What Does ATL Tell Us About the Use of Technology in the Legal Profession?

Something bothers me about the fact that Above the Law is consistently the top-rated blawg on the web. Don't get me wrong, ATL is fun. I personally visit the site a few times a week, and I have even formed ideas for posts from their headlines and stories. However, and the site itself is very clear about this fact, ATL is a legal tabloid. True, topics of substance are covered, but typically as a foundation for the respective author to make pithy quips about them. For those who haven't visited the site, or think that I am brushing off its serious chops too easily, they run a legal blind dating service; this is not exactly Holmesian material.

Yet it is by far the top-rated legal blog in existence. I can't help but think that there is a lesson in that fact. Maybe first years don't have enough work to do, and spend all their time trolling each other and browbeating the site's authors. Maybe more 'highbrow' legal blogs are not written particularly well, or are too niche for large readerships. Maybe it is just a broader reflection of a society that is more interested in US Weekly than the New York Times. Maybe I am just making too big a deal of people trying to have a little fun at the expense of others. All of these factors are likely true to some extent, but it is probably also true that most lawyers don't see blawgs as a valid source of legal information.

To be clear, this applies to the blogosphere only, not technology in general. It is not technology lawyers are afraid of. Westlaw and Lexis are proof of this. Client management, document review, docketing; almost all the tools of the trade are linked to servers, the web, or the cloud at this point. Based on anecdotal evidence even the older generation has adopted ever-changing technologies with aplomb. It is just the information on blogs which seems to be underutilized.

Which brings us back to the earlier point. It is apparent that lawyers don't trust their fellow lawyers to provide useful, timely and correct information on the web. What could change this? Maybe things would change if more top schools hosted web-based journals in a blog format. Maybe more publishing of quality articles directly to the internet would have an impact. Maybe it will be a Supreme Court justice who takes the initiative and starts a running dialog with the legal community that will signal that blogs are a valid resource. Such uses of technology would undoubtedly benefit the entire legal community. Until then, I guess I will be seeing you in the ATL comments section.


  1. I prefer to think ATL's audience is larger because sites law Becker-Posner, SCOTUS Blog, or BlawgConomics tend to offer ideas of more heft and less suited to quick digestion. ATL is a momentary diversion that can be consumed in less time than your standard commercial break. SCOTUS Blog, on the other hand, is liable to eat up most of my Sunday afternoon.

    I do think, however, that lawyers trust and use blogs as starting points for research. Practitioner blogs in particular are excellent resources for newly self-employed lawyers trying to learn the ropes. But like a reference tome, these blogs are picked up and put down as the need arises; I may trust Corpus Juris Secundum as a secondary source, but I don't skim it for fun. Likewise, I'm not likely to read practitioner tips as a diversion, the way I (God help me) skim ATL.

  2. Josh Sturtevant13/10/11 16:56

    Thanks for the comment. Even more thanks for including BlawgConomics among the sites you perceive as providing more weighty analysis. I am not sure we deserve the honor, but I will accept it with sincere pleasure.

    It is interesting to hear your perspective on using blawgs as secondary sources. It is also good to hear that you utilize them as starting points. I wonder how many of the readers who come our way do so for the same reasons...

    If you are right, maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to brush aside the idea that ATL is merely a nice diversion.

    However, I still believe that the addition of some trustworthy blawgs as noted in the article could take the blawgosphere to a level that it will not reach otherwise.