01 July 2008

A Brief History of Blogging: Is It a LawProf's World?

"Before there were many lawyers with blawgs, there were lawprofs. They had the blawgosphere largely to themselves, with their networks and back and forth banter in the fascinating jargon of the academy."

Ah, the confidence of having a blogging memory of only a year and a half. However, some of us have been around for a little longer and remember things just a wee bit differently.

In the beginning . . .

The Stone Age

Well, okay CrimLaw wasn't around during the stone age of blogging. Not many blogs were around when fire was being discovered and tomahawks were being chipped out of stone. Perhaps the strongest blog of this era was InstaPundit. Sure, Glenn was a professor, but in these early days few people noticed blogging and nobody cared; he wasn't exactly blogging about professorial topics anyway.

The Copper Age

At this point, mainly through the power of Blogger, a number of blogs blossomed onto the scene. Some were written by professors, such as Balkinization and The Volokh Conspiracy. However, the majority were not. My impression of this era is that there were a lot of law clerks (Southern Appeal), law students (Sua Sponte), and lawyers (How Appealing, SW Virginia Law Blog, Ernie the Attorney, Bag and Baggage, Freespace, Lex Communis) putting up blogs.

During this era there was a lot of cross pollination. Niche blogging (the long tail) just had not developed to the point that one could have enough to read if he stayed in one subject area. Things somewhat coalesced around How Appealing and - to a greater extent - InstaPundit. Glenn Reynolds published a list of blogs he "fathered" (hence the nickname "Blog Father") and a group even formed to oppose his hegemony (the Alliance of Free Blogs). At this time blogging just wasn't on academia's radar. It was something engaged in by a few geeks who happened to be lawprofs and really was not considered an asset to lawprof's careers.

As far as crimblawging went, CrimLaw was the third crimblawg and none of the first three were by lawprofs. TalkLeft had migrated from being a webpage into a blog (then, as now, more about politics than actual law) and Gideon's Promise came into existence 6 months prior to and ended 6 months after CrimLaw was founded.

The Bronze Age

This is when blogs start to solidify in different zones: legal, political, religious, &cetera. Blawgs begin to do the same thing. Two of the bigger zones which develop are TechBlawgs and CrimBlawgs. Cross pollination between blogs of different kinds starts to fade as areas gain enough critical mass that people can spend all their reading time in one area. The MSM dithers back and forth, trying to figure out exactly how blogs fit. At first it is curious but mostly dismissive. However, this develops into a healthy respect/fear as blogs of the Left develop significant political power and blogs of the Right destroy a TV news anchor. As for the legal academia, there was some grudging respect for Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit and lots of people read Volokh, but in general it seemed that the attitude was still that these blawg things were more a distraction than something that a serious professor wanted to engage in.

As for crimblawgs, more and more popped up (Crime & Federalism, Arbitrary and Capricious, Blonde Justice). Interestingly, the large majority seemed to originate from those doing indigent defense. In fact, the number of PD/indigent defense sites which pop up, live a short - but interesting - life, and fade away are impossible for me to keep up with; this task has fallen to Gideon and Skelly. A very few prosecutors braved the water (Mr. District Attorney).

The Age of Steel

This is the point at which lawprofs turned to blawging as a legitimate, career building endeavor, rather than a mental exercise or hobby. In crimblawgs I trace this to one particular blawg: Sentencing Law and Policy. If ever a blawg benefited from divine providence it was SL&P. It started its life as a fairly simple blawg in which Professor Berman was posting once or twice a week. Then Blakely was decided, people went nuts in the blawgosphere and Professor Berman rode the crest of the wave into prominence and respectability as a blawger. I don't think he slept during that time; if it was on a blog somewhere, or in a news article, or even on a an AUSA's desk Prof. Berman knew about it and published or pointed to it. It made his blawg a necessity and thus made him, it, and profblawgs legitimate.

There were some unfortunate side effects to this. Now seen as a way to boost visibility and credibility, blawgs became something which lawprofs and, even worse, law schools started to engage in for professional reasons. A lot of profblawgs are bland and the ones which a law school has "encouraged" lawprofs to start for school rep purposes can be just plain bad. They can be insulated. They tend to link to professors, if they link at all (which is basically bad netiquette). You can usually tell a blawg which existed prior to this age and is written by professors - instead of being an academic position enhancement blawg - because it links to things outside the lawprofs's sphere.

The rest of us pulgged along as normal during this time. More indigent defense blawgs came up and went down; a new prosecutor blawg popped up (Seeking Justice) and I switched over to prosecution and kept blawging.

The Modern Era

The biggest trend in the modern era has been the emergence of blawgs by private lawyers. A lot of this seems to be driven as a Google page rank, marketing device meant to bring business to the office. Much - if not most - of this is sheer, unmitigated dreck which the lawyer posts once a week because some ad guy has told him to. Nevertheless, this wave has also brought a number of good blawgs with it (Simple Justice, Defending People, Matlock) wherein the blawgers actually write substantive posts on a regular basis.

There has also been an uptick in prosecutor blawgs (Ubjeckshin, Western Justice, LHCC). It will be interesting to see how many of these blogs appear in the future and continue to publish considering the more difficult circumstances of blawging as a prosecutor.


Anonymous said...

So you're saying that you're not only the institutional memory of the blawgosphere, but a blawgosphereic Darwinist, eschewing Intelligent Blawgospheric Design in favor of survival of the fittest?

Anonymous said...

As one who lived and died in the Copper Age, I think you make one mistake about the era: Howard Bashman (of How Appealing) was and remains a practitioner.

Ken Lammers said...

oops . . . corrected

Ken Lammers said...


Survival of the fittest? Nope.

Actually, it's all about manifest destiny. I know that if I just keep blogging long enough someday, by Divine Right, CrimLaw shall be recognized as the one true blawg (and get gazillions of readers).

jdgalt said...

If you're going to try to do a history of blogging, you ought to at least mention the first one: www.jerrypournelle.com .

Unknown said...

See also my post at Legal Blog Watch identifying the first legal blogger.

Ken Lammers said...


It was meant to be a short history of law types and legal blogging. The post written by Simple Justice puts this in context.