THE INACTIVITY of Australian lawyers online could come down to their employer’s concern over just what they might write, claims the Australian blogger who hosted the weekly Blawg Review on World Internet Day.
Queensland university of Technology lecturer Peter Black, who teaches IP, legal regulation of the Internet and Australian Federal Constitutional Law, is an active blogger and online participant via his blog, Freedom to Differ.
Last week Black cemented his online presence by hosting Blawg Review — a weekly round-up of law-related blogs from the blogosphere and popular daily visit spot for internet-savvy lawyers and keen legal information junkies across the globe. Every week, a popular legal blogger is asked to host the review and although a handful of Australian and British bloggers have been granted the opportunity over the years, the review is typically dominated by Americans.
While Black noted that there are an extraordinary number of American legal blogs or “blawgs”, he said such online participation is severely lacking in Australia. “I think most Australian firms would be very nervous if their lawyers started blogging,” he said. “It seems to be more accepted in the US that lawyers working in firms are going to speak out publicly.”
In legal academic circles, Black puts a lack of activity online down to the culture of published materials. “The main reason we don’t have very many legal academics in Australia blogging is that it is not seen as a worthwhile or valuable pursuit on the part of our legal academics,” he said. “It’s very much the fact that you need your peer review journal articles to be recognised, to get promoted. The wider impact that blogging might have doesn’t seem to be as valuable.”
Black said he came across the Blawg Review after making contact with a large number of American legal bloggers through Facebook, Twitter and the like. Each week, the editor of the review asks a significant legal blogger to host the site, offering a wrap-up of blog content. Black was the first Australian to host, having done so on the Thanksgiving weekend of 2006, “because no Americans wanted to blog that weekend. That’s how I got into the system — I had to fill a gap.”
In needing to circumnavigate the blogosphere to produce the week’s review, the workload is severe. “In the week you are hosting, you do take an hour or two every day to read what’s out there,” he said.
It was the third time Black hosted the review, with the work this time coinciding with a significant online event; One Web Day 2008. For Black, the timing was particularly relevant, given his tendency to often discuss the merits of a strong and free internet online. One Web Day is an international initiative focussing on local internet concerns, the value of online information and issues of online participation, connectivity and censorship. Creator Professor Susan Crawford from the University of Michigan describes it as “Earth Day for the Internet”.