How the Legal Blogosphere Has Changed After Ten Years of Opinio Juris
I want to mark our Opinio Juris anniversary with some musings on how the legal blogosphere has changed in the decade since Chris, Peggy, and I launched this site. When we began, there was already a pretty robust universe of legal blogs. But law blogs were still pretty much hobbies rather than serious professional publications. Chris, Peggy and I were writing for each other and our friends,and the blog may have seemed more like a convenient forum for long-distance communication.
In the early days, it was enough to simply link to stories and articles in corners of the internet that most mainstream papers wouldn’t have noticed. I remember linking to reports of Iraq’s accession to the ICC, way before most news media reported on it. I developed an early ongoing obsession with the legal battle over Japan’s whaling practices, way before reality TV and the ICJ case made it mainstream news. Sometimes, we would take random shots at celebrities for their lack of understanding of international legal issues but mostly just to try to get attention. I challenged Angelina Jolie, for instance, to rethink her support for international criminal justice (and I have some reliable sources tell me she actually read the post at some point). I think Opinio Juris still can serve an important news function for specialized stories most people don’t care about, although much of that has been taken over by our fabulous Twitter account.
Blogs today, especially law blogs, have become much more professional and serious. The great advantage of law blogs is that they provide a way for detailed legal analysis to reach the public and policy-making worlds directly and immediately. A judge at the International Court of Justice,an attorney-adviser in the U.S. State or Justice Department, and a journalist can find useful detailed legal analysis with very little effort (and all have at various points). Journalists in particular can and have used law blogs as a quick and dirty way to canvass expert opinion on whatever legal issue their stories are intersecting. For instance, a recent Vox explainer was able to draw on our blog and others to discuss the legality of military action in Syria. Law blogs are surprisingly important and influential, and I could not have predicted that in 2005.
For academics like us, Opinio Juris is a way for us to apply our professional analysis to current events in a way that was simply not possible before law blogs. To be sure, some of our analysis was incorrect or mistaken (I managed to declare various ICJ judges dead when they were very much alive), but much of it became part of the larger public conversation. For me, the blog has always challenged me to link my academic ideas to real-world events, and I am always grateful for that outlet.
I am also grateful that non-American readers continue to find our musings useful and interesting. We remain a resolutely Americanist/ America-centered blog, but I think that actually is part of our utility to non-American readers. We offer a certain perspective of what American academics think about international legal issues, and a particular insight into U.S.-law-heavy topics that impact the world (like the war on terrorism and the Alien Tort Statute).
But at the heart of the blog, and what continues to motivate me to write, is the chance to “talk” with my co-bloggers, guest-bloggers, and readers about things that my neighbors (or even my colleagues) find tedious or boring or over-technical. I am curious about the world, and I cherish the existence of an online community to share this exploration with. Thanks for reading, and I hope continuing to read, for the next decade (at least!).