National Law Journal Profiles "Law Blogging Pioneer" Brian Leiter
Somewhere between fusty law treatises and Twitter lie law blogs, many of them written by the top legal scholars in the country. Just five years ago, the notion of law professors delivering quick and cogent commentary to the masses — with the opportunity for instant feedback, no less — was a novel concept. Today, it is rare for law schools not to have at least two or three professors on faculty who regularly tap away at their blogs, often with their morning cup of coffee or after they've put the kids to bed at night.
The National Law Journal has profiled some of the pioneers in law blogging. Their online endeavors keep readers current on topics ranging from Sixth Amendment rights to tax law, from faculty appointments to securities fraud. Their work has given legal scholars a greater voice in the public forum and brought recognition to the schools they represent.
University of Chicago Law School
Brian Leiter insists that he's misunderstood. "I have a strange sense of humor," the legal blogger said. "I think I'm humorous, but sometimes people don't pick that up."
With a healthy dose of sarcasm and plenty of professor job news available nowhere else, Brian Leiter's Law School Reports has become one of the most popular blogs among legal academics.
His criticism of U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings and their effect on law school operations has been scathing. His posts on politics and trends in academics can be barbed. Recent headlines on his blog include, "Does President Obama Have a Backbone?," "So-Called Legal Empirical Studies" and "More Nonsense about the Supposed Disadvantage that 'Conservatives' Face in the Legal Academy."
A professor at University of Chicago Law School, Leiter began his blog in 2003 as part of a consortium of blogs spearheaded by Paul Caron, professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. Leiter was teaching at the University of Texas School of Law at the time. In addition to Law School Reports, he writes Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. That blog is billed as "news and views about philosophy, the academic profession, academic freedom, intellectual culture…and a bit of poetry."
But it's Law School Reports that is the big attraction for law school professors and administrators. It gets about 2,300 hits per day during the school year. He posts information about professor salaries, visiting professor positions, diversity among faculty, accreditation standards and new legal scholarship. He closely follows deanship appointments and the movement of professors from one law school to another. But besides the ribbing — or drubbing — that he inflicts on fellow academics and public figures, his posts can be poignant. He includes academics' obituaries, for example.
One of Leiter's most notable series of posts was about the firing (and rehiring) of Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of University of California, Irvine School of Law. Leiter credits himself with breaking the story about Chemerinsky's appointment as dean to the school that started in 2008 and his firing just days later because of his liberal views. Amid an outcry from fellow academics and Chemerinsky admirers, the university rehired him a few days after firing him. Leiter's blog tracked every move.
"I helped Erwin get his job back," Leiter said.
Chemerinsky, a noted constitutional law scholar who went to Irvine from Duke Law School, said Leiter is "enormously influential in the law school world." He added that Leiter is one of the country's top scholars in law and philosophy.
Leiter spends up to three hours each week writing the Law School Reports blog. He does it, he said, as a service to the legal academic profession. Although it may have raised Leiter's profile, Leiter said the blog played no role in his 2008 move from the University of Texas to the University of Chicago. He does credit his blog with directing more traffic to his scholarly work. His scholarship focuses on the intersection of law and philosophy. Leiter has a law degree and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Michigan. He's written and edited books about Nietzsche, law and morals, and the future of philosophy.