Adam Liptak’s criticism of law review articles, in this New York Times piece, drew a lot of attention–garnering support and criticism from various academics and legal pundits. Regardless of whether his overall critique is accurate (and what it might mean to legal scholars), one conclusion is undoubtedly true:
[The] ordinary reader looking for accessible and timely accounts or critiques of legal developments is much better off turning to the many excellent law blogs.
The proliferation of legal blogs and websites across the internet can connect individuals to timely information and answers in a way that was simply unimaginable a few decades ago. To be sure, there is a lot of junk on the internet. But individuals are more knowledgeable about their specific rights and responsibilities and the applicable laws than they were when only law reviews were an option. Moreover, these resources promote a better civic understanding.
Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning two caveats, among many, to legal information found online.
First, legal blogs and online articles don’t replace the need for an attorney; rather, they can be helpful in providing understanding of the law and in directing a client to an experienced attorney in a relevant field. Clients that rely solely on online information often have an incomplete, out-of-date, or simply incorrect understanding of the law and how it applies to their situation.
Consider WebMD as analogy: it may provide you with informative details about an ailment, but it does not prepare you to conduct a medical operation. It would be foolish and dangerous to conduct your own appendectomy (even if WebMD tells you that you have appendicitis); similarly it would be foolish and costly to defend your self at trial or initiate a lawsuit without an attorney (even if a legal blog made you more knowledgeable about a legal issue).
Second, the “ordinary reader … turning to the many excellent law blogs” should ensure that the blog is indeed excellent. As is human nature, individuals look for confirmation of what they want to hear by searching the internet until they find a blog or article that seems to support their position. Sometimes this “answer” is not in a reputable or dependable blog. This can be misleading and it can lead to disastrous legal results. So before you research legal issues, research blogs to find respected, quality sources.
Finally, regardless of whether you turn to law review articles or excellent legal blogs for general legal information, always consult with an experienced attorney to discuss your specific legal needs before acting on this newly-gained legal information.