Legal Scholarship in the Internet Age

That was the subject of a recent symposium at Denver University’s law school. The DU Law Review’s online publication, DUProcess, published several short articles on the topic.  I wrote on Connecting Laypeople with the Law Through Blogs, and began: “Blogging is creating a Golden Age of legal scholarship.  For the first time in the memory of any living person, legal scholarship is now connecting with an audience beyond the world of law professors and legal professionals.” I argued that law blogging provides readers with much better coverage of important appellate cases than does the MSM, and as an example pointed to Dale Carpenter’s VC posts on gay marriage cases. I also suggested that comment threads on legal blogs provide people with an opportunity that, in the olden days, mostly belonged only to on-campus law students: having a serious, enjoyable pro/con discussion of legal issues. Checking on Westlaw, I found that of the 291 law review citations to the Volokh Conspiracy, five were to comments. Lastly, I suggest that law blogging continues a salutrary trend which began nearly four centuries ago:

Starting around 1250, courts in England began operating in French.  After hundreds of years, the legal language had turned into something called “law French,” which was a confusing amalgam of English and of a French that no French person would ever speak. The new American colonists jettisoned law French.  In America, the law was stated positively in statutes written in straightforward English comprehensible to ordinary people.

The writing of statutes in plain English was one of the methods by which the Americans ensured that the law was under the control of the people, rather than imposed from above.  One of the causes for the cynicism which many modern Americans feel about government in general, and law in particular, is the degree to which the laws Americans must obey have become as incomprehensible to a normal, literate American as law French was to a normal, literate Englishman.

Scholarly legal blogging is a wholesome, constructive development, in the tradition of the plain English statutory writing of our American ancestors four hundred years ago.  By making law, and legal scholarship, more accessible to the lay public, law bloggers are reconnecting American law with the American people.

In the same symposium, Sam Kamin writes briefly on how professors use law blogging to enhance their traditional writing. Alan Chen discusses the use of blogs in faculty hiring or promotion. Student Joe Aguilar explains Race to the Bottom, DU’s joint faculty-student blog on corporate governance.

If you’re interested in the role of blogs in legal education, you might also enjoy Of Empires, Independents, and Captives: Law Blogging, Law Scholarship, and Law School Rankings by J. Robert Brown, Jr., and David I. C. Thomson’s book Law School 2.0: Legal Education for a Digital Age. Thomson argues that the new electronic media can–and should–lead to more profound changes in legal education than anything that has occurred in the last hundred years. If you want to check out some of the book’s ideas before buying, a 2008 paper by Thomson sets up the issue, and another paper details how legal writing can be taught well in an online-only class.