Xoxohth, Civility, and Prestige: Part I

xoxo.jpgXoxohth claims to be the “most prestigious law school admissions discussion board in the world.” According to its marketing materials, it controls 70% of the online “market” for “higher education and career discussion”, with around 6000 posts a day on various topics. One of its founders reports that the site receives 350,000 to 500,000 unique visitors every month, making it significantly more trafficked than any other law blog, with the exception of Volokh. (By comparison, we get 60-70K unique hits a month.)

But.

Among many legal scholars and administrators, there is a shared impression that discussion at XO is overrun by sexist, racist, anti-semitic, and just plain foolish talk. The well-known Leiter-XO engagement (see here) is just one example, but it isn’t alone. Based on correspondence, I have learned that multiple law school deans and assistant deans have dealt with the Board when trying to mediate online disputes involving their school’s students. XO has been threatened with legal action (at least twice) involving alleged defamation on the board, although the site is not, to my knowledge, involved in pending litigation. Some wish the entire XO discussion board was a hoax (although others think it may be providing a public service) and some, well, some are mad as hell:

If this is what other lawyers are going to be like, I want out. They make us all look like utter a[*******]. People should avoid law school because it sucks, not because of these jerks.

I’ve written a bit about the Board before, in the context of a US News citation dispute, and since then, I’ve been in contact with one of the Board’s administrators, Anthony Ciolli, a 3L at Penn Law. I think the board is pretty fascinating, primarily because its anonymity enables, and its format records, discussions among rising lawyers that are frank and heterodox (in legal culture) with respect to race, gender relations, and professional development. It isn’t the only forum for such discussions, but it may be the largest.

In subsequent posts, I will be exploring three basic questions about XO.


1. What is it? I will set out the history of the Board, arising from a disaffected group of folks talking at a Princeton Review website. I will then try to get a handle on the actual discussions on XO. As Prof. Leiter pointed out, many posts on XO contain frankly racist and sexist talk. What percentage of the whole? Is the remainder entirely about law school and law firm rankings, and, if not, what else is being discussed? Other questions: who makes up the XO community? what motivates folks to spend time and effort on the various discussions? how is the site governed? how are disputes resolved? how much money does it take in?

2. Is XO Representative of Law Students? I wonder if XO strips away the mask of civility and gives us a view on how rising lawyers think. Law self-imagines as a service profession, at least in part, but posters on XO are significantly more concerned with utilitarian ends (particularly, maximizing prestige). How unique is this community and this view within the general legal profession?

3. Why should we care? Here, I’ll take on some of the bigger, normative, questions. In particular, one of the “strengths” of XO is that it isn’t moderated, but, that lack of moderation may be correlated with very ugly speech. Does the combination of moderation and anonymity produce net social benefits? That question would seem to turn on alternative fora, and the basic question here is whether law schools are failing to enable frank talk about law firm life and the importance of rankings, if we think that these discussions belong in school. Should law school deans be in the business of trying to shut XO down? Should professors encourage Bar Admissions C&F committees to ask “are you now, or have you ever been . . . ” questions?

I think the series of posts will be interesting. I’m gathering data and information from a variety of sources: if you have any special insights about XO, you are free to send them to me via email. (I’m closing comments on this post, on the theory that they are likely to be immoderate. Unless you tell me otherwise, I will assume that I can quote and attribute any emails.)

Look for more in the coming days and weeks.

[Update: Part I.1; Part I.2; and (3; 4) related posts].

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