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Blogs Haven't Changed the Practice of Law? Where Have You Been?

Over at Concurring Opinions, Frank Pasquale posts here about blogger Tom Bell's skeptical view on the impact of blogs, expressed in this article from May 2006. From his opening paragraph, Bell writes:

I have nothing against blogging, as I blog myself.  I simply don't think it will change the practice of law very much.  Why not? First, because blogs seldom offer the sort of detailed and applied legal analysis that attorneys need to perform.  Second, because an ethical attorney would find it impossible to practice law via a blog.

Pasquale disagrees with Bell, from a more academic professor. Countering Bell's claim that blogs don't offer quality analysis, Pasquale points out:

As Ian Best's taxonomy of blogs (and citation tracking) shows, some courts have used blogs to help them sort through cutting edge legal topics. I also think that law student blogs (done well!) may be a good way for students to develop their interests and demonstrate their abilities.

And Pasquale also notes that lawyers are using blogs for marketing.

Pasquale has the right idea, but I don't think his critique of Bell goes far enough. As someone who has actually practiced law for 18 years, I can testify that blogs have absolutely revolutionized the practice of law. Blogs open up huge archives of information by academics and legal experts who were never previously available (certainly not for free) and in so doing are rapidly levelizing the playing field between large- and small-firm practitioners. Professors and academics often underestimate the value of information to those of us who are regular attorneys. Academics have unlimited access to Lexis, Westlaw and all kinds of other computerized date bases that enable them to stay current in their field, and as such, they take the value of free information for granted. But for practicing attorneys like myself, the free information I gain from blogging gives me a competitive edge over my large-firm competitors and enables me to serve my clients more competently and at lower cost.

More importantly, blogging is the one (and only) tool that I've come across that breaks down the entrenched stratification within our profession. Before blogging, the last time I'd ever spoken to a law professor was in law school. Now, through comments or offline correspondence, I engage in dialogue with academics. Before blogging,  I don't think that a large-firm attorney ever called me with a referral; now I generate those contacts through my professional blogs. Before blogging, I was persona non gratis within the DC Bar, with letters that I'd written with comments or suggestions simply ignored without response. But this year, as a result of my blog My Shingle, I was invited to run for and now serve on a Bar steering committee.

When we look back on the  history of our profession, I think we will regard blogging, along with the Supreme Court's ruling in Bates v. Arizona (permitting lawyer advertising) and the advent of computerized research like Lexis and Westlaw as milestones of change in our profession. Tom Bell may think that blogs are one big snooze, but that's a view that will lose in the long run and, in fact, is losing now.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 20, 2006 at 04:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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