Today’s guest in the LexBlog Q & A is Bob Ambrogi, a well-known (and well respected) name in legal and tech circles around the country. Based out of Massachusetts, Bob – a journalist, lawyer, blogger, and tech guru – is all over the web. He tracks legal websites at his LawSites Blog, writes about freedom of the press at the Media Law Blog, and contributes to the ALM’s Legal Blog Watch. On the other side of the new media spectrum, he serves as co-host for the legal podcast Lawyer2Lawyer. Plus, Bob is the only person in history to have held editorial control over Lawyers Weekly USA and the National Law Journal.
In our e-mail interview, Bob and I discussed how journalism training can impact a lawyer’s thinking, where the legal blogosphere is headed in the coming year, and more.
1. Rob La Gatta: How, if at all, does your background in journalism enhance your thinking as a lawyer? Do you believe the journalism experience contributed to your initial awareness and appreciation of blogs when the medium first emerged?
Bob Ambrogi: Journalism and law are professions that closely parallel each other. Each requires skill in gathering facts, digesting and analyzing facts, and then presenting your findings in a manner that is clear and understandable. For this reason, journalism education is good training for a lawyer and legal education is good training for a journalist. I went to law school in order to improve my skills as a journalist; I never initially intended to practice law. But when I did begin to practice law, my journalism training proved invaluable.
Probably of greatest value was having learned to write like a journalist. Even after the mental corruption of three years of law school, I retained the ability to write in plain English. I was also able to complete writing projects quickly, much to the delight and surprise of my early employers.
In answer to whether my journalism experience contributed to my initial interest in blogs: without question. I launched my LawSites blog in 2002 around the time I finished the first edition of my book, The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web. That book had taken me nearly a year to finish. I was also writing a monthly column.
I wanted a way to keep readers of my book and my column informed of new developments on the Web as they happened, not a month or a year later. A blog was the medium most naturally suited to the task and to my skills as a lawyer and journalist. Plus, I’d been following several of the early legal bloggers such as Denise Howell and Ernie Svenson and was excited by the potential of blogs to become an important communication and networking tool for the legal profession.
2. Rob La Gatta: By and large from what we’ve seen, large law firms seem more reluctant to enter the blogosphere than small firms or solo practitioners. Have you seen this trend as well? If so, why do you think this is the case?
Bob Ambrogi: I agree that larger firms have been slower to enter the blogosphere than their smaller counterparts. I attribute this largely to the fact that a smaller firm can be more agile and adaptable while a larger firm is more monolithic.
It is the difference between changing course in a small speedboat or an enormous oil tanker. It is a matter both of bulk and bureaucracy. An innovative lawyer working in a solo or small firm can put his or her ideas to work immediately. An innovative lawyer or marketer in a large firm has to send those ideas through the labyrinth and hope they come out the other end. While some of the large firms are only now catching on to blogs and RSS, I suspect there have been innovative lawyers and marketers in each of them who have been urging this for years.
3. Rob La Gatta: How have legal publications like the National Law Journal and Lawyers Weekly USA adapted to the constant push towards online content? Do you believe that it’s just a matter of time before everything is web-focused, or will there always be a place for print publications in our society?
Bob Ambrogi: Journalism’s value is not the paper it is printed on. Will there always be a place for paper in the news industry? No. Will there always be media outlets devoted to producing high quality, independent journalism? I sure hope so. The Internet is hardly the greatest threat facing the NLJ and LUSA. The greater threat is the bottom line. Can these papers continue to bring in the subscriptions and ads they need to support a team of top-notch legal journalists and editors? In the long-run, that will be the key question, whether in print or online.
Having been the editor of both the NLJ and LUSA, I am biased in favor of both. That said, the NLJ was quicker out of the gate in adapting to the digital age. As far back as 9/11, when I was editor, our first instinct was to begin pushing news to our Web site, even as we were scurrying to get out the print edition. If I recall correctly, the NLJ’s Web site was the first to report the names of some of the firms and lawyers who were victims of the attack.
When I was there, I hired the paper’s first editor exclusively responsible for Web content. The NLJ’s parent company, ALM, grew out of the merger of several legal-media companies that had each been pioneers in developing online legal-news sites. By contrast, the Lawyers Weekly papers were slow to experiment with the Web, other than to offer archival content online to paid subscribers. They are changing now, adding a number of blogs and teasing major Web changes in 2008.
4. Rob La Gatta: Thinking about the impact of blogs on law schools and the law reviews they publish: there is some argument that blogs are less effective than law reviews because they are not peer-reviewed and therefore lack merit. How would you respond to this claim?
Bob Ambrogi: Blogs are peer review[ed]. Put an idea out there on your blog and you will quickly find out whether it holds water. In this way, blogs enhance, rather than supplant, law reviews as a medium for scholarly discussion. Rarely do blog posts reflect the considered research and thought of a law review article. But blogs foster active discussion, whereas law reviews are static statements. Read law professors’ blogs and you see that law review articles often form the springboard of their blog conversations.
At the same time, I have no doubt that ideas first put out on blogs later evolved into law review articles. Blogs and law reviews have come to have a symbiotic relationship.
5. Rob La Gatta: So where do you see this all going? Any predictions on the state of the legal blogosphere in 2008 and any changes it may undergo in the next year?
Bob Ambrogi: The legal blogosphere will continue to grow, but the rate of expansion will slow and the growth will take a new direction. What we’ve seen so far is an explosion in the number and variety of blogs. Over the next year, the number of new launches will taper. Instead of high numbers of new blogs, we’ll see a deepening of blog content.
I point to a blog such as SCOTUSblog as a model of what I believe more blogs will become. It is written by a group of highly qualified authors with varied backgrounds and divergent perspectives. Posts are substantive and timely and woven together to form a discussion. A wiki supplements the blog to pull its content together in a format that is intuitively organized and easy to use. To my mind, SCOTUSblog is a preview of what many more blogs will look like in a few years – and, for that matter, many more newspapers.
Interested in hearing more? Check out some of our other featured guests…Bob is just the latest in our ongoing series of legal blog interviews for the LexBlog Q & A.