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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Why I Blog (as a Law Professor)

The following essay on why I blog was solicited by Chris Lund for the recent issue of the AALS Newsletter for the Section for New Law Professors. You can see the other  "Why I Blog" essays by Maher, Albert, Shay, Helfand, Mason--all of whom, oddly, are Prawfs alumni -- over here.

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Why I Blog (as a Law Professor)

I’m not sure why, but my instinct is usually to dodge the question of why I blog. Perhaps I’m scared of the answers. But for those of you thinking about taking the plunge into the blogging waters, here are some quick thoughts.

Just for background, a few friends and I started Prawfs.com (aka PrawfsBlawg) back in April 2005, when I was transitioning from legal practice into the legal academy.  At the time, I was just finding my scholarly voice, and blogging seemed like a shiny new vehicle in which one could converse with other scholars.  Prawfs was one of the few group law-professor blogs back then. The hope was that we would provide an ecumenical but mostly center-left and somewhat edgy space for commentary about legal, political, and academic developments. 

I initially imagined that we’d evolve into a sort of counterweight to the flourishing Volokh Conspiracy.

It wasn’t long before we realized that idea was both too difficult to achieve and in some sense not even an attractive goal. The contributors to the VC, it turns out, were far more committed to daily blogging about current events than we were. Moreover, we ended up growing into an entirely ecumenical space without any intentional gravitational force exerted by the center-left point on the spectrum. As a result, Prawfs morphed into a portal for the community of (primarily) American legal scholars, one where discussion about what one should wear to class was just as likely to appear as a discussion of the defective reasoning in the latest Supreme Court opinion.

 

To my mind, this shift – where we became a more collectively introspective enterprise – was entirely salutary. Indeed, I think I continue to blog because I love the notion that there is a virtual space in which the academic legal community is strengthened and sometimes transformed by the ideas and experiences that we share in the blogosphere.  Prawfs is, at least every now and then, a catalyst for those changes.

 

Blogging does take up time, of course, and one has to be mindful of how to integrate that commitment alongside one’s other obligations to family, community, and work. I keep this time-management issue under control by tending to blog about one of two things: topics oriented toward the community of scholars generally (such as the ethical practice of legal scholarship or the future of SSRN) or topics directly related to the scholarship that I love spending much more of my time on. Neither area requires lots of additional research for me, nor is there a pressing deadline that I have to bear in mind.

 

That said, because I still love long-form scholarship, I sometimes avoid using the blog to elaborate on topics that I care about but that I worry will seem too abstruse. I also sometimes avoid the effort of trying to pack my arguments into digestible blog posts, because I don’t wish to get ensnared into a debate in the comments that might prove exasperating or otherwise, um, icky. That said, once you start blogging a little bit, you realize there are ways of massaging the language of your blog posts so as to avoid inflaming the worst and most abusive online readers; the key is writing in a conversational way, not too dogmatic or harsh, but not too timorously either.

 

Time, imprecision, and frustration are sometimes the costs of trying to make a piece of scholarship accessible to non-specialists. Still, that effort is often worth it, especially at Prawfs, where we have made efforts to ensure a relatively congenial community of commenters. After all, one of the best things about blogging as a medium is that it enables you to find new readers and interlocutors for your work and ideas. And as writers, you win your readers one by one by one. This point about community building seems especially salient in light of the fact that law professors live a largely monastic existence in their offices. Blogging helps as an antidote to that vocational loneliness. Finally, I think we are obligated to make some efforts to get our ideas out there. As scholars, we spend years trying to generate intellectual capital. We are paid to do so by virtue of the generosity of public legislatures and private tuition and donations. Accordingly, I think we owe our benefactors our efforts to disseminate our hard work beyond the typical and sometimes closed channels of distribution that we often rely upon.

In sum, I blog because, first, I sometimes have ideas and care to share them, and second, and more often, I am curious about an issue facing the legal academy, and I’d like to hear what other people do to address that issue. Blogging, then, creates a space for me to teach, but more selfishly, it is a space where I can be taught.

 

Posted by Administrators on January 5, 2012 at 03:37 PM in Article Spotlight, Blogging, Dan Markel | Permalink

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