Saturday, May 14, 2011

Has blawging become 'establishment'?

When I began writing this blog, there weren't that many other legal blogs around. Law blogging was still a relatively new phenomenon, not taken seriously by the legal establishment. OK, there were certainly some serious legal blogs about (IPKat comes to mind), but there was definitely a higher proportion of more personal law blogs, with their own unique styles, such as Charon QC and the much-missed Geeklawyer.

Gradually, however, the establishment began to realise the potential of blogging to promote businesses and further careers. More and more blawgs began to appear, from the tedious "here's a topical legal story - if you have the same problem, we can help" type, to the rather more subtle providers of detailed legal analysis, thereby demonstrating serious expertise.

Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not saying that law blogs should be restricted to one type. One of the beauties of blogging is that there are (virtually) no rules as to what format a blog should take. The problem, however, is that the establishment thinks it knows best and inevitably tries to take over the medium. Before we know where we are, we have blawging mavens making their pronouncements to the minions from on high, telling us all the right and the wrong ways to do things.

Worse than that, the establishment likes order. Blawgs have to be listed and rated. Now, I have nothing against personal opinions, but if the rating is by committee or vote, then you can count me out. You can also count me out of any annual award ceremony for the best blawgs by category, even if the winners are announced in reverse order.

They don't just take over in the control sense, either. Many of the new blawgs are run by established organisations and figures in the legal community, who can use their reputation to gain huge audiences, marginalising lesser lights. It must now be far harder for a new sole blawger to gain a foothold.

Then there is the content of the establishment blawg. Safe, strictly on topic. The sort of thing you could read in any legal periodical. Blogging is becoming the same as any other legal journalism.

I suppose one thing I'm missing here is that the law is a compliant profession. There aren't many legal anarchists. Lawyers generally tow the establishment line. Perhaps there is just something inevitable about the way blawging is going...

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for starting this debate John!

    I am a relative newcomer to legal blogging (UK Human Rights Blog is just over a year old) but I think you are right that legal blogging has become more establishment.

    I also think this is inevitable when something starts as countercultural but begins to reach a wider audience because of its obvious value to the general public as well as to the people doing the blogging. The establishment players will then take an interest and begin to step in.

    I think that competition is good for a medium like blogging. The barriers to entry are very low, so it is just as easy for a sole practitioner to start up a blog as it is for an establishment organisation. In fact, establishment organisations tend to be bureaucratic so it is probably harder to get something like a blog going from e.g. a big solicitors firm than as an individual.

    This is largely self-pepetuating, and there's not much anyone can do about it. It was much easier to persuade my chambers to start up a blog because I could point to other chambers' blogs (e.g. Matrix and 11KBW) as case studies. This made everyone feel safer to follow their lead.

    And because anyone can start up or read a blog with little or no cost, the medium is pretty meritocratic. I don't really agree that established players will be able to trample over sole bloggers in this regard. My experience of blogging has been that pre-exisiting reputations count for very little; what matters is how well you write and whether people enjoy reading your blog.

    Interestingly, this is quite different to the wider legal profession, which is more plutocratic and much more difficult to start up in with no pre-existing reputation. Perhaps this is because of the inevitable (and justified) caution clients show in instructing newbies to take on a case which is important to them, but it is still easier to set up in legal blogging than it is in law. That said, the two can be intertwined.

    I would like to think that the established blogs (and these are not at all synonymous with the establishment blogs) will continue to support and promote new blogs through links, mentions and tweets. In addition, the more established media have helped enormously to promote blogging to a wider audience - especially the Guardian and Legal Week. I see no sign of this abating. In fact, the wider the field, and the more people are reading legal blogs, the more audience there is to help newer blogs start up.

    So, although you may think I would say this - being part of the establishment - I think that the more the merrier, and, as Lucy Reed has said on her response to this piece, legal blogging is ultimately about having fun. Thankfully, the establishment can have fun too!

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  2. Dead poets society sprang to mind when I first read this. Hope we aren't headed for lynch mobs and witch burning. I think I might be one of the first tied to the stake. I've never really gone along with the establishment "that's the way we do things".

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  3. Hi John, I’m not sure I get where you are coming from with this piece. Which ‘establishment’ are you talking about?

    I don’t agree that it is necessarily more difficult for new sole bloggers to gain a foothold. Ironically, it may be even easier for them as they would be competing with a plethora of humdrum conventional law blogs. Getting noticed in the first place may be a little more difficult, I admit but hopefully the more established bloggers like yourself would do your best to highlight new talent whenever you came across it

    I’m not so sure blogging is ‘becoming’ anything either. Perhaps there is more rubbish these days and it is much harder sifting through it to find things of interest, I don’t know, but other than this possibly being true hasn’t it always been about choice and personal taste?

    I too wouldn’t like mavens issuing diktats from on high on how things should be done; absolutely, but hopefully anyone with any common sense would just ignore them if they tried

    I like your article and have stewed over it this weekend, which must be a good thing. However, as I indicated earlier, I am a little lost as to why you think there is a problem in the first place and who in particular you are taking issue with – who do you think is trying to take over the medium – mediocrity itself?

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  4. Nah, I think it's a fad!

    It'll pass ... eventually... (probably like an awkward kidney stone!) ;-)

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  5. You're probably right, Michael. As soon as the 'experts' advise them that some other medium is even better for promoting businesses and furthering careers, they'll move on to that.

    Hopefully, anyway...

    ;-)

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