The State of Legal Blogs: A Report From the Frontlines

Legal weblogs? Law Blogs? Blawgs? Whatever you call them, legal-oriented weblogs are thriving and their collective impact on the legal world is likely to reverberate.

Emerging from a scattering of postings in the years prior to 2002, a community of legal blogs began to take shape in 2002 - 2003, with a vanguard of law bloggers actively posting commentary, links and reviews on everything from high profile court cases to new legal market software. As this group discovered other legal-oriented bloggers, they began cross-linking and commenting, forming the nucleus of today's growing legal blogosphere.

The first directory of legal-oriented weblogs was posted to Blawg.com in January of 2003 and numbered 57 (disclosure: I founded Blawg.com). In subsequent years, this directory (and others like it) expanded in both size and scope, mirroring the growth of the legal blogosphere itself. An October 2007 survey of leading legal weblog directories (including Justia, Blawg, and the ABA Journal's Blawg Directory) suggested a legal blogosphere of over 2,100 weblogs.

Participation in the legal blogosphere has also increased. What started as the domain of a small number of individual early adopters and techies has now moved to the mainstream, including legal media, organizations, practitioners, professors, consultants, librarians and other commentators from all walks of legal life.

Perhaps this move should be expected, as weblogs and the resulting legal blogosphere are just another link in the historical chain of technological innovations that have improved the flow of legal information and ideas. And, as with past innovations, there will likely be an impact to the legal world stemming from the inherent characteristics of the legal blogosphere itself.

Exactly defining the impact is fraught with guesswork. But, consider these characteristics of the legal blogosphere. It is community-driven, interactive and can easily cover the narrowest of niche topics. No one owns or controls the legal blogosphere. Most of its content is free. Its news and information cycles are measured in seconds and minutes, rather than days or weeks. Finally, the legal blogosphere's barriers to entry are minimal, with low cost options for even the most technically-challenged individual readily available.

With both the expansion and inherent characteristics of the legal blogosphere in mind, perhaps its present state and emerging impact can best be explored by browsing through some representative weblog categories.

Legal News Weblogs

The healthy state and growing impact of the legal blogosphere can readily be seen in the delivery of legal news. Even traditional print news providers are now leveraging weblogs to offer real-time, community-involved, freely available legal news. The weblogs seek to enhance or update stories appearing in the print editions of these news organizations, while also giving space to coverage of smaller topics or news stories otherwise ignored. Examples include The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, The Blog of the Legal Times, and the Houston Chronicle's Legal Trade. In addition, newcomers such as Above The Law exemplify the lowered cost threshold for startups using weblogs to enter the legal news and information business.

Legal Academia

Law professors have been actively posting to weblogs since the formation of the legal blogosphere. Weblogs such as Sentencing Law and Policy, Althouse, Lessig Blog, Professor Bainbridge and The Volokh Conspiracy have wide followings, in and out of legal circles. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see a post from a law professors' weblog become part of a mainstream media story or start a larger discussion within the legal blogosphere.

In exploring weblogs impact on legal academia, the most interesting debate is the question of whether weblog postings should be considered legal scholarship? While a range of opinion exists in response to this question, actions by some legal reviews suggest they have already embraced weblogs and the legal blogosphere. The University of Illinois College of Law's The Illinois Business Law Journal provides law review material in a blog format. Other schools such as Duke, Yale and Harvard are also experimenting with online journals and complementary websites which leverage weblog technologies.

Subject Matter Specific Weblogs

Another indicator of the legal blogosphere's health is the continuing growth in weblogs covering specific legal subjects. Typically written by subject matter experts, these weblogs cover myriad legal topics and court cases in detail and can serve as a valuable resource to stay abreast of important developments. Examples include the Liquified Natural Gas Law Blog, The 10b-5 Daily, SCOTUSBlog, and Patently-O.

The impact of these subject matter specific weblogs will become more apparent as the medium evolves. "You can find quality blogs on virtually any legal topic," says Sara Skiff, editor of BlawgWorld 2007, a free eBook that collects the best legal blog posts of the year. "This variety and quality speaks volumes about how quickly this new [weblog] publishing platform has attained maturity."

Of course, while the subject matter specific weblogs may be freely offered, the authors behind them normally have a business purpose in mind. This purpose highlights another healthy sign of the blogosphere, the growing number of lawyers using weblogs and the blogosphere to market themselves and their expertise. Weblogs have demonstrated potential as a powerful, inexpensive, marketing and networking tool. Information published into the legal blogosphere can be quickly disseminated and consumed by other bloggers, reporters, politicians, lobbyists, researchers, students, and corporate executives, among others. They can help establish bloggers' reputations and increase their visibility among potential clients.

In sum, active involvement within the legal blogosphere can pay dividends in both establishing or enhancing a reputation and/or getting new business. Blogs also encourage engagement within communities-of-interest.

Conclusion

The increase in the number and variety of legal blogs stands as evidence that the form has achieved a new legitimacy and captured the interest of a new digital audience. Their prominence is poised to cause change throughout the legal profession.

Looking ahead, it likely remains early in an evolutionary process. The lines between weblogs and other news and information mediums will continue to merge to the point where they are indistinguishable. Networking tools, multimedia content and community-focused technologies will also continue to be integrated into weblogs and the legal blogosphere, further complicating efforts to delineate one form of online communication from another.

In the end, by whatever name or definition, legal weblogs are simply a tool which enable the legal world's desire for community-involved information-sharing, news reporting and networking. The low cost, ease of use and global reach of the technologies inherent in weblogs make their continuing impact on the legal world a virtual certainty. For today, perhaps the best testament to the healthy state of weblogs and the legal blogosphere is simply the sheer number and diversity of participants. It truly is a global legal community.

Blawg Directories
The directories listed below provide a good starting point for exploring the legal blogosphere.

ABA Blawg Directory
The new kid on the block, this directory organizes legal weblogs alphabetically as well as by author type, region, and law school. It also lists the top ten most popular blawgs accessed through its directory.

Blawg Review
A so-called blog carnival, Blawg Review enlists a different legal blogger to showcase the best posts of the past week from legal weblogs. The use of a different author each week results in a game of one-upsmanship that unleashes much creativity.

BlawgWorld
The un-directory, BlawgWorld is a free annual eBook in PDF format that features the best weblog essays of the year from many of the most influential legal weblogs. It's a good starting point for those just starting to explore legal weblogs.