This January, Emory Law School started a class devoted to blogging in the legal profession. It’s a great initiative that’s getting law students thinking about how to best communicate themselves through blogging early.
I spoke with Jennifer Romig, the teacher behind the class, and she was kind enough to answer questions about the class and blogging strategies students can get started on now. For people looking for more, check out the article she wrote on legal writing for the public.
How did this class get started—what was the impetus and ensuing support for it?
The administration was very open to my proposal for a class on blogging and other forms of “public legal writing.” By that I mean legal writing for the public, not any one client, ranging from tweets to blogs to bar-journal articles. Emory Law has always offered the foundational 1L course in legal writing and analysis, as well as a popular class in advanced legal writing and editing, research seminars, advanced legal research, and a variety of courses for litigation and transactional skills. Now it is also offering a set of smaller, targeted upper-level classes such as time-pressured legal writing, motions practice, and law-practice technology.
The blogging course fits nicely into those offerings. When the law school’s Assistant Dean of IT, Ben Chapman, signed on to co-teach the course, it became even stronger because of his technical strengths and our collaboration on the course content.
My own personal impetus was the experience starting Listen Like a Lawyer. For years I had wanted to start a blog but was focused on traditional legal writing. In 2014, I searched for an open niche and launched Listen Like a Lawyer. It’s a modest lawyering blog, yet it has taught me a lot and opened up some great conversations and opportunities both online and in person. That experience reinforced for me that law students can learn and contribute by blogging, and build marketable skills in the process.
In your own words, why is this class important? Why should law students know blogging?
Years ago as a summer associate, I was assigned to write a magazine column about a particular legal question, addressed to non-lawyer professionals in that field. Today’s variation on that assignment is writing blog posts. Even before that, as they go about their job search, law students may be interviewing with big, medium, or small firms that have a blog or want to start one. One friend who is a solo asked me if the students in this class could set up a blog for his practice. So I think the class will position students to respond to employer requests to write a blog post on a topic, find a topic and write about it, or even develop a strategy for starting a blog.
On a more personal note for students, blogging provides a creative outlet. I know from teaching 1L legal writing for many years—which I still do—that learning to write a traditional legal memo can feel highly formal and uncomfortable. Blogging is a nice change from that. Students definitely need to represent themselves well in their blogging and write clearly and grammatically. But they can write about what they want. They can use contractions. They can ask rhetorical questions.
They can embed videos and long block quotes and link to non-traditional sources. I have a theory that blogging will help students’ other writing skills as well. The ABA Journal opened up a conversation on this several years ago by asking “Has Social Media Tightened Your Writing Style?”
How do you go about teaching and framing the class? What are the classes and activities like?
The class is structured to start with foundational concepts of ethics and the history and methods of blogging. As part of that we invited several guest speakers: Paula Frederick, General Counsel of the State Bar of Georgia; and Keith Lee, a practicing lawyer in Birmingham who blogs for Associate’s Mind and Above the Law. We will also be hosting Professor Alexander Volokh, a colleague on the Emory Law faculty and longtime blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy.
The middle of the class is a writing phase where students study how legal bloggers communicate their legal analysis and how they use voice and style. We have a class blog where students are posting and commenting on a variety of assignments such as a case update, analysis of a recent legal development, highlights of a law-review article, and an authentic yet professionally appropriate personal reflection.
Students also work in small groups to change the WordPress theme of the class blog and then explain to the whole class how and why they selected that theme. The small groups are also doing group presentations on topics such as citation and linking practices, writing for non-lawyers, using visuals effectively, and so on.
At the end of the semester their “final exam” will be revising their work and creating individual WordPress blogs. They can make these public or semi-public and show them to potential employers if they would like.
What sorts of trends do you encourage students to keep in mind in your class? Where do you see legal blogging headed?
One theme that I have emphasized and students have recognized for themselves is the crucial importance of writing well. I read a ton of posts leading up to the class and found—not surprisingly—that law bloggers are very, very good writers at the technical level. When they break grammatical rules, they know exactly what they’re doing and they do it for a reason. My co-teacher, Ben Chapman, has kept coming back to the social aspect of social media. Law blogs don’t always have a lot of comments in the comment sections, as Real Lawyers Have Blogs has pointed out. But if a blog is effective, it should be generating conversation on other platforms and/or through personal networking and connections (ideally both).
In terms of trends, Ben and I are encouraging students to add visual components to their blogs and to carefully attribute their use of images. We want to touch on different styles lawyers tend to use on the various social media platforms. And one of the broadest goals is of the class is that students will have the skills to follow trends on their own and adapt to new ways of using social media. If you were to leave prospective students of this course—or law students who don’t have such an opportunity—with one piece of advice when it comes to blogging, what would it be?
They need a healthy mix of caution and creativity. In terms of caution, it’s best to listen first. They should follow blogs and really study what great legal bloggers are doing. And when they’re just getting started, I would recommend practicing on a blog behind a password, in a small supportive community of friends and writing mentors.
But the great thing about legal blogging is the opportunity to be creative. The short format of blog posts lets them explore different angles on their areas of interest and try different formats such as using visuals, quotes, or embedded social media. And they need to figure out what legal issues are interesting and motivating to them. If they were in a room of lawyers talking about law and lawyering, what would they want to discuss? They will write well about issues they care about.