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Two Rebels of Legal Journalism Have a Chat

What happens when the original rebel of legal journalism, Steve Brill, sits down for a chat with today's best-known rebel of legal journalism, David Lat? Well, if you happen to have a camera present, you get the fascinating three-part interview posted this week as part of the ABA Journal's Legal Rebels project.


In 1979, Brill launched the magazine The American Lawyer. As I recounted in a recent post, that magazine grew into the company that now produces an array of print and electronic publications, conferences and research products and that owns this very blog. In those early days, Brill, a lawyer and journalist, was seen as a rabble-rouser. The magazine's reporting on the business-side of law forever changed the nature of legal journalism. Brill sold the magazine a dozen years ago, but his influence can still be felt.

Lat, by contrast, is the founder of the blog Above the Law. What was originally dismissed as a gossip blog has evolved into an enormously popular blog that regularly breaks news about law firms and the business of law. Even those who once dismissed it now begrudgingly respect it as a leading and -- dare I say it -- mainstream source of legal journalism.


So if Brill was once the rebel of legal journalism, Lat may now own that mantle. In these three videos from their conversation this week, they talk about the nature of legal journalism then and now and about traditional media versus new media. Lat is the interviewer here and Brill the subject, but Lat makes no pretense of feigning objectivity, instead telling Brill right out, "You've been a long-time idol of mine." The hard-nosed Brill shows some respect in return, noting that his daughter, a 2L at Yale, is "on your site all the time."

Much of the conversation focuses on the business of blogging and publishing. That is understandable, given that Brill's current venture, Journalism Online, is focused on building a model for online publishers to charge for content. "Your business model is not going to work long term," Brill tells Lat. "If I decided tomorrow that I wanted to compete with you, I could hire six guys and take away half your advertising."

For publishers to survive online, Brill believes, they must create a business model more like the traditional print model, one that blends revenue from both advertising and circulation. When he says that, he is talking not just about old-school publishers, but also about ventures such as Above the Law. Referring back to his law-student daughter, he says, "You can't tell me that she wouldn't pay you $2 a month" to read Above the Law. Responds Lat, "I wouldn't say we've ruled out that model."

Brill has harsh words for his former magazine's Web presence, suggesting that a blog such as Above the Law is filling a need that traditional legal publishers failed to address online. "It is a scandal that The American Lawyer's Web sites aren't successful the way ... I mean, you shouldn't exist if The American Lawyer was doing its job." He also took a swing at The Huffington Post, which relies heavily on content from other sources. "I'm not so sure that some of what The Huffington Post does they're entitled to do," Brill says. "I'm not so sure you can make a business out of rewriting somebody's story."

For anyone interested in the business of law, the business of publishing or the business of blogging, these videos are well worth your time.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 23, 2009 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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