« Deferred Prosecution Agreements: Right Problem, Wrong Fix | Main | Anniversary Topic # 3: How law teaching and law schools have changed »

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Legal Academic Blogging and Influence vs. Credit

Back in 2005, I predicted the following future for academic law blogging:

A continued increase in the overall amount of law blogging until we reach a natural equilibirum, and then a roughly constant amount of blogging with frequent turnover among active law bloggers. Here's my thinking. Right now law blogs are pretty new, and the number of law bloggers is increasing. But it's much easier to start a blog than to keep it up. A typical post might take an hour or so to research, write, and edit. And the better and more thoughtful the post, the more time it takes. Only so many people are willing to put in those hours on a regular basis, and members of that twisted elite group presumably will change over time, too.

 Among law professor blogs, the big variable would seem to be whether blogs eventually will be taken more seriously in the scholarly community than they are now. Right now most lawprof bloggers do it for fun, but don't consider blogging "real work." If this changes, I think it will transform the nature of law blogs considerably. Whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing is an open question.

I think the prediction in my first paragraph mostly came true, and pretty quickly, although there has been somewhat less turnover than I expected.  

As for the "big variable" of the second paragraph, I think the answer depends on what it means for blogs to be "taken more seriously."  Over time, we have learned that lawprof blogs are great for influence but not for credit.  By "influence," I mean influence on debates both within legal academia and in the broader legal and judicial community.  A lot of people read blogs. Legal blogs can help shape how those communities think about particular legal problems.  We saw that possibility in 2005, and I think that potential has been often realized in the decade since.  In that sense, blogs are now taken seriously. 

On the other hand, it turned out that lawprof blogging doesn't generate much internal credit within the legal academic world.  

For the most part, blogging is still an extracurricular activity instead of something that is part of the core mission of legal academics.  To put it in crass terms, I doubt a law school Dean ever gave a professor an endowed chair, or a raise, or a research leave -- or whatever else Deans can sometimes give professors for top job performance --  in recognition of the professor's outstanding contributions to the blogosphere.  Maybe it has happened.  But I doubt it.

The result is that lawprof blogging today is taken seriously in some ways but not in other ways.  And I suspect that combination has something to do with the dynamic several Prawfs bloggers have noted recently about the blogosphere now seeming less fresh and perhaps a little stale.  Internal credit isn't everything, of course.  People blog for lots of different reasons.  And in some cases, influence can lead to attention that can help bring opportunities for credit.  

Still, the relatively low internal rewards for blogging, combined with the sense that posts should be serious, have limited its dynamic possibilities.   Fewer profs have a career incentive to join in, at least beyond short-lived guest-blogging.   Those who have blogged a lot before face no pushback internally if they slow down or stop.  And given how time-consuming serious blogging is, the number of folks who will do it regularly is not large. 

Posted by Orin Kerr on April 19, 2015 at 11:36 PM | Permalink


Maybe someone may compare the number of readers of law profs in law reviews and in legal blogs.

Posted by: George Alawne | Jun 25, 2015 1:46:20 AM

Matthew: You kind of unearthed my point/belief, which is that they aren't mutually exclusive. I can still blog even while working on article-length pieces, because neither one demands every minute of my time. Even while writing a big article, I have enough hours in the week to also do some blog posts, if I want to (even if it isn't specifically or heavily credited by the institution).

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 21, 2015 6:57:08 PM

Think we are on the same page, Orin. I agree that the blogging benefits are pretty indirect and not a sure bet, though I can point to a few benefits in my case and the case of others. That said, the benefits can be few and far between, so I think Howard is right that you have to enjoy it.

Matthew, I do wonder if blogging helps or hurts article writing in most cases. Blogging definitely cuts into the available time, but it can also help flesh out ideas and can be a warm-up lap of sorts for full article writing.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Apr 21, 2015 8:45:12 AM

Just one anecdote: I very much enjoyed my first stint blogging over at Credit Slips this winter, and it gave me the start of an idea for a new article. I decided to do a guest stint because I had a few thoughts I really want to write down and share. But additional blogging won't be my priority in the near future. I'm not short of ideas for full-length articles and unless my institution (Howard) will give credit for blogging, incentives suggest I should focus on fleshing out those ideas into article form instead of writing short pieces like blog posts.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Apr 21, 2015 7:17:22 AM

Howard, I think different people write for different reasons. But the number of people who blog regularly when they don't get credit is smaller -- a lot smaller, I suspect -- than the number who would do so if they did.

Haskell, re your 11:37 comment, I agree, at least in part. That's what I was trying to suggest with the line that "in some cases, influence can lead to attention that can help bring opportunities for credit." Still, it's pretty indirect and not a sure bet.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Apr 20, 2015 7:57:05 PM

Howard, I agree that the intrinsic joy of writing is and should be the primary driver, but I imagine that incentives are not completely irrelevant for most.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Apr 20, 2015 7:08:30 PM

Oops, yeah. I meant the latter.

Posted by: Howard Wasser134man | Apr 20, 2015 5:51:56 PM

Howard, I think you mean, they do it for the "latter," right? The joy of writing?

Posted by: Kate Levine | Apr 20, 2015 5:44:36 PM

But why do people write anything or anywhere? Is it for the law school credit/incentives/rewards or is it for the intrinsic joy of writing? It seems to me that most truly successful scholars do it for the former reason. If so, we should not expect the absence of tangible rewards for blogging to be a disincentive; someone interested in writing for that medium/audience is going to do it anyway.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 20, 2015 4:54:12 PM

Perhaps you are right that there is little direct internal credit for blogging, but I wonder if blogging leads to things for which internal credit is given -- like more citations, better law review article placement, and more symposium invitations.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Apr 20, 2015 11:37:29 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.