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The revival of legal blogging

Most lawyers prefer to explain the law to their own clients rather than to the world in general. Such an approach is short-sighted, writes David Allen Green

1 February 2016

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About two or three years ago it seemed legal blogging had gone as far as it could. There were many good legal bloggers - some outstanding ones - but legal blogging had not really taken off, at least among practitioners. It instead appeared to be a medium dominated by academics, other non-practitioners, barristers towards the start of their careers, or by solicitors with too much time on their hands.

This was a pity, as blogging is a wonderful way to explain law to a wider audience. Of course, there is no shortage of ways of writing about law, from notices and reviews to case summaries statutes, contracts and pleadings, which are the very stuff of the subject.

But blogging offered something new: it could be done quickly in response to emerging events, there was no need for print deadlines or word counts, and you could link to the sources on which you were relying. It was like pamphleteering with electronic footnotes. And there were hundreds of informed people ready to correct any errors; there was instant peer review. It was, therefore, a means of communication perfect for law, and for the promotion of the public understanding of law - especially as BAILII and developed their online presence.

The problem was that too few practising lawyers were taking advantage of the form. And this is still the case among solicitors. There are only a handful of solicitors who blog - or indeed tweet - with large follower numbers. Some might say this is due to the type of people who become solicitors, but I suspect it is more to do with rigid social media policies, risk-averse partners, and over-powerful 'comms' departments. A junior solicitor at a large City firm would be unlikely to be able to blog, even if she or he wanted to do so.

But the Bar has been different, and here there seems to be not only a revival of legal blogging but a move of the medium on to a higher level. Two posts for me stick out in particular. The first was Colin Yeo's magnificent and delightful piece on Paddington Bear and immigration law; the second was Jolyon Maugham's scathing attack on the 'boys who don't say no' at the tax Bar. Neither post would have worked in any other form other than as a blog, nor could either post have explained the law better.

Alongside such posts, 'barrister blogger' Matthew Scott has gone from strength to greater strength, and he is now one of the best bloggers on any subject, let alone the law. And this is not just my opinion: he was recently awarded Independent Blogger of the Year' at the Comment Awards.

Another busy practising barrister, Lucy Reed, continues to write an outstanding family law blog, and Adam Wagner, one of the public law Bar's rising stars, has taken his UK human rights blog and public-facing human rights information site, RightsInfo, into the centre of debate on the future of human rights. These are not barristers with too much time on their hands but those who provide brilliant material to the public in addition to their day job.

Both Lucy Reed and Adam Wagner seem to be successful at the Bar because of their work on explaining the law to the public, and not despite it.

More recently has come the emergence of another great legal blogger, though perhaps a surprising one. The former Court of Appeal judge Sir Henry Brooke has taken quickly to the medium, producing post after post with insights into law in action, discussing cases with which he was involved and to observations on what is going on now. I would not be surprised if he follows Matthew Scott in winning awards.

Legal blogging by those who understand how the law works in practice is welcome, especially (with the exception of Joshua Rozenberg) where there seems to be ever-fewer experienced legal journalists in the mainstream media able to explain legal matters.

But legal blogging by practitioners with the most to offer is still a rarity - an eccentricity in any barristers' chambers, where there is 'always one' that does something a bit odd. Most lawyers prefer to explain the law to their own clients rather than to the world in general. Such an approach is short-sighted.

One of the problems the legal profession faces - as the front page of any tabloid will tell you - is that the public can have a dim view of law and lawyers. The more lawyers take the time to explain the law to the public the better informed the public debate on legal matters will be, and blogging, with its flexibility and ability to link to materials, is an incomparable way of doing this.

David Allen Green is a solicitor at Preiskel & Co and writes the Jack of Kent legal blog