Blog or you won't be read
April 3, 2006
WITHIN the next 12 months, every academic in an Australian law school
should be blogging on a regular basis, or seriously considering their
future in academia.
This is not such a crazy proposition. It is probably still the case
that, in Australia at least, blogging is considered a distraction
from true scholarship, rather than a new addition to it.
This was the case also in the US, but is rapidly changing. According
to a study by George Washington University Law School professor
Daniel Solove, there are now 182 law professor blogs in the US, up 40
per cent from just five months ago.
Later this month, law professors from around the US will converge
upon Harvard Law School for a conference  devoted to exploring the
impact of blogging on legal scholarship.
In Australia, most academics in law schools are happy to pump out
their one or two journal articles a year or the occasional book, and
occasionally consult Westlaw or Lexis to update themselves on legal
Academics cannot be criticised for this - it's what is expected of
them - just as workers in the Cadbury factory are expected to pump
out the Freddos and family-sized blocks.
But surely it is time to open up this traditional approach to
examination. Surely things can be done better.
There is a touch of arrogance in how scholarship is defined in
academia. The majority of law academics still consider great tombs of
case extracts and heavily footnoted law journal articles to be the
only way academics can possibly devote themselves while maintaining
These books and articles are such a great contribution to the
profession and the community, it is argued, that there is no time for
anything else. The manner in which law schools are funded, and
academics promoted, certainly provides some justification for law
academics maintaining this view.
But it is time to get real. Yes, books and articles are of some
service and it is a credit to academics to complete a book or write
an article that is accepted by a reputable journal, but the value of
legal blogging can no longer be discounted.
According to my count, there are fewer than 10 law academics in
Australia who blog regularly. This should change. Blogging is not a
distraction from scholarship - instead, it should be recognised as
being the most effective mechanism for legal scholarship.
Blogging requires law academics to sharpen their writing skills -
what is expressed in 10,000 words in a journal article must be
expressed in 1000 words maximum in a blog post. This is do-able.
Journal articles are supposed to be a forum for novel ideas that add
to the existing literature. If a novel idea cannot be expressed
concisely in a blog post, I believe there is something wrong with an
academic's writing skills. Blogging will help improve these skills.
BBlogging also allows for ideas to be circulated immediately, which
is useful for law academics because the law is constantly developing,
with legal issues arising daily. Having to wait months or even years
for an article to be published in a law journal takes the buzz out of
jumping on an emerging issue, and therefore probably deters many
academics from having a go.
The added beauty of blogging is that academics are not burdened by
having to pad their contribution with references to articles and
books by others - who says they know any better anyway?
In return for this sharp, snappy, relevant writing, which blogging
demands and facilitates, the reward is that many more people are
likely to read what an academic has to say (some law blogs in the US
attract more than 5000 readers day). At a time when universities are
moving towards research quality frameworks and impact ratings, this
has to be a good thing.
It is said that the average law review article in Australia is read
from start to finish by three people. Months of intense scholarship
is devoted to enriching the minds of three people - these inevitably
being academics, students and the occasional practitioner. On top of
that, you might get 50 to 100 people (at most) reading the article's
abstract or introduction.
So government funding is being pumped into a system that is based on
an interpretive community of academics competing for the article with
the largest number of footnotes and most sophisticated use of prose.
Why not reallocate that funding towards law academics reaching out to
the world through effective blogging? Blogs can be easily found
through a simple Google search (unlike many Australian law reviews,
which are still only available in hard copy via the library, and
American law reviews, many of which are accessible only via Westlaw
or Lexis), making them a handy source of research for students,
practitioners and other academics.
Moreover, the succinct and contemporary nature of blog posts help to
make the law understandable and accessible - promoting the
fundamental principle of the rule of law.
If Australian law academics really are serious about being
progressive, relevant and dynamic, blogging cannot be resisted any
Law schools need to be smart and think laterally about their
research. Blindly adhering to a "traditional" understanding of
scholarship that fails to embrace the huge potential of blogging will
be what distinguishes the quasi-TAFEs from the real 21st-century law
James McConvill is a senior lecturer at La Trobe Law School, Melbourne.
 Bloggership: How Blogs Are Transforming Legal Scholarship, April
28, 2006. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/home/bloggership