March 17, 2011

Law and Blog: An Unhappy Marriage

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Law and Blog meet.

Law and Blog meet online, of course. So as you might expect, they are coy and are not particularly forthcoming with the details of their courtship. But once together, their relationship builds quickly — they share snark, irreverence and a proclivity for communicating and organizing bite-sized pieces of life.

Time passes, and Law and Blog find that their pairing has filled a deep expressional void. Law can finally cast off its Bluebook shackles and emote the way it deserves. And Blog cherishes the credence, utility and stability that Law provides.

Then one day, Law and Blog become bLawg.

The same love ditty that begat one bLawg, begat many. Law professors in particular, but practitioners, law students and interested others flock to the medium. From Above the Law to Dorf on Law —bLawgs are the antidote to and evidence of what is a true malady. Some of us crave escape from the strictures of formal legal writing.

The incumbent board of the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy inherited a, well, a barely blog. It is a space carved out of the Internet terrain that has become our project to activate. “Kill it!” one of my law professors told me. And, no, we won’t yet, but a legal journal and a blog are not easy bedfellows.

Law journals are not all alike; but every unhappy journal is unhappy in its own way. That is to say, as Tolstoy did with his famous first words of Anna Karenina, that the starting point is recognizing that there are secret problems. Tolstoy’s families, drawing rooms and stratified classes of 19th century Russia all suffered certain unhappinesses and frustrations that were largely undiagnosed.

As Anna Karenina reveals, these problems were undiagnosed because they were in their own way, insularly, exclusionarily stuck. Despite rapid industrialization, Tolstoy’s society and its players were entrenched. His characters struggled to know themselves and each other because, though they collided, they lacked forums in which to express, emote and relate.

So this too is our project; let’s try to un-stick something in law journals by asking what makes them sometimes unhappy and by giving members, readers and writers more free-ranging voice. What is the role of legal blogging today? How can it help journals and what can the JLPP Blog be?

David Brooks has a new blog. He is The New York Times columnist most read by both sides of the aisle, probably ever. Tavi Gevinson has a blog. When she started blogging she was an 11-year-old in Illinois with an obsession for avante garde fashion and a knack for taking pictures of herself in mismatched patterns. Some guy I know has a sister-in-law in California who is blogging 100 ways of cooking pork shoulder, which is one of the cheapest cuts of meat you can buy.

But a law journal blog, as I dream it, has the potential to solve some of the endemic legal writing problems. Who wants to read what a gaggle of Cornell law students has to say about various law and policy issues important to them? I am not sure yet. But I hope it can be a space for students to write quickly, regularly, contemporarily, pre-emption free. I hope it can be something of a property grab, where students can represent legal and policy ideas that they define, that are not defined by precedent, by form, by boilerplate or by a social network template.

JLPP and law journals around the country publish physical print volumes with embossed covers; elegant mastheads; and hours of sourcing, proving and editing labor behind each line. But who picks them up and holds an issue of a law journal in hand? Who asks the student editors what the process and printed scholarship mean to them? And most significantly, what does it mean to legal academia, to the evolution of legal thought, that the seminal writings are written so that 2Ls can understand them and will want to publish them?

Tolstoy’s project was telescopic; the idea was that the Annas and the Vronskys and the 19th century Russian milieus could get better, could improve their philosophies, their loves and their families in their own way. Thus, I return to romance and blargon.

Maybe it works out at JLPP between Law and Blog, but maybe it does not work out after all at. Don’t worry. The Law will surely keep at it, will hornbook, will firm, will evolve slowly and methodically. And Blog, well Blog will be fine too. In fact, Blog will be more than fine, because it is proactive not reactive, courageous not safe, and — like Tolstoy’s Anna — it took a good hard look at the train tracks, or rather, the printed volumes of law journals, and it will strive for something surplus.

Anna was at the end how she was when Vronsky first saw her: “a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will.” Don’t do the minimum Cornell Law Schoolers, JLPPers … bLawg!

I will be blogging about veganism, professional athletes, “the veil of ignorance” and market fetishists, among other things. More importantly, some of my friends, fellow JLPPers and Cornell Law Students will be blogging about law and policy issues relevant to them and the journal.

Very special thanks to James McHale (JLPP Editor-in-Chief), Charlie Lopresto (JLPP Internet Editor), Professor Michael Dorf (Dorf on Law), Tom Bruce and Sara Frug (LII), and Iantha Haight (The Competitive Edge).Sarah Hack is a second-year law student at Cornell Law School, Senior Notes Editor for the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy and head content developer of the new JLPP blog. She can be reached at srh92@cornell.edu. Barely Legal appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Sarah Hack