Law Faculty Blogs and Disruptive Innovation

The title of this post is the title of a notable new essay by Professor J. Robert Brown of the University of Denver, available on SSRN (the data may be found here).  Professor Brown provides an analysis of the role of the law faculty blog within the academy as well as stats on who blogs, its effect on a law school’s reputation, and its impact on the traditional functions of law reviews.

I found it interesting that most faculty bloggers are from law schools outside the top ten in terms of U.S. News rankings, that women bloggers are in the minority (28 percent of active law bloggers), and that faculty from “non-elite” schools see blogging as a way to participate in the debate that is not possible via traditional legal scholarship, which has been criticized for its excessive length, emphasis on esoteric topics, and lack of timeliness.

Since I launched this blog two months ago, I have been so heartened by the positive response it has received — not only from legal academics but from lawyers, advocates, and others around the country — the common denominator being an interest in juvenile justice.  Professor Brown’s essay has helped place this blog — and law faculty blogs generally — in proper context.

Here is the abstract:

The role of blogging in legal academia has been much debated. Some view the discipline as the antithesis of scholarship, a medium that allows faculty to broadcast ignorant or confused opinions. Others have viewed blogging by law faculty more favorably, focusing on the approach as a means of promoting traditional scholarship.

While the debate has been ongoing, the matter has largely been resolved by actual practice. In the realm of legal scholarship, faculty law blogs are a disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation usually connotes the introduction of a new technology that eventually destabilizes an existing market. Often, the technology, when introduced, is inferior and not perceived as a threat. Over time, however, the technology improves and migrates from a market niche and becomes the reigning standard.

Law faculty blogs arose in a state of nature and were often perceived as inferior technology used by faculty to convey random, often personal, views. Over time, however, a recognized class of law faculty blogs emerged, with at least one having been cited 45 times in court opinions and another having been cited by over 700 times in assorted legal publications. Widely read and regularly cited, they offered a superior method for the rapid dissemination of some types of legal analysis and facilitate the introduction of ideas into an ongoing debate. They also provide a form of intermediation that discourages low quality posts.

Law faculty blogs provide a form of scholarship that fills a gap left by traditional law reviews. Law faculty blogs overcome the slow publication process and dense analysis that often prevents traditional law review articles from playing a role in an ongoing debate. Said another way, law faculty blogs have altered the continuum of legal scholarship and reduced the role of traditional law reviews. Efforts by law reviews to fight back through the implementation of online supplements has so far failed.

Law faculty blogs have also had a disruptive impact on the determination of faculty reputation. Blogging allows law professors to route around the traditional indicia of reputation such as the frequency of publication in elite law journals. Providing a “prominence” dividend, faculty who blog are able to advertise their expertise through substantive posts and become better known to practitioners, academics and decision makers. This type of reputational benefit can be seen from the correlation between sustained blogging and SSRN downloads.

Blogging can also disrupt law school rankings. With reputation the single largest component in the rankings, law blogging can be used by some law schools to increase name recognition in a cost effective manner. In other cases, blogging can increase awareness of a law school’s faculty, elevating the overall reputation of the institution. Both can improve a law school’s relative rank.

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About Tamar Birckhead

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