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My Research Project: A Taxonomy of Legal Blogs

As consistent readers know, I am using 3L Epiphany to conduct an Independent Study project. I am the first law student in the country (of which I am aware) to receive school credit for blogging. Over the past few weeks I have posted a lot of material, but readers might legitimately question whether I have done anything worthy of credit. My first month (February 2006) has been somewhat exploratory, learning how to blog and describing the process. I’ve also suggested ideas, attempted experiments, collected posts from other blogs, reviewed articles about blogging, etc. I expect that in the next two months, as time allows, I will continue to post similar material for my own sake and for the benefit of interested readers.

But what exactly am I getting credit for? What is the key focus of 3L Epiphany, that will allow readers (including law faculty and administration) to consider this a good idea? What is the actual research project that I will use this blog to conduct?

The answer is this: I am going to create a taxonomy of legal blogs.

I will use 3L Epiphany to propose various methods for classifying legal blogs. My goal is to create a comprehensive infrastructure for the legal blogosphere. I will accomplish this by recommending possible categories that can distinguish among legal blogs, and describing examples of how the classification would be applied. I will design my taxonomy to be both useful and user-friendly. My sincere hope is that legal bloggers will embrace this project, and that it will stimulate a long-overdue discussion in this area.

As an example, I previously posted a a suggestion that blogs be categorized according to the number of contributors. One way of naming these categories is to use the Greek and Latin prefixes. A few of these names may be appealing, i.e. “pentablog,” but many are convoluted and perhaps even absurd, i.e. “triskaidecablog.” I will confess that those suggestions were meant slightly tongue-in-cheek. I don’t expect that people will rush to identify Balkinization or Blackprof as a “decablog.” But the exercise of dividing blogs up into categories is very useful, and these categories obviously need names. Scientific-sounding prefixes may not be the best way to do it, but neither is dividing blogs up into “solo” or “group” as if that were the only necessary distinction.

There is an ongoing argument within academia about whether blogging is a form of scholarship. Here is my own opinion, for what it’s worth: The debate is somewhat nonsensical. Blogging is a new medium, a new form of communication. A blog can contain scholarship, or it can contain something else. It is the content of a blog post that should determine its definition.

Here, for example, are just a few possible categories of legal blog posts: 1) case summaries; 2) legislative developments; 3) predictions about where the law is headed; 4) political opinions; 5) journal entries (‘a day in the life’); 6) responses to criticism; 7) legal news reporting; and 8) suggestions for change in the law. This is not even close to an exhaustive list. Yet each one of these categories can be further divided into sub-categories. A case summary can be brief or long, simple or detailed, objective or subjective, exclusive or inclusive (of other cases), etc. Just as there are different categories of articles within a law journal, there are different categories of posts within a blog. But the latter have not yet been named. There has been little discussion about all the different forms that a blog post can take. Even within one blog (such as Volokh) there is tremendous variety of content.

To ask whether blogging is scholarship does not really do justice to the online world. Some blog posts are scholarship, and some posts are not; some blogs are scholarly, and some blogs are not. But this is on a surface level. Such a discussion does not go nearly far enough in exploring the variety and potential within the new medium.

This, then, is the focus of 3L Epiphany: a taxonomy of legal blogs. I will use my own blog to conduct my research, request feedback from readers, display my ideas and conclusions, and post the final product. I won’t publish my taxonomy as a law review article, nor will I turn it in as a seminar paper. I will display my taxonomy of legal blogs right here, on 3L Epiphany, and readers around the world can access it at any time. I will receive 2 credits for my work, posted on this blog and nowhere else. This will hopefully establish a solid precedent for other law students to carry out blog-for-credit projects in the future. I expect that the continuous feedback I receive from interested readers will compensate for any lack of official peer-review. And when the semester is over, I believe that my taxonomy of legal blogs (and the process I used to create it) will be recognized even by skeptics as a legitimate form of scholarship.

March 2, 2006 in A Taxonomy of Legal Blogs, Credit for Blogging? | Permalink

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Tracked on Mar 11, 2006 12:07:38 PM

Comments

Well, you're getting a little closer to something useful by classifying blog posts - classifying blogs by their number of contributors, especially using the latinate terminology, to me seems not very helpful or important. In fact, I'm tempted to break out my current favorite word, "logorrheic."

As a non-lawyer who blogs on legal topics, I'd suggest this distinction, too. All three branches of government participate in the legal world, at all levels (national, state and local), not just lawyers and judges in the courtroom. So the law school folks want to focus on the courts, but the police, the prison system, the probation and parole systems, for civil law bureacratic regulatory mechanisms, mediation, etc., are frequently overlooked in the blogosphere. I can count on one hand the number of bloggers who write regularly about probation, but in Texas the number of probationers is quadruple the number in prison, and they're all on the outside where the public might well be concerned. Blogs by prison guards, e.g., like Patriotic Rants or Paco Villa's CCPOA blog aren't "legal blogs," but they're often as or more informative than the lawyers I read on the same topics. Similarly, a blog by someone actually on probation or parole might give perspectives a parole officer's blog couldn't - all should be included in a taxonomy, IMO, or your taxonomy will quickly become stale and anachronicstic.

So think about the topic widely -- a taxonomy of legal blogs should look at the whole system, I think, not just the lawyer's part of it.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 3, 2006 7:42:57 AM

Grits for breakfast,
Thanks for your comment. Your point is definitely well taken. I agree that a taxonomy should include all of the larger categories you mention. I'm not quite sure it's realistic for me to be so broad and all-encompassing at this point. But I appreciate the reminder that the very concept of a "legal blog" is not so easily or narrowly defined. I will try to incorporate blogs such as those you mention if time allows.

Posted by: 3L Epiphany | Mar 3, 2006 2:51:22 PM

The idea of a taxonomy is very interesting: a conceptual framework always helps understanding.

Taxonomy in biology makes sense because most organisms are related to those that came before. The same cannot be said of the law or blogs.

Tagging has more utility, especially for amorphous materials that can be construed in multiple ways. Tagging also allows for a more intuitive generation of concept maps.

I suggest that you find a way to let readers tag law related blogs in such a way that you (or they) can create concept maps and refine the tags.

Many have already written about the greater utility of tags compared to categories.

I do hope you find this useful.

Posted by: drhassen | May 9, 2006 12:40:17 PM

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