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Balkin Talks Blogs

Online, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment Jack M. Balkin is best known for the blog Balkinization, a political and legal blog he founded and maintains. Professor Balkin recently sat down for a Q & A with the Yale Law Report to give his thoughts on the legal blogosphere and how it's changing the nature of legal discussion and legal education.

An excerpt from the interview appears below; the entire interview is available on the Yale Law Report web pages.

YLR: How is legal blogging changing legal discussion and legal education?

Balkin: Blogging changes the relationship between law professors and their audiences because professors can reach more people. It changes the relationship between law professors and journalists because law professors don’t need journalists to get their ideas out to the broader public; conversely, blogging makes it easier for journalists to find the right experts to interview. It changes the timing and pace of legal scholarship because law professors can talk about cases the day they come down, driving the discussion forward in a very short time rather than through a series of law review articles that may take years to appear. Just as the Internet collapses the news cycle, it also collapses the publication and discussion cycle. It produces a type of legal writing that is more journalistic, more personal, and more driven by current events.

Compared with traditional legal scholarship, blogging produces a different combination of analysis and opinion. The conversation is more informal, and it progresses very quickly. People also use sources differently: they cite to supporting information or authorities by linking to them, so that you can see the evidence for yourself.

This morning [November 8, 2006] I wrote a post on the South Dakota law banning most types of abortion, which was defeated in a popular referendum. I used the referendum to discuss a recent article written by my colleague Reva Siegel in the online version of American Prospect, as well as an article she hasn’t officially published yet, providing links to both. In this example I’m not only talking about the news, I’m connecting it to other political commentary and to the latest legal scholarship. It’s a kind of legal discussion we haven’t seen much of before.

This is the first generation of law students who are going to law school after the rise of the blogosphere. If you went to law school a few years ago, you were totally immersed in the experience of a single law school, and your professors (and the law library) were the main sources of expertise. Now law students can hear legal opinions from law professors and their fellow students around the country—and around the world—on almost any topic they desire. The blogosphere becomes part of your legal education. That didn’t really exist before.

Law students are not merely consumers of these blogs, they’re also producers. There are at least a dozen students currently writing blogs at Yale Law School. At other law schools, there are probably hundreds of student-run blogs. Some of them talk about the experience of being a law student; others offer legal and political commentary, and still others combine legal analysis with discussions of their hobbies, interests, and personal lives. Student-edited law reviews have been transformed by online legal publishing. Most law reviews have an online presence, many publish articles simultaneously in print and online versions, and several have started online publications that are hybrids between traditional journals and blogs. Blogs are an incredibly creative medium; there’s an enormous number of things you can do with them, and they are going to have all sorts of interesting and unexpected effects on legal culture.

To read the rest of the YLR's interview with Professor Balkin, visit the Yale Law Report website.