Q and A with a Skeptical Professor: "It's All Online!"
What follows are excerpts from an email conversation I had with a professor, who gave me permission to post this with or without attribution. I prefer to keep his name discreet since I am posting excerpts and not the emails in their entirety, and because I have made minor changes to my own responses.
In an email to this professor (and others) I made the following statement: “I can say with near certainty that any law student who blogs for a semester on a legal topic, provided he or she does it with a high standard, will gather far more readers and receive far more professional recognition than by turning in a seminar paper or even publishing a law review article.”
The professor responded, “But will they learn as much that is relevant to their intellectual development and/or future clients? After all, the National Enquirer has lots of readers.”
He then followed up with several questions: “As someone who may have bloggers for credit some day in my future, I'm curious: What did you do for credit besides provide a list with sub-categories? Is there a paper you wrote? Is it on line? How many credits did you get? How is the work being evaluated for grading purposes?”
Here are my answers. The professor's original questions are in italics, followed by my responses:
But will they learn as much that is relevant to their intellectual development and/or future clients?
It depends on what they do with their blog. A blog is a form of both writing and publishing which has some advantages over traditional forms. But the intellectual content is up to the student. If they analyze a case or legal specialty over the course of the semester, a blog will make it available to the entire legal profession in a way that a seminar paper will not, even if it's later published.
As far as relevance to future clients, blogging is one way to attract clients in the first place (see e.g. Do You Blog?, an article from DC Bar). If a lawyer has an interest in a particular specialty (say, e-signature law) and creates an authoritative blog on the topic, and establishes a well-regarded online presence, potential clients will quickly discover him. Creating a blog is not a substitute for learning analytical skills, but it is a better way to display them than traditional forms of publication.
I would suggest that one benefit to clients (but difficult to measure) comes from being part of the “blog-conversation” that judges and lawyers are increasingly paying attention to.
After all, the National Enquirer has lots of readers.
Yes, they do! When I said that students gain more readers through blogging than by turning in a seminar paper or publishing in a law journal, I took it as a given that the readers would be understood as legally sophisticated. For example, these readers here are not likely to be readers of the National Enquirer.
Also, when I occasionally check my Sitemeter, I find that there are many readers of my blog from the U.S. Courts, from various government agencies, and from a myriad of law firms. Recently I had someone from the House of Representatives spend a half-hour reading my blog. My point, again, is that law students benefit from blogging because they establish a more significant readership (not National Enquirer readers, but perhaps not law review readers either).
As someone who may have bloggers for credit some day in my future, I'm curious: What did you do for credit besides provide a list with sub-categories?
Well, it was a lot more than a “list with sub-categories,” in my opinion. I recently spent an entire hour with a lawyer from a large law firm who was absolutely intrigued by the taxonomy, both the content and the structure. Many people in the legal profession have sent me emails thanking me for creating it. My goal was to demonstrate the advantages of a particular form, a new online model for writing and publishing. Creating and subdividing a list is relatively easy, while publishing a blog taxonomy online - creating one blog post after another and making sure they all interrelate - is not easy, but it is more beneficial. I suppose you could say I received credit for providing a service to the legal profession, as many lawyers and law professors have indicated (see here again).
Is there a paper you wrote? Is it on line?
No, that's my point! It's all online! There was no paper. I didn't turn in anything, I posted it all online. And that's what I believe students should do more often, at least as Independent Study projects. They don't need to turn in a paper which gets buried forever among many, and they don't need to go through the ordeal of trying to publish it in a law review. They can post it online - not only the finished product, but the very process of creating it. The blog itself is the product, and more people, from more places, will read it than will read a student's work in a traditional scholarly form.
I will tell you, however, that when I finally have time (when school is over, and the Bar), I hope to write a paper about my observations and experiences, and will seek to have it published in a law review. If I ever do this, I won't submit it through the traditional process. I'll post my paper on my blog, and invite law review editors to read it. Then I will publish it in the first one that makes the request. I hope to establish another precedent that way. Maybe no one will respond, but nevertheless that is the direction legal publication is headed. We are in the 21st century, and the current system belongs to the 19th.
How many credits did you get?
Two credits. By the way, I didn't need these credits to graduate. I could have taken 14 credits this semester (that is, minus the two for the blog) and still graduated. One student critic suggested that blogging was an easy way for me to get credit. Quite the contrary. But I went through with it because I am very passionate about how legal blogs can have a transformational effect on the profession, including our current system of legal education. I wanted to establish a precedent of “blogging-for-credit” for future law students, and at the same time display to law professors and lawyers the tremendous variety of legal blogs that are out there, and the advantages of blogging over traditional forms of scholarly publication.
How is the work being evaluated for grading purposes?
It's “pass/fail,” which doesn't require the same evaluation as grading. My understanding is that most if not all Independent Study projects here are pass/fail. Suffice it to say, I've passed.
For your own future students who request a blog-for-credit project, I don't see why the evaluation should be that much different from how you would grade a regular paper. It's the form of blogging, not necessarily the content, that's distinct. The final product to be graded, the blog itself, will be an accumulation of many “posts” rather than a paper. Some of the blogs in these categories might serve as examples: Case Blogs, Statute Blogs, and Trial Blogs. If you wish, you could require the student to take all of his posts and put them together into a smoother, more cohesive whole. But even in that case I would suggest he still display the final product on his blog, regardless of whether he turns in a hard copy to you as his professor. That way the potential value of your student's work will not be buried under similar papers in an obscure corner of your office, but will be visible and available to the entire legal profession.
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Here is my take on the issue. I am a practicing lawyer and I maintain three blogs and a podcast.
I find that blogging is a great way to keep fresh about my practice areas. For example, I use one of my Social Security disabilty blogs - SSDAnswers blog to answer questions from site visitors and to reflect about interesting court experiences. I use my Social Security disability podcast to answer questions and reflect on my practice.
Prior to my blog, any questions I answered were individual emails and I did not ever commit to writing my observations about cases, law practice, etc.
Since I know that with a blog any content I create can be part of my web presence, it is much easier to justify the time commitment.
I update my blog far more frequently that I ever updated my web sites. In my view, blogging enables me to think about my practice area more and to think about my skill set - in short, it makes me a better lawyer.
I think that if law students got into the habit of reflecting on their profession from the get go, we would improve our performance as lawyers and we would better inform our clients and potential clients about us.
Finally, by its nature, blogging is a collaborative effort. Practing law is a collaborative effort, especially at the beginning, when you really do not know anything. Why not encourage law students to use blogs as a method for finding mentors and for learning about the practical side of law practice.
Posted by: Jonathan Ginsberg | Apr 30, 2006 10:12:52 PM
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