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Blogging or Tweeting, lawyers and profs stay on top of issues

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By Chuck Crumbo
Published Sept. 25, 2015
(From Aug. 31 issue of Columbia Regional Business Report)

Logging onto Twitter offers Seth Stoughton an opportunity to descend from the “ivory tower of academia” and connect with the public on the latest legal issues involving police work.

seth stoughton law blog 9-25 web
University of South Carolina School of Law professor Seth Stoughton started tweeting from his @PoliceLawProf account in summer of 2014. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)
Colin Miller, who took up blogging about three years ago, recently was recognized by editors of the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal as authoring one of the top 100 legal blogs in the United States.

And Derek Black believes commenting on legal issues affecting education is a public service.

All three are professors at the University of South Carolina School of Law who regularly blog or, in Stoughton’s case, tweet on issues in the areas of legal interest.

Blogging or tweeting, sometimes called microblogging, has been a tool that both lawyers and law professors have used over the years to keep abreast of the rapidly changing legal arena.

However, the number of bloggers among lawyers is relatively small. The American Bar Association’s 2014 Legal Technology Report found that while blogs can be effective tools for law firms, the percentage of firms maintaining a blog dropped to 23.9%, down from 26.9% in 2013.

The challenge for both practicing attorneys and professors is finding the time to blog.

“It’s not in lieu of other work,” said Black, whose area of expertise includes education law and policy, constitutional law, civil rights, evidence and torts. “It’s really sort of an extra thing. I don’t write fewer books or articles and I don’t think I should. It’s not scholarship, it’s commentary.”

Rob Tyson, a partner with Sowell Gray, said he finds time to blog when he isn’t working on deadline of current caseload.

“As defense attorneys, we generally bill on an hourly basis so time not spent ‘billing’ is precious,” Tyson said.

Still there are advantages to keeping up with a blog, Tyson said.

“Blogging allows one’s readership to see my knowledge and expertise on a particular topic,” Tyson said. “I follow certain blogs which I know to be reliable and up to date. I’d like others to say the same about our blogs.

“Our blog tries to describe recent opinions to keep the readers up to date,” he added. “However, we try not to just regurgitate the opinions but give some analysis so that the reader finds it informative and helpful.”

Joining the public conversation

Stoughton, whose Twitter handle is @PoliceLawProf, started Tweeting on police law issues early in the summer of 2014. Within weeks, he gained hundreds of followers after a white police officer shot to death an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo.

“My interest in microblogging is being a part of a broader public conversation,” said Stoughton, a former Tallahassee, Fla., police officer and criminal investigator. “It didn’t start with Ferguson, but Ferguson certainly made it clear how imperative it was for academics and other non-traditional users of social media be involved in these public conversations.”

A few months after Ferguson, Stoughton’s “Warrior” Problem essay, reflecting on the today’s growing mindset in law enforcement circles that a police officer is more of a combatant than a peace officer was published on the Harvard Law Review Forum. The article later appeared in a number of national publications and Stoughton has contributed commentaries to the New York Times “Room for Debate” feature on the op-ed page.

“As a professor I just can’t stand behind the podium and wait for everyone interested to file into my classroom and then engage the classroom,” Stoughton said. “Microblogging is much more interactive. It gives me a platform to put my ideas out there.”

Miller said he likes to blog because of the immediacy of the electronic media. He can post an entry about a U.S. Supreme Court decision and within minutes get feedback from readers.

“After a few more hours, I might get feedback from readers either agreeing or disagreeing with my opinion,” Miller said.

Editors of the ABA Journal selected Miller’s “EvidenceProf Blog” for their annual Blawg 100 list. They cited “his savvy on the latest rulings regarding the admissibility of evidence in criminal cases, what lines in questioning should be permitted at criminal trials or differences between federal and state rules of evidence,” according to a press release. The editors also liked that Miller isn’t afraid to comment on court case outcomes or point out “fishy behavior by prosecutors.”

Keeping up with a blog

To build readership, one must blog frequently. Black said he makes blogging part of his daily routine, writing first thing in the morning when most people are likely to be scrolling through blogs.

Stoughton, who frequently works from a stand-up desk in his Law School office while jogging on a treadmill, also makes it a point to microblog regularly, sometimes several times a day. In a little over a year’s time, Stoughton has tweeted more than 3,000 times.

While anyone with a computer and internet access can go straight to the source such as the Supreme Court of the United States to read an opinion, there’s still a need for lawyers to blog or tweet, and comment on the rulings and court proceedings.

“To me, being a good lawyer is being a good legal citizen,” Stoughton said. “That means letting people know what the law is.”

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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