Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Five Principles of Legal Blogging

There is a debate taking place amongst some legal bloggers as to the nature of legal blogging. The issue is becoming complicated, with multiplying categories and sub-categories; and it also becoming perhaps fraught, with accusations and denials.

So it seems a good moment to put forward some rather simple propositions, almost statements of common sense, on which all of those engaged in blogging about legal matters can perhaps agree.

These are not prescribed rules; but they are broad articulations, based on experience and reason, as to what legal blogging should be about.

One: Get the law right

In a way, this may be the only principle.

It means that one should not purport to state the law - either in terms of substantive law or procedure - unless one is confident that it is being stated correctly and as fully as necessary.

If one gets the law wrong, then it should be corrected as soon as possible. If the law is significantly changed or developed, and your blogpost still has traffic, then an addendum may be required.

Two: Use links and sources wherever possible

A good thing about blogging - and internet writing generally - is that one can link to sources. It is like pampheteering, but with electronic footnotes.

Law blogging in particular lends itself to linking to sources (as does science blogging), whether it be to statutes, case law, official guidance, procedural rules, or news stories.

Linking is good in itself, but it also provides the wider benefit of de-mystifying the law. There will always be a need for lawyers, one supposes, but it would be a good thing if citizens felt ever more comfortable looking up the law for themselves.

Three: Do not argue from authority

One does not provide legal advice by general internet writing. Although one may well have formal qualifications and be in practice, this does not matter for law blogging. Indeed, some of the best law bloggers have never practiced.

The purpose of law blogging is to explain, not to advise or prescribe. Accordingly, anyone can be attempt to be a law blogger. If the relevant law is set out correctly, and is properly sourced, then it matters not if the author is a QC or a lay enthusiast. Your explanation of the law should just stand for itself.

Four: Blog responsibly about live cases

Some law blogging involves writing about cases which are current. In criminal cases, this may mean pre-arrest or before any charge; in civil cases, it may be before a letter of action; and in both criminal and civil cases, it may be during a trial or appeal. Whilst no-one expects a lay blogger to know the detail of the laws of contempt of court or perversion of the course of justice, common sense will often guide what you should or should not be writing. The same goes for writing about injunctions (and supposed superinjunctions).

There are plenty of people who will happily disregard any constraints on what they can write on the internet. However, in this one regard - if no other - law bloggers should provide an example to follow.

Five: Be transparent

Conflicts of interest can affect anyone in legal blogging, not just practitioners promoting their practices. If on has a direct interest in the outcome of a case - or anything else - then either do not write about it or declare what your interest is.

So there you are, five principles, and nothing too controversial...

...thoughts welcome.


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FishNChipPapers said...

As a non-lawyer with an interest in the law who subscribes (and has unsubscribed from) a variety of law blogs I really appreciate a lack of legalese (terms like actus reus and mens rea without parenthese with a meaningful description) and bloggers who don't assume too much of the reader.

Clearly that depends on the target audience and I am not suggesting that it needs to be dumbed down. Linking, as you say, really helps - not just to cases but also to glossaries of legal terms, Wikipedia etc so the uninformed reader can become informed without detracting from the flow or putting off the informed reader. It can also help to link to mainstream press articles that provide a good summary of the issues to lead the non-legal reader in and provide some meaningful context for the legal content of the post.

Tom Kulik said...

Great points, David. As a practicing lawyer in the US, I endeavor to adhere to these points in my own blog with the hopes that every reader (lawyer AND non-lawyer) can enjoy my own perspectives and share their thoughts. Keep up the good work!

Tom Kulik