Balkin on Legal Blogs:

Yale Law Professor and prominent blogger Jack Balkin has an interesting discussion of some of the most prominent law professor blogs and the impact of blogging on legal scholarship and political discourse here.

In one part of his post, Balkin puts forward a theory explaining which law professors are most likely to succeed as bloggers:

The most successful blogs tend to be run by younger law professors who aren’t necessarily at the top-ten schools. That’s because if you’re an established professor at a top-ten school, you are already probably getting significant positive reinforcement for what you are doing. But if you’re a law professor who’s trying to establish a name for yourself, you quite understandably feel that not enough people are paying attention to what you’re saying. The blogosphere is a wonderful way for you to put your ideas out there and gain an audience for ideas you think are valuable and worthwhile. Blogging democratizes legal commentary; it publicizes the scholarship and the expertise of a large number of law professors who would not have gotten a voice before.

I think there is some truth to this. However, several of the most prominent and successful lawprof bloggers are in fact professors at top ten schools, including Richard Posner, Larry Lessig, and of course Balkin himself. Many other prominent lawprof blogs were founded by professors at schools just outside the US News top ten (ranked roughly 11-20). Brian Leiter's various blogs, Steve Bainbridge, and of course the Volokh Conspiracy are obvious examples.

Balkin is absolutely right that blogging is a way for younger professors at non-top ten schools to increase their profile and broaden the readership for their scholarly work; I have pursued this strategy myself:). On the other hand professors at top schools have some important advantages in the blogging enterprise. In particular, a new blog founded by a professor at a famous school is more likely to quickly attract the attention of readers than one founded by a prof at a lower-ranked institution. If you hear that there's a new blog started by a professor at Yale, you are far more likely to go take a look than if you hear that there's a new blog started by a professor at the University of Southern North Dakota. It is relatively easy to start a blog, but much harder to attract an audience and acquire influence. Being at an elite institution is a big help in achieving these two goals.

Blogging does to some degree "democratize" legal academic discourse for the reasons Balkin indicates. But it also sometimes reinforces existing inequalities. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The purpose of blogging, in my view, should be to improve the quality of public discourse more than to "democratize" it.

Balkin also makes many other thought-provoking points. As they say, read the whole thing.