “freewheeling,” there is a stronger culture of risk-taking in blogs than in more traditional venues for publishing scholarship. Several of the faculty members use the blogs as a teaching tool, and students often contribute substantive analytical posts. Students learn from the feedback they get not just from their classmates and professor, but from outside readers as well. While the arguments in blogs may start out less formed than those in a journal article or op-ed, the ensuing discussion can help sharpen salient points, advance conversation and open up alternative points of view. ...

While all of the faculty are quick to say that their blogs don’t—and won’t—replace their work for law reviews or newspaper op-ed pages, they also say that it’s easy to see the advantages of a forum like blogging. Increasingly, being part of the blogging community, whether leading the charge as a blog founder or contributing to the many specialized blogs in the field, is considered a valuable endeavor in its own right. “Many scholars are interested in doing this type of work now, because the audience and impact per word are large compared to traditional academic work,” says Goldsmith.

Legal Education | Permalink


Are we thinking that giving an even wider audience and more influence to the already cognitive-elite is a good thing? Seriously?

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Mar 6, 2019 8:35:53 AM

Great job, professors! Although, value-per-word versus law reviews is *not* a high bar. At 10-20 words each, @SoCalTaxProf's 18,200 tweets work out to only 10-20 decidedly-under-limit law review articles. Considered another way, each one need only match up to a footnote!

And the peanut gallery can actually add value (or at least an occasional smile) down in this comments section, rather than the editor's desk.

Posted by: Anand Desai | Feb 28, 2019 6:17:00 AM