Should Law Profs Require Student Blog Participation?

That's the question Adjunct Law Prof Blog editor Mitchell Rubinstein asked after noting that Barry Law School Adjunct Professor Marc John Randazza gives credit for student participation on his blog, The Legal Satyricon. The question has created a mini-dust storm in the blogosphere. Check out the comments to Rubinstein's original post and the following posts and their comments:


January 23, 2008 in Credit for Blogging? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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.

April 25, 2006 in Credit for Blogging? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blogging for Credit

My work on 3L Epiphany was recently profiled by my school’s online newsletter, the Moritz e-Record. The article is entitled Ian Best: Blogging for Credit. Here are a couple of personal quotations from the article: 


“The potential with legal blogs is overwhelming, but very few people see it yet. We are at an initial stage in what will become a tremendously significant method of publishing and communication.”

“Eventually more law students will blog, and receive credit for it. There are so many possibilities, but the potential is unrealized. Students can create a blog about whatever legal topic they want, such as a case, a trial, or a statute. They can write about their favorite legal specialty, and make themselves more marketable to employers. If a student gets a poor grade, say in Civil Procedure or Criminal Law, he can start a blog-for-credit on Erie or Miranda and undo the damage. Some day there will probably be specialty blogs in law school, just like there are specialty law journals.”

March 24, 2006 in Credit for Blogging?, Publicity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

High School Student Receives Academic Credit for Blog Study

Ben Casnocha, a high school student in San Francisco, received academic credit for his Independent Study on Blogs, Journalism, and Media. 

From his own description, here are the questions he discussed:

It looks like an excellent and prodigious study. Go here to read more.

March 5, 2006 in Credit for Blogging? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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 | Comments (3) | TrackBack

And So It Begins...

Putting a blog out on the Internet is like being an actor in a solo-performance play, not knowing ahead of time – when the curtains are still closed – whether anyone is actually out there watching. Perhaps you are better off if the seats are empty and no one’s there to observe you. Yet you hope that there is indeed an audience, and that you do well, and that people applaud. You even imagine that you might inspire a few people in the wings.

Of course, it’s advisable to announce your upcoming play by putting up some posters on the bulletin boards and telephone poles around town, and placing an ad in the paper if you can afford it. Thus in beginning a blog, you should contact better-known bloggers to make them aware of your existence. And then you hope that somewhere in the nebulous ether of the Internet a well-placed hyperlink will send people your way.

It’s a strange form of nervousness and exhilaration, being simultaneously worried 1) that you will quickly be discovered by a large audience and then not rise to their expectations, and 2) that you will be the proverbial tree falling in an uninhabited forest.

When the curtains rise and the show begins, the opening line is important. The first words of this solo drama might produce applause, or catcalls, (or a little of both) from the audience. That first significant line can make or break the whole performance.

Here’s my opening line:

“I’m getting credit for this.”

Law school credit, that is. I’m getting law school credit for blogging. And as far as I know, I’m the first law student to do so.

Now that I’ve gotten the audience’s attention, I should quickly revert back to law student mode and explain why that opening statement is not exactly accurate. “There are a few addendums, and a couple of quid pro quos.” Let me now discuss the subtle nuances and complexities of what I mean by “this.” 

The 3L Epiphany blog is my tool for conducting an Independent Study which will be worth 2 law school credits. And at the same time, 3L Epiphany is the subject of my study. The style of my blog will look like this. (If the hyperlink works, it should bring you to an M.C. Escher woodcut, Möbius Strip II. If the link doesn’t work, remember that I’m new at this, and the “play” could still get better.)

My reference to a möbius strip is to try to put in words something difficult to articulate. Namely, I’m using this blog to conduct an Independent Study, and the Independent Study will be in part about the process of creating and maintaining a blog for the purpose of conducting an Independent Study. I plan to blog about many things, and I intend to use the blog in a variety of ways. But ultimately, 3L Epiphany will be a blog about blogs, and about blogging.

But is it really worthy of credit? Rather, two (2) law school credits? 

Yes, I think so, and I fully recognize what that will require, especially if 3L Epiphany is to serve as a precedent and a model for future law student bloggers who attempt the same thing.

I will not be getting credit simply for blogging. I will engage in some personal blogging, for enjoyment and for learning the ropes, which is a very minor part of this Independent Study. I also will post selected articles from other sources on 3L Epiphany, usually about legal blogs, and while this may provide a worthwhile service to readers, it isn’t really something deserving of credit.

My 2 credits will be earned because 3L Epiphany will provide an unorthodox technique for carrying out a large-scale research project on blogs. I will use 3L Epiphany to conduct my research and display my results. In this regard the blog will be about itself, regardless of how I use it. (Refer again to the Mobius Strip above.)

This semester I will demonstrate how a law student blog can be an ideal tool for 1) conducting significant research projects, 2) exhibiting marketable skills in an untraditional way, and 3) providing a beneficial service to the larger legal community. My hope is that 3L Epiphany (it’s nature and it’s content) will provoke valuable discussions in the legal blogosphere, and when it does I will keep track of the online dialogue in order to share my own observations and conclusions.

Although I expect that cynicism, skepticism, and incredulity will exist at the outset among many who can’t comprehend how blogging is worthy of credit, I believe that by the end of the semester I will have convincingly demonstrated the value of such an Independent Study. I predict that by setting this precedent, 3L Epiphany will become the first among many. My ultimate goal is to inspire other law students to take advantage of the myriad opportunities for actively exploring, engaging and remaking the blogosphere. I sincerely believe – at the start of a new century – that this is the course of the future.


Normally I will blog several times a day. I promise that most posts will not be nearly this long. But I will leave this introduction at the top for a few days, so that I can place some announcements around town, and so that the audience can take their seats. I am enabling comments below so that readers can discuss: Is blogging for credit an idea whose time has come? Or is it the beginning of the decline of law school education? Or is it really not that big a deal at all, and I should get over my delusions of grandeur? I’d be interested to hear whatever reactions you might have, so feel free to click on the "Comments" link below.

February 2, 2006 in Credit for Blogging?, Launch Day! | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack