This time last year – together with political journalist Gaby Hinsliff – I read through over 2000 blogposts for the George Orwell political blogging prize. Some were great, many were dire, and their overall content varied from a detailed multi-part exposition of anarcho-syndicalism to a memorable post by wonderful Humphrey Cushion of her wearing the national costume of each European country.
This year’s judges – victims – are the journalist Suzanne Moore and the blogger Hopi Sen. The shortlist is announced this coming week and as there are three “legal” bloggers on the longlist (me, my friend the awesome Milly Bancroft, and the author of the outstanding Rangers Tax Case blog), there is a good chance that at least one legal blogger will be on the shortlist.
Hopi Sen has now written a post on what he has learned from judging the Orwell blogging prize. (Never to judge another one is the best lesson from my own experience.)
In that post he writes:
“Of those that didn’t make the long list, I can immediately think of a lawyer, a benefit claimant, an anarchist, economists, scientists, an accountant, a porn actress. Indeed, It felt like we could easily have listed a half dozen law blogs alone. (Indeed, the standard of writing among lawyers seems to be noticeably high. There should be a specific prize for good legal writing online.)”
One perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that many lawyers write well online. After all, like journalists, lawyers write for a living. And in doing so lawyers have to use words as precisely as a programmer uses code or a mathematician uses numbers.
(I once said to a Carter-Ruck partner that it was a pity more lawyers did not blog given they can write so well. ”Some of us have client work, dear boy” was his crushing response.)
So should there be a legal blogging prize?
Some would say no. My friend Mike Semple Pigot (Charon QC, the doyen of legal bloggers) would say good legal blogging is its own reward and competitions are pointless exercises in vanity and self-promotion.
He is probably right.
But then again, blogging itself is often an exercise in vanity and self-promotion. Nobody asks us to inflict our thoughts on the world, though we do so anyway.
So if there could be a legal blogging prize, what form should it take?
Should it be based on votes? Or should it be the result of a judging exercise? If the latter, what should be the criteria? And who should be the judges? (I suspect all legal bloggers are frustrated judges.)
I would suggest that an open definition of “legal” be adopted, and that bloggers should either nominate themselves or accept (or refuse) their nomination by others.
I would also suggest there be a judging panel, of (say) a blogger, a journalist, and a practising lawyer.
There could also be a separate prize for best blogpost.
So if there is to be a prize, what name should it have?
I asked this on Twitter yesterday.
Some said it should be named after Denning, undeniably a great legal communicator (though one liked more by academics and students than anyone who has to actually advise on the law in practical situations). Unfortunately, however, Denning made a number of very ill-conceived (ie, barking) comments at the end of his career and is perhaps not acceptable.
Others suggested Rumpole – or even his creator John Mortimer himself (suggested by Padraig Reidy). That could perhaps be a good choice and it may be worth contacting the John Mortimer estate to see if they could give their approval.
My own preference would be to name it after some great legal pamphleteer. There are many famous pamphleteers, from Paine to Cobbett, though few had any significant legal background. However, the historian Caroline Dodds Pennock suggested William Prynne:
“What about William Prynne, who continued to critique the establishment even after having his ears cut off. He was a prolific writer, lawyer and pamphleteer, who didn’t stop even when branded SL on his cheeks for ‘seditious libeller’…”
Or perhaps it could be named after a famous court reporter or commentator. Greg Callus suggested: “Maybe TIRO (after Marcus Tullius Tiro) or Henri de BRACTON (early court reporters)”. On a similar basis, Kevin Underhill suggested Blackstone. Carl Gardner made a case for pioneering court reporters John Tracy Atkyns and John Aleyn.
Or perhaps it should be named after a judge. David Banks suggested Sir Tasker Watkins VC:
“Could I suggest ‘The Taskers’ after Sir Tasker Watkins VC LJ – a defender of press freedom to report the courts who if he were sitting would not doubt be upholding freedom of bloggers and tweeters to report the legal system . A legal hero, a war hero, and if that were not enough, he was Welsh as well. Plus winning “A Tasker” has quite a ring to it.”
And others suggested the much-missed Lord Bingham, whose concise and highly readable (though, to me, wrong-headed) book, The Rule of Law won the Orwell Prize itself in the books category last year.
So, what do you think?
Should there be a legal blogging prize?
If so, how should be arranged?
And after who – or what – should it be named?
Comments are pre-moderated. No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters. Other comments published at my absolute discretion.