Thanks very much to Dan Filler for his invitation to come into the faculty lounge and sit for a spell.
Beginnings invite some speculation on why we're starting something new. Generations of students in freshman literature classes have studied John Winthrop's sermon on the Arabella ("A Modell of Christian Charity"--you know, the one President Reagan remade into America is a "shining city on a hill." Winthrop said "wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill," but that's really a story for another time).
While yet another law blog isn't the grand undertaking of a new colony, in this cost-benefit world we live in, one ought to think seriously before devoting time to an enterprise that threatens to consume lots of time--and maybe have other costs as well. What might those other costs be? Well....
A while back over at the Leiter Reports, Professor Leiter took up Geoff Rapp's discussion of entry-level salary negotiation. Leiter converted the discussion into things that junior faculty can do to rock their boats. We're all our own worst enemies, of course. One struggle is to limit the damage that we do to ourselves. I think Leiter has some very sound advice along those lines. But that got me to thinking about a question that's been increasingly on my mind: is blogging good for the career of the legal academic who does it?
For obvious reasons, this question is important to me. I blog for a bunch of reasons. My primary goal over at propertyprof, where I'm a more or less permanent guest, is to help bring attention to important scholarship. I talk about scholarship that I've enjoyed--often times it's books, sometimes the books may be peripheral to property but they're ones that propertyprofs would probably really enjoy. At other times it's articles that I've read and enjoyed or thought about. I wish I had more time for that, because I enjoy participating in a community of scholars. Also, learning from scholarship is one of the great (few) joys of my life.
Along those lines, I've been talking about other scholarship (often on rankings--ok, ok, so that borders on the gossipy rather than scholarship. Actually, it crosses the border). Our friends over at elsblog have been kind enough to take that work on bar pass rates seriously (and on the Hylton rankings, too). Sometimes I've tried out a few of my half-baked (well, maybe still thawing) ideas--like aloha jurisprudence and "what missionaries thought about property law"--or suggested some student note topics. Sometimes the posts are on trends (or advice) in book publishing--a subject on which I have a great interest, but perhaps less knowledge.
Then again, some of the posts are light-hearted: the relationship between fashion consulting and legal realism?! Humor's good now and then, but a little bit of it goes a long way. Sometimes I'll mull over posts for a really long time and vet them. (This one's been sitting on my hard drive for nearly a year as I've debated what to do with it.) Of course, the people I often ask are bloggers and I'm not sure they have the same standards of cautiousness that the rest of the legal academy does. Moreover, one needs to be careful about exposing too many light ideas or little-though-through ideas to the public light. Jim Lindgren gave me some very sound advice when I was first starting out: do the best you're capable of on talks. (I think his phrase was "ace your talks.") That probably applies in exponential form to blogging.
My hope and expectation is that the faculty lounge will have just the right balance of substance--talking about recent scholarship and other substantive subjects--with the light but interesting conversation that we all go to the lounge to get. But bloggers, in the effort to say interesting things, may take controversial stands--we may lose friends rather than gain them.
In this beginning, I have a question (and please, spare my ego--I don't want to know whether people think less of me!): what percentage of law bloggers hurt themselves by blogging? To paraphrase that famous Jim Morrison biography, does anyone get out alive?
I'm conscious that I'm raising this question, the question applies to me as well. And so I've asked a bunch of friends about this post. Not surprisingly, they all said some version of . . . "that's a great idea for a post!" And then followed it up with some defenses of blogging. Don't ask a barber if you need a haircut, or a blogger if blogging's a good idea, I guess....
Final note: Perhaps, as Brian Leiter's recently suggested, the end of (legal academic) blogging's upon us. And perhaps that's because people realize that (1) it's absurdly time consuming and (2) it's sometimes (often?) a bad career move. But perhaps there's a still a role for the good old-fashioned schmooze (partly substantive, partly gossipy but light and positive at the same time). I certainly think that as law reviews increase their blogs, that they're adapting to the new world and thus taking a slice of the blog traffic for themselves. Ah, amidst all the--largely justified--criticism of law reviews, we never said that they couldn't adapt. There's a reason they've been around for more than a century. Heck, they've outlasted the Interstate Commerce Commission!
Alfred L. Brophy