I'm one of the lucky bloggers Dan Solove asked to review his book The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. It's great, as I'll explain, so I hope he'll forgive me for starting this way: I'll remember something Dan said about his book longer than I'll remember any of the quotes in it. Responding to blogger James Grimmelman's criticism that the book could be more nuanced and resolved in its legal theory, Dan said this:
When I was writing this book, one of the greatest challenges was how to write in a way that appealed both to experts and to non-expert readers. How should I describe legal solutions in a way that law professors and lawyers would appreciate yet that lay people wouldn't find too complicated and detailed? How should I describe the blogosphere in a way that people unfamiliar with blogs and social network websites can understand yet at the same time not make seasoned bloggers groan? And how do I discuss solutions when there isn't any easy fix? . . . Unlike some of my other work, my primary goal for the book was to spark a debate and discussion, not to advance my own theories. I still do suggest ideas and solutions, but my central aim is to get people thinking, talking, and debating. This is a more modest goal compared to some of my other work, but I think it is still an important one, and I hope I have achieved it.
Important? To me it seems like part of a watershed, a moment in history. Law professors like him and law practitioners like me, actually wanting to talk to each other. As I read his tales of what the Internet has done -- from creepy fake dating profiles to worldwide "shaming" campaigns -- I kept remembering that this same Internet is what created this welcome dialogue.
The route list
I never set out to be unaware of legal scholarship. In my first weeks as a lawyer, I straightened my new desk, learned the buttons on the phone, and signed up for the "route list" for legal materials our law library subscribed to. Fresh out of law review and an editing stint for a respected professor, I figured any good lawyer needed to read law reviews, so I checked the box for every law review on the list. In the months that followed, my law review volumes came -- and sat unread.
I did try; I began lots of articles. Over and over, I set them aside because they had nothing to do with the work I was doing, or the work anybody else was doing. Critical legal studies peaked and faded, entirely off the radar screen for my colleagues and me. Whatever silliness I faced as a young woman lawyer in the early '80s -- and sometimes it was considerable -- seemed unrelated to feminist legal theory. Law professors and law practitioners had little to say to each other in those days.
It's all different now. The change isn't entirely caused by the Internet; the focus of legal scholarship itself seems to have shifted toward the practical. (So that, for example, the Empirical Legal Studies Blog could present this week "a particularly exciting example of how empirical legal scholarship can illuminate important matters about how the judicial system actually operates.")
But at least as important, as far as I can tell, is that blogging has changed the way lawyers and professors talk to each other. Practitioners hear from professors daily, not when the quarterly review comes out. Professors hear from practitioners, instead of just each other. And whenever either side posts, the other side chimes in with comments. It's a discussion.
And it's changing the way we see each other. Back in July, Scott Greenfield was explaining the differences between professor and practitioner bloggers ("They post about academic studies while we post about how young lawyers should never go to court wearing their underpants on the outside, no matter how cool they think it makes them look"). This week he could end a terrific post on the other side of the mortgage crisis with an airy, "H/T Volokh." Here at Deliberations, I have found myself in fascinated (at least on my end) conversation with Prof. Suja Thomas on whether dispositive motions really might be unconstitutional, and Prof. Laura Dooley on the pros and cons of a national jury pool.
The Future of Reputation
Into this talkative landscape comes Dan Solove, with The Future of Reputation and his vision of prompting discussion and debate. The book is born of the discussion, about it, and a cause of it, all at the same time.
More to follow.