2009 Archive

‘Legal Planet’ Successfully Orbiting the Blogosphere

By Andrew Cohen

Professor of Law Dan Farber offers strong evidence that Legal Planet, an environmental blog launched jointly by Berkeley Law and UCLA Law School faculty, has soared well beyond early expectations.

“We’ve received more than 63,000 views since starting up in March,” says Farber, who created Legal Planet with UCLA law professor Ann Carlson. “That’s an awful lot compared to the average number of people who read a law review article.”

Farber—the director of Berkeley Law’s environmental law program—and Carlson crafted the blog to appeal to a general audience. He says the informal blog-writing style provides a welcome paradigm shift for participating legal scholars: “It’s nice not to fill 50 pages about something and dress it up with 300 footnotes every time you have an idea. To my mind, this kind of writing is closer to public outreach and teaching than traditional scholarship.”
In addition to Farber, Berkeley Law’s Legal Planet contributors include faculty members Richard Frank, Holly Doremus, Steven Weissman, and Eric Biber—who bring strong expertise to bear on the legal consequences of climate change, energy issues, and environmental law and policy. They generally stick to their area of scholarly interest, but have leeway to weigh in on current news and hot environmental topics.

Farber also credits Areca Sampson—Legal Planet’s webmaster and administrator of the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment—as the blog’s “marketing and electronics guru” and “moving force” behind much of its success.

The contributors may be renowned academics, but they’re still learning about life in the blogosphere. While certain posts are predictably popular—such as a legal analysis of breaking news or a take on climate change’s effect on polar bears—others can be surprising. “Sometimes it’s a great photo that sparks interest and generates hits,” says Farber, “and sometimes one of us has simply annoyed a group of readers.”

Legal Planet is starting to get attention—and links—from other sites. Established news and environmental blogs have republished Legal Planet’s posts, and Congressional Quarterly recently asked Farber to submit an entry on the cost of climate change legislation.

“We've been able to present views that are diverse but reflect the best thinking of legal scholars on advancing the public interest,” he says. “So while it’s not just a hodge-podge of different voices, it’s also not everyone monotonously thinking and saying the same thing.”