Remember all the talk about “disintermediation” during the dot-com boom? It means that the Web allows producers to connect directly with consumers and eliminate intermediaries. It may be back as potential threat to legal publishers. 

In Law Professor’s Web Log is Jurists’ Must-Read, the Wall Street Journal reports today (7/19/04, p. B1) that law professor Douglas Berman’s web log (blog) on the Blakely decision concerning sentencing guidelines has become the “go-to” source for up-to-date information on that decision and its ramifications. Though blogs are “small fry” compared to commercial sites, the article points out that for niche interests like Blakely, blogs can be a “must-read for the particular community interested in every bit and piece related to the subject at hand.”

What if many lawyers – whether professors or partners at large firms – started blogs on their own niche specialties? The bloggers could use both the Web and commercial services to find the most current decisions (or legislative action or other legally significant action) and post both “raw material” and their learned interpretation and comments. Since most of the raw material of law is government created, copyright would not seem to be an issue. So bloggers can (and Prof. Berman does) post cases and other materials of interest. A well-maintained blog can become both a running commentary on the latest developments and a searchable repository of source materials.

For lawyers doing research, turning to certain blogs would be like turning to treatises or monographs – authoritative and comprehensive treatments of niche areas, only constantly updated. Of course, there is always the issue of validation of the material, but in many instances, the reputation of the blogger would probably suffice.

With enough high quality, niche legal blogs, legal publishers could, at least on the margin, lose some usage. But there are potential business opportunities as well. Having a reliable, central directory of all the niche blogs would be valuable to legal researchers. Fees and/or advertising might sustain such a service. It would probably also make sense for that central service to provide services to the bloggers as well. One example would be the sale of advertising. It strikes me that advertisers would be more willing to pay for placement across multiple blogs than paying for one at a time.

As a dot-com casualty myself, I recognize that it’s one thing to outline this vision, another to make it happen profitably. But it seems to me that focused legal blogs have the same potential to shake-up today’s legal research as computer-aided legal research eventually had on traditional print research.