How blogs plug the legal drain

Last week I chaired a debate on the future of legal blogging, held at One Crown Office Row and featuring three excellent web commentators: David Allen Green of the Jack of Kent blog, Carl Gardner of the Head of Legal blog and Adam Wagner of the UK Human Rights Blog.

Although the debate was aimed at regular ­bloggers and tweeters, a large proportion of the ­discussion was devoted to the current state of reporting on the law. Covering big cases is
resource-heavy, and unpleasant economic realities have led to the broadsheet media largely exiting that arena. Although The Guardian and The Times maintain a commitment to regular reporting in the public law and human rights fields, what has become clear is that bloggers are filling an ever-increasing gap.

Some of the best work by the commentators on last week’s panel and elsewhere in the ­blogosphere is scrutinising the misreporting on the Human Rights Act in the mainstream media – mostly, on current evidence, in the Daily Mail. As you might imagine, they’ve found considerable meat recently in controversies such as votes for prisoners or the right of appeal against lifelong inclusion on the sex offenders register. I also like the UK Supreme Court blog, a joint venture between Olswang and Matrix Chambers, whose remit has been widening recently to other judicial stories; one of its most fascinating posts last week was on US research that suggests judges with daughters consistently vote in a more liberal ­fashion on gender issues than those without.

Still, there is an upside to the dearth of dedicated court reporting in the mainstream media. With so few specialists around to scrutinise the implications of major decisions, judgments are now often ­summarised and key paragraphs highlighted for the benefit of the lay reader. And the realisation that not every reader interested in the law is legally trained is certainly making those practitioners who blog very adept at explaining the issues.

As Wagner pointed out in last week’s debate, ­having to think about elucidating concepts without resorting to Latin tags makes you better at your day job. If the advent of legal blogging sharpens lawyers’ communication skills, then everyone benefits.;