Law Blogs Review #1:  21 October 2011

Why should you bother with legal blogging?  Why not just stick with the trade journals, case reports, Westlaw updates, free promotional emails, and any legal news in the newspapers?  Why add to the burden of reading?  Surely there is enough legal information?


Well, one reason why you should bother is that many law bloggers routinely provide insights and commentaries of a quality difficult to get elsewhere, and certainly not for free with immediate access to the screen of your computer, tablet, or mobile.  Another reason is that a good independent legal blogger can be, in the words of the Glanville Williams classic Learning the Law, your “Guide, Philosopher and Friend” in helping you navigate legal materials and tricky legal topics.  
Furthermore legal blogging is now in a particularly healthy state – see the magisterial survey by Charon QC here and here .  More individuals – lawyers, lecturers, and others – are becoming involved in writing and reading legal blogs.  And as blogs are not used for providing legal advice (and should not be), there is strictly no reason why it should be left only to legal professionals.  And not everyone wanting to read about legal issues is in want of advice on a particular matter; there is considerable general interest too.  Many news stories and social issues have a legal handle.

My favourite recent post, and so my “legal blogpost of the week”, is by Professor Richard Moorhead of Cardiff University.  Moorhead regularly produces posts which are thoughtful and thought-provoking about the activity of lawyering.  This week he wrote about the predicament of lawyer Julian Pike and his firm Farrer & Co in respect of statements made to a parliamentary select committee.

 Pike was reported as having said that “he hadn’t done very much” after he realised his client News International had misled parliament.   When asked why the firm did not drop News International as a client or tell the authorities about the extent of the criminal activity at the group, Pike is quoted as replying “we have obligations to the client we work for…I don’t think it’s caused me any professional embarrassment.”

But instead of simply decrying these statements, either with indignation or resignation, Moorhead uses the admissions as the basis for a fascinating and informative discussion of what Farrer actually should have done, with particular reference to the new solicitor code of conduct.  Moorhead is not unusual in providing such blogging for others to benefit from for free, but he is certainly one of the best and anyone interested in the practice of law should try and catch each one of his posts.

Another highly regarded blogger is “Lalland Peat Worrier”, the pseudonym of an insightful Scots lawyer.  In his (or her) excellent post on the sentencing of Stephen Birrell for offensive language on Facebook, Lalland Peat Worrier pulls together the legal and cultural elements which make this prosecution and punishment a matter for considerable concern.  (It is also curious that in reporting on such “internet speech” cases bloggers and journalists can simply repeat the offensive words on the internet which are the source of liability in the first place.)
A third highly regarded legal blogger writes under the pseudonym “Obiter J”.  She (or he) writes a regular blog and also blogs (and comments) elsewhere on an impressive range of legal topics in the news, invariably fully-sourced and properly linked.  And this week Obiter J gave us all a hand in understanding the appeal judgments concerning the summer riots. This is one area where legal blogging adds significant value to the internet browser interested in what is in the news.  Few busy people have time or inclination to study a complex judgment (which in any case are not easy reads to someone without a legal education).  
One form of popular legal blogging (which is the one I attempt to do here and elsewhere) is to take a developing news story and to apply a legal analysis to see whether the law or the legal process is being misrepresented.  I call these “Bad Law” stories, in homage to the “Bad Science” work of Ben Goldacre.  A nice example of this “Bad Law” form of blogging came this week from Paul McConville, who asks some hard questions of news reporting about Tommy Sheridan and the News of The World.

Correcting stories about media law brings us to the remarkable Inforrm Blog.  This site, the work of some eminent but as yet nameless media lawyers, provides an on-going and first-rate resource on press regulation and privacy law matters (though it does sadly err on libel law, which it bizarrely regards as not in need of any substantive reform).  Recently Inforrm posted not only a useful guide to the major speech of the Lord Chief Justice, there was also a couple of important posts on the Trafigura matter – here

and here. Trafigura is a case more misreported about than actually understood, though one suspects that only Nigel Tait and his partners at Carter-Ruck will share all the contentions in his extraordinary post.

And finally, here is one of my favourite legal bloggers, family law barrister Lucy Reed, wondering who is smashing up the courts in Bristol.

David Allen Green is media correspondent of The Lawyer.  His personal blog Jack of Kent was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2010. He is also legal correspondent of the New Statesman.