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ABA Journal Blawg 100: Where the Hell Are the Womens' Blawgs? (UPDATED)

ABA Journal Blawg 100Image by insidetwit via Flickr

Once again, the ABA Journal's Blawg 100 popularity contest has failed abysmally to include a fair cross spectrum of legal blogs. I've been silent for years on this issue, but this year, I've had enough. It's been a while since I wrote about women and blawgging, and I figure it's high time I addressed the issue once more.

Of the 100 blawgs nominated by the ABA staff as "the best and brightest law bloggers in a variety of categories," perhaps 10% are written by women.

Now one might think that there is a dearth of women attorneys blogging, but that's simply not the case. There are plenty of high quality blawgs written by women attorneys. But, for some reason, those blogs are largely ignored by the ABA Journal and other blog popularity contests.

For now, let's address the "legal tech" category, since technology blogs tend to be dominated by men. So one can only assume that if there are women lawyers blogging about tech, there are certainly a higher percentage of women authoring blogs that fall under the other Blawg 100 categories.

Of those 9 blawgs featured in the legal tech category, only one is authored by a woman: Sharon Nelson's blog, Ride the Lightening.

Are there other fabulous legal tech blawgs written by women that are largely ignored? You bet there are! Here are just a few of them:

There are plenty of well written, interesting law blogs written by women. They're just not getting the attention they deserve.

I'm tired of the ABA's tendency to focus on many of the same blawgs every year--and their absolute failure to include a comparable percentage of high quality blawgs written by women. It's troubling, to say the least.

(***Edited to tone down my rhetoric;)).

UPDATE #2

Martha Sperry has a great follow up post on this issue here.

UPDATE:

As I've mentioned in the past, blogging is changing and much of the discussion about blog posts occurs on other social media platforms and that was certainly the case with this post. Although there are a number of great comments below, there were also some great conversations and comments on Facebook and Twitter that merit inclusion in this blog post.

First, a number of people pointed out that they have been involved with the ABA's selection process (or know those involved) (Reginald F. Davis (@recessguy), Bob Ambrogi (@bobambrogi)), that many women participate in the process (Lisa Solomon (@lisasolomon)) and/or that they've seen no evidence of bias.

Others questioned my methodology which was arguably off the cuff and not exactly scientific, since I simply estimated numbers based on a cursory review of the nominees. Others pointed out that I failed to take into account the group blogs that were nominated and included women bloggers (Molly McDonough (@Molly_Mcdonough)). Finally, others suggested that there simply weren't enough women bloggers for there to be a 50/50 split or even a ratio close to that. Kelly Phillips Erb (@taxgirl) suggested (on Facebook) that another causative factor could be that male bloggers were better at promoting themselves.

In response, I noted that I considered the group blogs to be a wash since in general, there were still more male bloggers than women bloggers on most group blogs. My co-author, Carolyn Elefant(@carolynelefant), expressed a similar idea in a Facebook discussion about my post, stating that although there were "a large number of group blogs and professional blogs - like the BLT, blogwatch and other ALM blogs...it is very different blogging as an individual."

And if you exclude the group blogs, you're still looking at approximately a 90/10 split in favor of male bloggers. Secondly, I don't think a  50/50 split is necessary, but the ~90/10 split is disturbing and evidence of an unconscious bias (I'm certainly not alleging that there was intentional bias--I want to make that very clear). Or, as Bob Ambrogi noted on Twitter in a very diplomatic manner, if nothing else,  "the list shortchanges women."

Finally, I noted, along with a number of other people, that women, along with men, express an unconscious bias against other women without realizing it.

Jim Milles (@jimmilles) explained this quite eloquently on Twitter: "Women bloggers could easily internalize biases that tend to favor male bloggers as more authoritative." And Robert Richards (@Richards1000) cited a law review article that supported this theory: "Audrey Lee collects the cases & scholarship: http://bit.ly/gzPKj0 Unconscious Bias Theory in Employment Discrimination Litigation."

A related issue that was raised by my co-author, Carolyn Elefant, on Facebook was the lack of women speakers at many conferences. Carolyn stated: "Same on the speaker circuit. How many women lawyers are giving plenaries at the big conferences or even the solo shows? I did 3 plenaries this year and I was the only woman I've ever heard."

However, this issue was also discussed on Twitter, with Stephanie West Allen (@idealwg) noting that she'd never experienced that type of bias at all during her 25+ years speaking.

Finally, a number of people noted the lack of overall diversity in the selected blawgs, including Carolyn Elefant on Facebook (ethnic and racial diversity), and Andrew Weber (@atweber referring to government blawgs) and Ruth Carter (@rbcarter referring to student blawgs).

The bottom line: it's not a simple issue. In fact, some would call it a non-issue and claim the disparity has nothing to do with bias.Others, like myself, disagree.

I'm not sure who's right, but I do know that raising the issue elicited some really interesting discussion and it was beneficial for that reason alone.

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Comments

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bl1y

"Now one might think that there is a dearth of women attorneys blogging, but that's simply not the case. There are plenty of high quality blawgs written by women attorneys."

What percentage of the blawgs in the ABA directory are written by women?

"Plenty" is a relevant number only if the ABA Journal started with a quota of female bloggers to include. Percentage is what counts. If there were 300 law blogs written by women, hey, they'd look like a lot. But, it'd also only represent 10% of the law blogs in the directory, which means women are proportionately represented in the Blawg 100.

Carolyn Elefant

Also, Kimberly Kralowec - she has been blogging forever - almost 8 years at the Unfair Competition Law Blog. I know that it's a narrow niche but I would love to see her get some recognition http://www.uclpractitioner.com/ Great blogging is not only about sensationalism. Great content, year in and year out deserves some notice too.

twitter.com/CJMcKinney

While the blogs you list certainly should be on anyone's must read list, I wouldn't worry too much about this issue as the ABA became completely irrelevant years ago. If it weren't for bloggers who make the list linking back to it, I doubt anyone would ever visit the ABA's website at all. If it makes you feel any better, I didn't make the list either. Guess I didn't retweet enough ABA twitter posts last year.

Neil J. Squillante

Nice commentary Niki. Although TechnoLawyer Blog won the Blawg 100's Legal Tech category the past two consecutive years, the ABA mysteriously omitted us this year. I say mysteriously because unlike US News and others, the ABA does not publish the criteria by which it selects the Blawg 100. Anyway, regarding your Post, our blog has several female columnists that also merit recognition -- Marin Feldman, Liz Kurtz, Legal Tease, Yvonne Renfrew, and Allison Shields. You can find their excellent work at these links:

http://blog.technolawyer.com/biglaw
http://blog.technolawyer.com/smalllaw

Neil J. Squillante

CJMcKinney, you're mistaken. Although a lot of people seem to have a beef with the ABA Journal, make no mistake about it -- it has an enormous online readership. Its Web site and underlying content management system are first-rate as are many of its reporters. That said, does the Blawg 100 merit criticism? Yes. The ABA Journal should disclose how it chooses the 100 finalists. I assume there's a formula of some sort.

bl1y

"I don't think a 50/50 split is necessary, but the ~90/10 split is disturbing and evidence of an unconscious bias"

Again, only true if you first establish what the gender split in the pool of nominees was. You spend a lot of time in idea land, but haven't done the underlying fact gathering needed to support your claim. I think you owe it to the editors at the ABA Journal to take an hour or two to make sure you have the facts before you start accusing people of bias. Someone who has worked as a public defender should know better.

As for the lack of women speakers at some conferences, part of the problem may be the many conferences that are directed at women (such as the Audrey-Beth Fitch Women’s Studies Conference). I assume that most people have limited resources when it comes to being a conference panelist; they may be restricted by the time it takes to write and participate, may not have the resources to jet around from city to city, or may just get burned out writing papers all the time. Creating conferences and panels specifically for women may (inadvertently) keep them from the co-ed events.

Neil J. Squillante

bl1y, I agree that serious criticism of gender bias requires statistical research. But how do you feel about the fact that the ABA Journal does not disclose its selection criteria? Also, on a slightly lighter note, what's up with all the bizarre categories like IMHO and Niche? Why is there no "Marketing" category? We have an entire section in our BlawgWorld newsletter in which we link to Posts by marketing blawgs. Why is there no Litigation or eDiscovery category? That's where Bow Tie and Ride the Lightning belong and several others. Half of all lawyers are litigators after all. If I won an award for IMHO, I'm not sure I would promote it because what exactly does it mean? Awards should be named for a recognizable achievement using a generic term (e.g., best actress).

bl1y

Neil,

They do disclose their selection criteria. The list is their "favorites," which I assume means the criteria is that they like the blog. And remember, we're talking about an honor that comes with no real prize other than a short spike in traffic.

The reason that there aren't categories like marketing and eDiscovery is that it's a list of favorite blogs. Some of them might be useful and very informative, but that's not the making for a good favorite. Imagine if you were to make a list of your 100 favorite books. You'd probably have categories like British Classics, Americana, Mystery/Detective, Biography, Humor, and SciFi/Fantasy. Doubtful there would be a Grammar/Reference category, no matter how great Elements of Style is.

By the way, there are litigation blogs on the list. For instance, I imagine most of the things discussed in the Torts, Criminal Justice, and Court Watch categories are litigation oriented. A separate litigation category may have been redundant; but none of the categories, so far as I can tell, are aimed at corporate/deals issues. Also, The Namby Pamby and That's What She Said (both in the For Fun category) are litigation oriented.

Neil J. Squillante

bl1y, while you and I may understand the jockeying that takes place behind the scenes of all awards-- and this includes "prestigious" awards like Nobel and Pulitzer -- most people who see an award are impressed and don't bother researching how the sausage was made so to speak. Thus, awards are powerful marketing tools. They have value far beyond "a short spike in traffic," especially for commercial publications.

Regarding the more important point, the ABA Journal has not disclosed its criteria. Its three sentences about choosing favorites does not provide any insight into the process. For example, did they sit around a conference room for an hour or did they meet every week for a year? Did they take votes? If so, who voted? Etc. While I have my doubts, I hope the the ABA Journal used a process like the following:

  • An objective data score based on statistics as number of Posts, comment activity, Twitter mentions, links from other blogs, PageRank, unique page views, RSS subscribers, previous Blawg 100 victories/votes, years of operation, etc.
  • A subjective quality score based on the curriculum vitae/expertise of the blogger(s), quality of the Posts, originality of the topics, style and copy editing, art direction, etc.
  • A weighted formula into which they placed the objective data score and the subjective quality score. The top 100 scores = the Blawg 100.

There is another -- and in my opinion -- superior option that requires less work. Forget about choosing the top 100, which is bound to draw criticism even with transparency. Instead, simply make every blog in the ABA's database eligible and let the voters decide. With this method, the ABA Journal escapes criticism and receives much more traffic and registrants thanks to 3,000+ blogs seeking votes rather than just 100. And if the ABA Journal wants a Blawg 100 for its print magazine, it can have that as well -- the top 100 vote getters.

Finally, you unwittingly reinforced my point about the existing categories by noting that several litigation blogs are scattered across different categories rather than grouped in a single Litigation category.

bl1y

Neil,

We may disagree as to what counts as a disclosure, but I think "we picked our favorites" means the editorial board of the ABA Journal reached some sort of informal consensus based on their subjective preferences. The purpose of the Blawg 100 is to feature the blogs they like; the voting is just there to increase interest (outside of politics, Americans really love anything they get to vote on).

The ABA Journal features attorneys, firms, websites, and services in every edition, and I don't think they ever disclose their criteria for selecting article topics.

Remember, this isn't a judicial panel, or some federal administrative body. It's the ABA Journal. On a scale for how much things matter, going from Arsenic-based life (near the top) to the points on Who's Line is it Anyways (at the bottom), the ABA Blawg 100 is somewhere between the Mississippi State - Ole Miss game this year, and The Situation's lasagna recipe.

And yes, while there is no one litigation category, why does that matter? There are three! Would it have somehow been better to lump them all under a more generic litigation heading? It's like complaining that there's not a 1L Litigation class, despite contracts, torts, civil procedure, criminal law, property, and con law all pretty much being litigation oriented.

Next we're probably going to be hearing complaints about how the Sorting Hat didn't explain it's decision to place Hermione Granger and Neville Longbottom in Gryffindor rather than Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, respectively.

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