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Monday, November 14, 2005
Growth of Law Professor Blogs: A New Age Dawning?
Daniel J. Solove, a law professor at George Washington University School of Law and contributor to Concurring Opinion, is compiling a census of tenured or tenure-track law professors with blogs. In his latest census update, he finds that there are 202 law professors with blogs--an increase in over 50% from his last census back in June.
The stunning growth of law professor blogs invites a number of questions for those "in the academy." To date, blog postings appear to provide only minimal or no "professional advancement" value to law professors, particularly those on the tenure-track. Indeed, I have not heard of a tenure-track law professor obtaining credit for his/her postings. And yet given that there are now so many law professors with blogs, and that many of those blogs are updated daily and often with highly-substantive commentary, perhaps there will come a point when law professor blogs will be viewed as assets by law schools. As a tenure-track law professor who blogs a lot, I certainly endorse that idea!
Perhaps some background on how law professors make tenure might be helpful (and by "law professors" I am referring only to tenured or tenure-track ones). Law professors are largely judged by their scholarship, meaning publication of scholarly works, which usually entail law review articles. In fact, law schools are ranked by U.S. News and World Reports in part on how well their faculty publish (as a function of faculty prestige). Publication of law review articles has both a qualitative component (the ranking or esteem of the particular law review or law journal in which an article is placed; the depth and theory of the article's analysis) and a quantitative component (continuous production by a law professor is valued).
Moreover, the relative "value" of such scholarship appears to be growing in relation to other ways in which law professors are evaluated by their employers and the broader legal academy. That phenomenon partly explains why new tenure-track law professors tend to have increasingly exceptional academic qualifications and only limited or modest practical experience -- writing and scholarship, rather than practical experience, are now paramount. Additionally, since less than 5% of entry-level candidates on the tenure-track market (the "meat market") receive an offer, all accredited law schools can be extraordinarily selective in who they hire, and they can often get exactly who they want, which usually means a graduate of one of the especially "prestigious" law schools, who finished in the top 5% or 10% of his/her class, and who has already published at least 2 law review articles, among other credentials (which increasingly include Ph.Ds). Whether that is a good system for hiring is obviously a separate consideration.
Even with the growth of law professor blogs, "blogging" will probably never replace law review articles for purposes of tenure-decisions. At some point, however, as more law professors utilize blogs to engage in serious commentary, perhaps there will be a narrowing of the prestige gap between widely-read posts and seldom-read law review articles. Particularly in this age of the 24-hour news cycle, blogs appear to be incredibly useful tools to instantly analyze legal developments, and to do so without external filtering and publication delay (which can be a good or bad thing). Granted, the breath and depth of analysis in law review articles cannot be replicated or even approximated on a blog, yet blogs are incredibly more user-friendly than articles, and likely attract far broader audiences.
But even if blog postings do not become assets for tenure-track law professors, they are still incredibly-enjoyable ways for those professors to engage in substantive discussion with diverse populations. And that has to count for something!