Larry, the Law Reviews, and Me

I think that it goes without saying that Larry Solum’s Legal Theory blog provides a tremendous service for legal academics and anyone else interested in contemporary jurisprudential discussions. It turns out that when Larry was a vulnerable senior scholar at San Diego first venturing into the blogosphere, he was helped along by encouragment from a lowly law student.*

solum.jpgIn a recent article in the Lewis & Clark Law Review, Solum writes:

Were it not for some positive feedback, I’m almost sure my career as a blogger would have ended a few weeks into my second foray. At first the feedback came in tiny dribs and drabs. I can actually name the two people who are most responsible for the continued existence of “Legal Theory Blog.” Chris Bertram and Nathan Oman had blogs of their own at the time. . . . Nate Oman recently became a law professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. At the time, Oman was a first year law student at Harvard with a blog called “A Good Oman.” And like Bertram, Oman provided thoughtful and appreciative feedback. Bertram and Oman opened my eyes to the blogosphere as a distinctive form of social and intellectual interaction–a space for communicating about serious ideas. Thanks guys. (Lawrence Solum, “Download it While It’s Hot: Open Access and Legal Scholarship,” 10 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 841, 843-844 (2006))

I tracked down the encouraging post in question here. At the time, however, I was a 3L not a 1L. I was also on the articles committee for the HLR, and Solum’s blog proved extremely useful, providing one other source in trying to figure out where the academic “buzz” was buzzing. Of course, at the end of the day I still think of my time on the articles committee as closely resembling a birthday party that my son recently attended: a bunch of loud and essentially clueless kids, merrily swinging, while blindfolded, at a pinata in the hope that candy would fall out. The memory of discovering Solum, however, does make me wonder what effect blogs are having on law review editors. It seems to me that that there are a number of possibilities.

First, to the extent that law review editors are reading the law blogs, I suspect that blogging serves to raise the profile of academics who would otherwise not make it on to the radar screen of the average law review editor. While this fact has been lamented by some, I can’t help but seeing anything that tends to level the playing field between “big names” and others as a welcome development. Blogging is not always a particularly good proxy for quality scholarship, but to the extent that a non-blog world tilts heavily in favor of a few relatively well-recognized names it probably ameliorates a flawed system. Second, I suspect that the biggest effect is the nationalization of “buzz.” Prior to the internet the “hot” discussions within the legal academy could really only be seen in real time by a handful of professors in the northeast, Chicago, and northern California, as well as a few pockets elsewhere. Everyone else had to wait until the published version of a discussion appeared. Given the life cycle of an academic project, however, publication often comes at the end of an idea’s run rather than at its beginning. Again, I don’t think that blogging has entirely democratized access to ongoing academic discussions, but to the extent that Solum is providing blow by blow accounts of this or that conference, much more information on what is “in the pipeline” is available to editors than has ever been available before. Finally, there is the phenomena of law reviews working to extend the life of their articles beyond publication via online discussions. In some ways, I think that this final development is the most interesting. The first two represent marginal changes in the nature of the law review article selection process. Extending the formal presence of the law reviews into the online world actually represents a new way of using and talking about legal scholarship. Given the widespread evidence that most legal scholarship goes straight from publication to perpetual obscurity, post-publication law review blogging strikes me as the most encouraging effect of blogging on the reviews.

*The irony, of course, is that Larry blogged this paragraph long before it was published. I missed it on the blogs or SSRN, but read it in print!

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