14 Jan Opinio Juris and the Not-So-Invisible College of International Law
When Chris, Julian and I started our modest “conversation” about international law ten year ago, we were not universally praised. Nor were we instantly accepted. Who did we think we were, we pre-tenure punks just starting out in this field? And what were people to make of this short-form, internet-based content? As Chris noted, we really didn’t know what we were doing or where things were going. (In fact, I distinctly remember admiring Roger for his confidence that we were on the right track and that this blogging thing would have legs!) What Chris, Julian and I did recognize, from the very first days and weeks of the blog, was that we were creating a community. And that mattered.
When we started, international law was, and on many U.S. law faculties still is, a “niche” area (which is just a polite way of saying that many U.S. law professors find international law esoteric at best, and irrelevant or dangerous at worst). As Peter rightly notes, international law has mostly “made it.” But a decade ago, at many U.S. law schools there was just one “internationalist” professor who carried the load of both public and private international law courses. Long before Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In, Opinio Juris became a “connector” for many of us “lone wolf” international law professors scattered throughout the U.S. Through Opinio Juris we got to know scholars around the U.S. and the globe – friendships and collaborations that existed through the comments section, through email relationships, and, on occasion, an offer or invitation to guest blog. Along the way, we upended what the late Oscar Schachter referred to as the “invisible college” of international law. As part of the broader trend of flattening and democratizing the marketplace of academic and policy ideas that technology has made possible, OJ has contributed to making the invisible college not only visible, but accessible. In 2005, there was almost no other place for a grad or law student to join a comment thread that included professors and government practitioners. There was almost no other place for a student or junior scholar to have a short opinion essay placed – with almost no time lag and a relatively light editorial hand — to be read by the world.
Our very long list of guest bloggers includes many names that have gone on to found their own international law blogs – some of which endured, some of which morphed into other entities, all of which enriched the conversation and expanded the community. We always welcomed and supported the emergence of the new blogs because they brought even more voices to the discussion and added structures within this virtual college of international law scholars. We also partnered with student-edited international law journals to host discussions of articles published in the “old media” as a way of linking slower paced student-edited scholarship to a timely online discussion with multiple commentators. And it has been wonderful to see some of those student editors join us in the academy in the interim years. Perhaps most surprisingly, our community grew to include government lawyers and diplomats on the front line of vitally important policy and legal questions.
Ten years is a long time in any “start up.” But as Opinio Juris enters its mature years, my hope is that the OJ community of contributors, readers, commentators and guests continues to grow in a spirit of dialogue, collaboration and fellowship.