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Legal Blogging Software a Disruptive Force In Academic Legal Publishing

November 4, 2019

Legal publishing has long been the province of law reviews, law journals and traditional publishers.

But with publishing democratized by WordPress, first used for blogs and now the most widely used content management system in the world, blog software could represent the future for legal publishing.

The readership of legal blogs and publications published on open publishing software (vast majority being on WordPress), in all likelihood, already far surpasses the readership of law reviews.

Bill Henderson, a widely respected law professor, innovator, and editor of Legal Evolution, makes the case that what while some legal professionals are quick to call something a blog because it’s published on blog software and not rendered in a format used by traditional legal publishers, it can still be a legal publication in every sense of the word.

”Several times this summer, colleagues have referred to Legal Evolution as a blog. A couple times I’ve corrected them and said that Legal Evolution is a publication. After all, we have a publication schedule, subject matter focus, and contributor guidelines that are targeted and specific. See Post 092 (publishing contributor guidelines). But I’m done correcting my colleagues, as a friendly conversation is not the right time or place. Instead I’ll write it here and let the passage of time work its magic.“

Henderson credits me or, better put, blames me for argument that blogs are proving to be a disruptive force in legal publishing.

”To the extent this sows confusion, we can blame Kevin O’Keefe, the founder and CEO of LexBlog.  In the spring of 2016, Kevin visited Indiana Law to share his career journey with my students.  Over dinner that night, Kevin discussed the monthly traffic of vs. the ABA Journal vs. Above the Law.  The latter began its life as a blog, yet it was proving to be a profoundly disruptive force in legal publishing. Why? It was on the winning side of a massive demographic shift in readers and reading habits. Further, it was still gathering steam.

Kevin also discussed the massive investments he was making to both automate and improve online publishing. In effect, the cost of getting into the publishing business was dropping to near zero.  The only thing missing was specialized content someone wanted to write and that another group wanted to read.“

Like most successful legal publishers (and bloggers), Henderson’s focus for legal publishing was founded on a personal passion.

”…I was very interested in exploring applied research that focused on the legal market — rigorous enough to get traction with real-world problems (we’ve got no shortage of those) but written in an accessible and congenial style.  A year later, I shut down The Legal Whiteboard (which, for the record, was a blog) and launched Legal Evolution.”

LexBlog’s managed WordPress platform proved more than flexible enough for Henderson’s legal publication.

”As editor of Legal Evolution, I am trying to fill what I perceive as a gap in legal publishing — a reliance on data and theory (like the academy) but pointed at real-world issues that we’re actively engaged in solving (like legal practice). See Post 001. The content is often much longer (and more in-depth and technical) than legal journalism but much shorter (and less technical) than academic articles. We also believe in formal citations, as we are building a new body of knowledge in applied research that’s focused on the legal industry. Finally, we err on the side of accessibility (e.g., we favor contractions and relish Jae Um’semojis and her hilarious, brilliant graphics).“

Even if the readership of a niche legal publication doesn’t become substantial, it doesn’t matter. Legal publications, such as Henderson’s, published on WordPress, are focused on reaching the ‘Long Tail’ – the concept that the low cost of publishing and distribution enable small and unique audiences to be all that is needed.

”Legal Evolution’s publishing conventions — particularly length and technical content — reduce the number of readers. We don’t care because we’re focused on serious thinkers and innovators.  Yet, even among this smaller group, the number of monthly readers vastly exceeds the readership of a typical law review. Because our applied-research mission requires a robust engagement with practice, the new world of legal publishing — the cost structure, the control of visual presentation, the proximity to readers, the connectivity with relevant sources — has been an extraordinary opportunity to try new things and to build a community of interest. Everytime I look at Legal Evolution’s growing subscriber list, I’m astonished by the breadth and quality of our readership.”

Personally, it’s an honor for LexBlog and I to serve legal professionals the likes of Bill Henderson, who are making such a commitment to advance the legal business for the people and organizations we all serve.

Like Henderson, there are hundreds, if not thousands of legal publishers, including academics whom it would seem could benefit from real open publishing (no pdf’s) on a managed WordPress platform.

The benefits being, among others, reduced costs, better publishing platform, better reader experience, increased influence of the individual publishers (legal professionals), and increased relevance of the individual publishers with general legal community and the public.

Rather than law reviews and law journals moving to WordPress en masse, a sound approach may be the approach which Henderson and Northwestern law Professor Dan Linna followed in his LegalTech Lever

Identify your niche. Look at your community of followers and and fellow publishers. Look at a managed WordPress platform to get your publication up in weeks, not months. And build an audience that’s more engaged than that of a law review’s audience.

You’ll find an enhanced reputation, increased influence and a growing body of relationships. You’ll also find your influence on the advancement of law – for people – to be greater.

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