Balkin on Legal Blogs:

Yale Law Professor and prominent blogger Jack Balkin has an interesting discussion of some of the most prominent law professor blogs and the impact of blogging on legal scholarship and political discourse here.

In one part of his post, Balkin puts forward a theory explaining which law professors are most likely to succeed as bloggers:

The most successful blogs tend to be run by younger law professors who aren't necessarily at the top-ten schools. That's because if you're an established professor at a top-ten school, you are already probably getting significant positive reinforcement for what you are doing. But if you're a law professor who's trying to establish a name for yourself, you quite understandably feel that not enough people are paying attention to what you're saying. The blogosphere is a wonderful way for you to put your ideas out there and gain an audience for ideas you think are valuable and worthwhile. Blogging democratizes legal commentary; it publicizes the scholarship and the expertise of a large number of law professors who would not have gotten a voice before.

I think there is some truth to this. However, several of the most prominent and successful lawprof bloggers are in fact professors at top ten schools, including Richard Posner, Larry Lessig, and of course Balkin himself. Many other prominent lawprof blogs were founded by professors at schools just outside the US News top ten (ranked roughly 11-20). Brian Leiter's various blogs, Steve Bainbridge, and of course the Volokh Conspiracy are obvious examples.

Balkin is absolutely right that blogging is a way for younger professors at non-top ten schools to increase their profile and broaden the readership for their scholarly work; I have pursued this strategy myself:). On the other hand professors at top schools have some important advantages in the blogging enterprise. In particular, a new blog founded by a professor at a famous school is more likely to quickly attract the attention of readers than one founded by a prof at a lower-ranked institution. If you hear that there's a new blog started by a professor at Yale, you are far more likely to go take a look than if you hear that there's a new blog started by a professor at the University of Southern North Dakota. It is relatively easy to start a blog, but much harder to attract an audience and acquire influence. Being at an elite institution is a big help in achieving these two goals.

Blogging does to some degree "democratize" legal academic discourse for the reasons Balkin indicates. But it also sometimes reinforces existing inequalities. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The purpose of blogging, in my view, should be to improve the quality of public discourse more than to "democratize" it.

Balkin also makes many other thought-provoking points. As they say, read the whole thing.

Visitor Again:
The purpose of blogging, in my view, should be to improve the quality of public discourse more than to "democratize" it.

These consequences of blogging are not mutually exclusive, and, in any event, quality is in the eye of the beholder. No doubt all bloggers believe they are raising the level of public discourse when they blog.

It might be true that the higher the number of bloggers, the lower the quality of the discourse on average. On the other hand, democratization might well bring forward some very high quality discourse we otherwise might never have been exposed to. And even if it does not lift the quality of discourse on average, it might well bring forward new ways of looking at things, new slants on things, new ideas, even new information. Even a poorly written blog, even an inflammatory blog, might on occasion do that.

Quite apart from that, I'm all in favor of mass blogging as an end in itself--whatever anyone else thinks of the quality of discourse on display--because democratization increases what is available to readers. It allows greater choice by consumers. And since quality of discourse is such a subjective judgment, that is all important.

The more goods on display, the better. We still don't have a marketplace of ideas, but the Internet has certainly given an element of reality to what once was a largely fictional notion.
2.3.2007 2:50am
Brett Bellmore:
I think perhaps the best thing about legal blogging is that it helps open up the closed universe of legal scholarship, exposing the bloggers to comentary from outside that universe. And the law does, after all, eventually rest on the consent of non-lawyers.
2.3.2007 8:46am
msmith (mail):
Interesting that the author still tries to make something of the differences between so-called liberals and so-called conservatives. Really a meaningless distinction anymore, except of course on the relatively few very high profile, high controversy legal issues that get most of the attention, including in the "law" blogs.

I think it was Justice Breyer who recently bemoaned the fact the press only focuses on those issues, that are rather atypical of what law practise is mostly about, including for the Supreme Court. Of course Justice Breyer and the others play right into that misunderstanding in their public appearances usually, when they answer questions almost inevitably focused on the few high profile issues the press gives all the attention.

Anyway, "conservative" economics? "Conservative"?

Policy Alternatives That Affect the Tax Code
Effect on the deficit or surplus

For 2012, the 170 billion surplus becomes a (-254 billion) deficit.
Adds another 1,937 billion dollars in debt, ten years.

Debt service costs, increased by 314 billion dollars. Some guesses on the huge costs of the Bush/Lieberman Surge! An (Independent) liberal and ? coming together. Kumbaya.
2.3.2007 10:50am