03 November 2011


For several weeks now, I've anticipated writing this post. One would think that amidst that anticipation would be a touch more preparation. There wasn't, so I'll apologize in advance for the stream-of-consciousness which follows.

Three months ago today, I posted a "Gone Fishing" message in place of what should have been the sixty-fourth edition of my supposed-to-be-weekly "A Round Tuit" series of legal blogging reviews. At the time, it was a combination of a spike in workload, a flurry of family obligations, and a blogging malaise which prompted me to take what I figured would be a one- or two-weeks-long break from the series. As workload has eased (most weeks) and those family obligations have also become more manageable (most weeks), only that malaise has persisted. It's overdue for me to acknowledge that Round Tuit drowned on his fishing trip.

In years past, the legal blogosphere has been characterized by quality commentary and insight (Infamy or Praise notwithstanding, of course). Recently, however, I and others have noted that it's become more difficult to find the wheat amongst the chaff. I wrote at some length about it in A Round Tuit (43), around a year ago:
Whereas earlier entrants were driven by their desire to communicate their own ideas and experiences and engage with others, most newer entrants are driven by other concerns. The marketeers weren't here in the beginning; the legal blogs built to maximize SEO values and composed of scraped content or content written by non-lawyers weren't here in the beginning; the BigLaw blogs, which ably summarize current legal issues but usually don't offer much perspective and don't attempt to engage with other bloggers, weren't here in the beginning. They're all here now, and their sheer numbers have diluted the legal blogosphere to the point that, on the whole, it's no longer characterized by the substance and engagement it once was. It's a Happysphere because a significant portion of it is comprised of blogs without substance, disengaged bloggers, and happy marketeers. Criticism is absent because it gains these players nothing.

I'll admit to more than a little frustration of late with the state of things. Is this a thing worth continuing? Into my sixth year of doing this, one would think that I have some answers, but I don't. I honestly don't. Part of my frustration stems from my somewhat vested interest in a healthy legal blogosphere. I've spent a number of years here trying to do what I could to see that new readers could find bloggers who had something meaningful to say, a clear voice with which to say it, and enough backbone to criticize and be criticized in return. There are still many, many bloggers who fit that bill, but it seems that neither they nor I can hope to hold back the tide. With a vested interest comes a loss of perspective, I fear.
This morning, Scott Greenfield wrote about some of those same challenges and, as always, did it better than me. He identifies a "First Wave" of legal blogging pioneers and places himself within the "Second Wave" — those who started blogging later but added considerably to what was established by their predecessors. He wonders about the "Third Wave" of legal bloggers — those aforementioned Happyspherers, by and large — and suggests that if they don't learn to speak to one another and to us, the legal blogosphere is finished:
It's begun to feel more like punditry than a conversation. While those who can't withstand scrutiny like it that way, real lawyers don't. It's all about the conversation, whether happy, angry, or just pleasantly disagreeable. Without it, this place is a bore. At least for me. And if it's boring, then it's not worth the effort.

Like Kevin [O'Keefe], I've tried to nudge others to take stands, do something meaningful, write as if they give a damn, engage with the larger blawgosphere, and tell the marketing gurus to shove their lies where the sun doesn't shine. But the question remains, will the third wave want to join the blawgosphere, or is this only about existing in their marketing isolation. If the latter, then the blawgosphere will not survive.
This struck a chord with me. As a Blawg Review Sherpa and in my Round Tuit series, what I enjoyed was highlighting the links amongst the participants in distributed conversations on interesting topics. In most cases, the connections were already there in some form and I simply reiterated them and added a few thoughts of my own. Sometimes, on my better days, I could see connections which the participants hadn't and was able to link together a range of views on a particular topic. So much of what's written now is — as Greenfield points-out — isolated by design and is difficult to connect to something larger. Several times in writing a Round Tuit, I've skipped-over what was undeniably a major event because most of the blogging amounted to the same summary of facts. No opinion. No analysis. No connections. No value added.

Week after week, as I winnowed the links I'd collected to identify the better posts, I began to find that the quality posts were generally from the same dozen or so bloggers. Of the more than 150 feeds I followed, only these few consistently and a few others reliably added anything of value. Unfortunately for the "Round Tuit" concept, recommending the same people nearly every time is not a review of the legal blogosphere's voice on major events; it's a blogroll of the dwindling number of people worth reading each week.

When I read back through this post sometime after I hit the "Publish" button, I'm sure that I'll be dismayed by how petty, peevish, and bitter this all sounds. I'll be dismayed because that's not at all an accurate reflection of how I feel. I'm glad to have found the best of the legal blogosphere over the past several years and to have discovered that these people are also amongst the best in my profession.

At the start of every Round Tuit post, I wrote:
When it comes to legal blogging, there seems to be no shortage of writing worth reading once one gets around to it.
That's still true, but that "writing worth reading" is less representative of the increasingly-frivolous legal blogosphere. Such a situation would seem to make a review like Round Tuit more valuable rather than less. After all, we need guides when the sights are harder to find amongst the sprawl and blight, not when they're apparent wherever you go. The fact that I can't motivate myself to continue speaks more to the character of the blawgosphere reviewer than to the blawgosphere itself. It's not you, in other words, it's me.

If you made it to A Round Tuit (63), I'm deeply appreciative and I'm sorry that there will be no A Round Tuit (64). There's certainly still writing worth reading out there. You don't need me to remind you to keep reading Greenfield, Bennett, Pribetic, Turkewitz, Charon, the guys at Popehat, and others who write with passion, offer opinions and insight, spare you the hard sell, and link to those who do similarly. For as long as that legal blogosphere continues to exist, I'll continue to follow it and perhaps to find a way to remain a part of it.

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