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Judge Richard Kopf (D. Nebraska): Legal Blogs Will Fill the Practicality Gap

Judge Richard G. Kopf (U.S. District Judge, Nebraska) authored the opinion in United States v. Bailey. He has responded to my questions about legal blogs below. I sincerely thank him for his interesting and often humerous answers.           

1. When you cited a legal blog, did you consider it unusual or unprecedented at the time? 

   

No. I cited Professor Berman’s blog in 2005, and by then there was little doubt that it was “authoritative.” More generally, I encouraged our local “Inns of Court” group to give a presentation in 2005 on the utility and respectability of legal blogs as legitimate secondary authority. (Incidentally, I cited “internet articles” before 2005, but those were not blogs. )

    

2. How often do you read legal blogs? 

   

Every day.

    

3. Which are your favorite legal blogs?

   

The two blogs I check everyday are: Sentencing Law and Policy and How Appealing.

   

4. Do you consider blogs to be substantial and legitimate forms of scholarship?

    

Sure, at least some of them are “substantial and legitimate forms of scholarship.” Blogs written by lawyers, judges, law professors and law students that provide solid information and critical analysis on subjects the authors know something about are just as authoritative as other secondary sources.

   

And don’t get me started about what are “substantial and legitimate forms of scholarship.” By eschewing any connection to the profession, a large segment of the legal academy has perverted the notion of “scholarship.” In my view, “scholarship” should not by synonymous with “irrelevance.”

   

On a personal note, let me reveal my bias. I opted out of a pretty good PhD program (that would have been paid for by others) and went to law school instead because I did not want to spend the rest of my life worrying about whether a coefficient of reproducibility of . 89 was good enough proof that one insignificant thing was related to another insignificant thing.

    

5. Do you think legal blogs will begin to be cited more often by the courts?

    

Certainly.

    

6. What predictions do you have about the effect of legal blogs on the profession?

   

My guess is that legal blogs will partially fill the “practicality” gap between the legal academy and the rest of us. Blogs provide a unique opportunity for law teachers to directly influence the development of the law in near real time. Doug Berman, and other legal academics like him, have already done so. They deserve great credit.

    

7. What other changes to the legal profession do you foresee because of the Internet and the online world in general?

    

The changes will be dramatic. Let me give you one example of an advancement that is now in place. It is called CM/ECF. That acronym stands for “Case Management and Electronic Case Filing” and it is a software and hardware system designed by the Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts. The system is based upon Internet access. Our court (the District of Nebraska) was the first federal district court to implement CM/ECF for all criminal and civil cases. Everything that was previously filed by paper (from indictments to briefs to motions) are now filed electronically. We made everyone (lawyers and judges) use it. Despite howls, CM/ECF has revolutionized how the bench and bar do their work. No more court files. The system provides instant and easy access to court filings night or day. Lawyers can file their stuff from any place in the world at anytime and I can read it in my pajamas when I have trouble sleeping. No one would go back now. Like the Borg, resistance to CM/ECF was futile.

   

What is next? I don’t know. I would guess that we would see big and small changes. For example, as video technology and the Net become interwoven, I see little reason to require witnesses to travel long distances to attend trials when they could as easily appear by interactive video. As another example, think about whether court reporters are needed given advances in digital audio recording. Digital audio recordings of trials can be provided over the Net, perhaps even in real time. Vendors located at any place in the world could access the digital audio over the Net and bid to provide transcriptions, presumably at very low prices. Such a system would obviate the necessity and exorbitant cost of employing a court reporter.

    

8. Do you regularly read law reviews? If so, which are your favorites?

    

I once wrote a law review article about whether judges read law reviews. See Richard G. Kopf, DO JUDGES READ THE REVIEW? A CITATION-COUNTING STUDY OF THE NEBRASKA LAW REVIEW AND THE NEBRASKA SUPREME COURT, 1972-1996, 76 Neb. L. Rev. 708 (1997). Like others, I found that while judges may read law reviews, law reviews have little obvious impact on their work. I think that remains true today. As for whether I read law reviews “regularly,” as Bill C. once said in another context, it depends upon the meaning of the word.

    

I tend to read law reviews in spurts. I think I am like most judges, I read them when I need them and can find something useful in them (which is not often). I don’t have favorites. Indeed, I find many of the “elite” reviews laughably beside the point.

    

9. What advantages and disadvantages do legal blogs have when compared to law reviews and other traditional forms of scholarship?

    

The advantages are obvious: speed, availability, and topicality. I don’t see real disadvantages.

   

Incidentally, you ought to convince Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis to buy your blog list. They should think about listing blogs like they list law reviews. Then convince them to develop a really good search engine for blogs.

   

As compared with legal blogs, law reviews and other traditional forms of scholarship (treatises and books, for example) serve different needs. Although the analogy is imperfect, when I try to conceptualize a place for blogs, it is helpful for me to compare legal blogs to case studies that doctors regularly write and read, right along with other more theoretical or systematic health care pieces.

   

10. Do you have an opinion about whether law students, lawyers, and/or law professors should blog?

    

I think they should. The more the better. I am particularly hopeful that law professors who are interested in the everyday problems confronted by lawyers and judges will do more blogging. I find those efforts very useful.

   

11. Do you think it is appropriate for judges to blog? If you were to start one, what subject(s) would you write about?

   

What an odd question. Do you think it “appropriate” for judges to write law review articles? Of course, it is “appropriate” for judges to write blogs if they feel the urge. To each his own. While I probably won’t write my own blog, I will provide comments to blogs if I really care about the subject and I think I can be helpful. Obviously, judges should be cautious about commenting on pending and impending matters.

    

If I were to write my own blog, it would have something to do with what it means to be a federal trial judge on a day-to-day basis. I am not sure, however, that I want to reveal that much about myself.

   

12. (Off the subject of blogging:) If you could change one thing about the legal educational system, what would it be?

   

For those who want to practice law, I would make law school longer and far more clinical.

    

- Richard G. Kopf, United States District Judge (Nebraska)

      

Editor's Note: Judge Kopf described question 11, in which I asked whether it is “appropriate” for judges to blog, as an “odd question.” The reason I phrased it this way is that judges who blog could unnecessarily complicate their work. For example, judges who blog about particular legal topics might be asked to recuse themselves more often because their personal opinions are no longer discreet. Lawyers might read such blogs for the sole purpose of seeking insights into how to persuade the judge. These and similar reasons may be why there are very few blogs by judges. Thus I am curious about whether judges are reluctant to engage in blogging because of the potential consequences within the profession.

April 18, 2006 in Judges on Legal Blogs | Permalink

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If you want to know about the growing influence of legal blogs, third-year Ohio State University law student Ian Best is the man with the answers. Late last week at his 3L Epiphany blog, he posted an entry that lists... [Read More]

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Ian Best at 3L Epiphany posts a fascinating discussion with U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf (Nebraska) on the use of legal blogs as authoritative secondary sources of information for legal decisions. The email Q/A with Judge Kopf provides a bit of i... [Read More]

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Comments

Outstanding stuff, Ian. Useful for bloggers, useful for attorneys, interesting and entertaining. Sort of like Howard's old 20 Questions hobby^H^H^H project.

On a personal note, what a curious and interesting answer to #12. I've heard lots (and lots) of complaints by law students that law school should be more practical, but longer? Intriguing suggestion. I would certainly argue that I learned a large portion of the skills I need on the job, but didn't need to have.

Law school doesn't _have_ to be so irrelevant. It's an unwieldy, sometimes aggravating, and unnecessarily unpleasant jumble of graduate liberal arts studies, history, a smidgen of vocational training, and a lot of indoctrination - much of which needs to be at worst unlearned or actively fought against, and at times merely ignored.

Thanks for providing this Q & A.

Posted by: Eh Nonymous | Apr 19, 2006 11:08:35 AM

Well done.

Posted by: Francis | Apr 28, 2006 8:50:08 AM

Mostly I love the interview. I was disappointed in the reference to CM/ECF. It's a horribly Balkanized system, reflecting the silly admissions policies to the various courts. I'm admitted in both Northern and Southern Districts of NY, but I would need to file separate paperwork for each district, and again for the bankruptcy court. I had to file something pro hac vice in Missouri and the process is a major pain. I guess it's no big deal if you're a big law firm, but it's a big hassle for small office practitioners.

CM/ECF was woefully outdated before it was opened up. Why does it have to be so inaccessible? It's funny to see that reference in discussing blogs, which are so accessible.

Posted by: Albany NY Lawyer Warren Redlich | Apr 29, 2006 9:16:32 PM

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