Category Archives: legal blogging

Some Thoughts on Social Media and Academics: will all academics need to do it in the future?

It’s fitting, I think, that my first post on my the new site should be about the question of social media and academics. I was on a panel discussion organized by the School of Human Rights Research at the university of Utrecht on the issue today, along with Antoine Buyse from the prestigious ECHR Blog and Laura van Waas from the Statelessness Programme Blog of Tilburg University.

A number of issues were addressed, such as how to choose and use particular types of social media platforms (such as twitter, facebook and blogging) and how to valorize your work and reach out to different audiences. All this was addressed by a very good presentation by Jessica Dorsey, from the Asser Institute, who has truckloads of experience in this field already, particularly for her excellent work over at Opinio Juris.

More generally, the discussion brought to mind some thoughts, which I had already partly discussed here, and which are all linked to the basic idea that these new online forms of academic expression are here to stay. This has a number of consequences.

1) This phenomenon cannot be ignored by traditional actors in the field, who must acknowledge that there is no going back from the age of blogs and authors wanting their drafts on SSRN very quickly. Of course, this has consequences for the whole market structure and dynamics and it is a problem, in terms of copyright for example, but the issue must be tackled head on, if not everybody will lose from the situation.

2) One particular way in which I think blogs will have an impact on traditional publishing is on certain types of articles. For me, the casenote will be less and less valuable in a print edition of a journal that comes out every 3 months. By that time, dozens of blogs have produced extensive commentary on particular judgements or cases. Only more in-depth pieces which include the judgment in broader discussions will make sense on such a long publishing timescale.

3) Funnily enough, I see a lot of publications in a number of (even prestigious journals) which originated as blogpost and frankly don’t seem to have been changed much from their online publication to print, other than some footnotes being added. I don’t know if it is a good thing or not, but it is a point rarely made.

4) New forms of collaborations must be developed, even more than they have been in recent years. In that spirit, a number of journals, including the Leiden Journal of International Law, organize regular online symposiums on Opinio Juris on some of its articles which bring in some element of dynamic debate to the more in-depth process that goes into writing and understanding an article. Other forms of collaboration could include the possibility for allowing online responses to published articles, and rejoinders, as is done on EJIL Talk!.

And now for a wild prediction. I’m wondering if within a few years, this kind of skill will not become an essential part of the basic package that might be expected from academics, maybe not on the same level, but along with research skills, capacity to publish traditional articles and teaching. And I mean this both from a technical point of view and one the substance. From a technical point of view, there will come a point where not knowing how to use twitter or promote your work on internet might be just as much a handicap as not knowing how to use a computer. On the substance, writing for the internet requires certain skills which are not the same as traditional academic writing. In this sense, I think that the idea that some people have expressed in the past that any schmuck with a keyboard can write something online without the safeguards of peer-review or traditional codes of academic writing is somewhat misplaced. Indeed, ultimately, for all forms of expression, the litmus test of quality is always the same one: is your audience happy or not? On this, there is no difference between traditional academia and online blogging in answering the age-old question: are you good at what you do or not?

International Law Reporter is back!

I have been frustratingly unable to blog in recent weeks, despite some nice topics to cover (most notably at the ICC). I hope I can rejoin the world of blogging soon, when the workload relents…

In the meantime, a short announcement. The International Law Reporter, a invaluable source of information on recent publications for many years, had announced that it was shutting down last February. Apparently, Jacob Katz, probably by popular demand, has changed his mind, and the blog has resumed work this week.

Let’s hope it lasts!

Some thoughts on the Legal Blogging debate: looking at the shooter, not the gun…

First of all, a happy new year to my faithful readers, who keep checking for updates despite my poor record in posting in recent months….

To start the year on a light note, I’d like to put forward some comments on Jean D’Aspremont’s thoughful discussion of legal blogging over at EJIL Talk. It’s a generally positive assesment of this practice, and I share most of his conclusions. I propose here some additional food for thought as a counter-point to Jean’s argumentation.

For one, I find it difficult to make comments on legal blogging in general. Some of them have a purely informative ambitions (publications, call for papers, recent decisions…). Others tend to be more analytical. A blog is just a medium of communication that can be used for several purposes, and is not per se hazardous or not. In the same way, there is good quality and bad quality blogging out there and it is for the reader to decide on this. Arguably, given the volume of legal blogging (and I agree with Jean that keeping track is an extremely time-consuming activity), it is harder to sift the good from the bad, but the idea remains the same.

Which leads me to a second point. the analyse should invite a mirror analysis of traditional legal scholarship. Not to sound facetious (and probably proving Jean’s point that blogging may lead to comments that “the author of the post may subsequently regret”…), but we’ve all come accross journal articles and books, even in established and reknowned publications and from esteemed publishers, which have “hasty treatment of the information” and disseminate “half-baked ideas”. What we do daily, is exercise judgment, based on our previous experience of a Journal or a specific author, to decide whether to give credit to a particular piece.

The same is true of the blogosphere, which is a far more organised (or at least not any less so than the traditional legal scholarship world) than Jean seems to suggest. There is a handful of established legal blogs out there and I don’t think it is that much harder for a jurist in the field to identify them, than to know what traditional journals have a certain reputation or not.

On the interaction between legal blogging and traditional legal scholarship, I do not share Jean’s invitation to keep them entirely separate, both in terms of content, and career advancement. It all depends on what your evaluation standards are. Of course, I wouldn’t expect a scholar’s capacity for thorough research  to be assessed by his blog. In the same way, I wouldn’t judge a person’s capacity to write a book on a few paragraphs online.
However, legal blog writing is a skill and can show a certain capacity to express ideas succinctly and clearly, which can certainly be useful in a academic career, in terms of drafting short notes or abstracts, on which will often depend initial participation in a project or conference.
Moreover, in terms of content, I must admit that I do not share Xavier’s humility over at the International Jurist, who says he’s not trying to compete with some of the expert blogs. I don’t see why a good idea expressed in a blog (and I’ve read quite a few on Xavier’s blog, and hope that I’ve put forward a couple of my own here) should be less worthy of attention than a good idea developed in a lenghty article. Again, I’ve seen terrible ideas being developed over the course of entire books, and novel ideas be succinctly put forward in short blog posts.

In any case, I think that one shouldn’t oppose legal blogging and traditional scholarship. The former never had the ambition to replace the latter. They are just different means of communication, and they follow similar recognition patterns, in terms of repuation and expertise, as I point out previously. They also have different purposes which are actually complementary. Indeed, a cursory review of the list of contributors of some of the major blogs, such as EJIL Talk, or IntLawGrrls, shows that most of them are regularly published in traditional academic publications.

The bottom line is that what is important, is the author, not the medium. A poor jurist will produce poor scholarship, whatever the means. As regards a good jurist, his capacity to convey his ideas adequately through blogs will depend on the structure of his thought process. Some people need (and want) to cover every aspect of a topic before starting to communicate, others function better in perpetual debate to construct their ideas. Ultimately, as Jean points out, Blogs are a healthy platform for expert’s debate. At the end of the day, the quality of the debate will depend on what we, as active contributors, do with it. Any debate on this issue should therefore focus, as Jean does at the end of his contribution, at the shooter, not the gun.