Congratulations to Walter Olson, whose popular blog on reforming the American civil justice system, Overlawyered, turns 20 today.
The blog, which Olson notes is “often named the oldest law blog,” published its first post on July 1, 1999. I’m not sure about the “often named” part of his comment, but I do know that I once named Olson first in a post back in 2007, Who Was the First Legal Blogger?
The spur for my 2007 post was a Wall Street Journal article noting the 10th anniversary of the birth of blogging. While conceding that dating the first blog and first blogger are “imperfect exercises,” WSJ writer Tunku Varadarajan credited Jorn Barger, who started the site Robot Wisdom in July 1997 “to start my own webpage logging the best stuff I find as I surf.” The Oxford English Dictionary identified this as the root of the word “weblog,” which usage later shortened to “blog.”
If Wisdom was the first blogger, I wondered, who was the first legal blogger? I started this blog in November 2002, and I knew there were already a number of legal blogs ahead of me. In fact, I wrote a two-part column in December 2002 and January 2003 rounding up 62 of the “blawgs” then being written.
So I rummaged through the archives of the longest-running blogs that I knew of. Here were the birthdates I found, from youngest to oldest:
- SCOTUSblog, Oct. 1, 2002.
- Inter Alia started on Aug. 18, 2002.
- Jottings by an Employer’s Lawyer, July 17, 2002.
- TalkLeft, June 2002.
- The Trademark Blog, May 18, 2002.
- How Appealing, May 6, 2002.
- The Volokh Conspiracy appears to start on April 10, 2002.
- The Shout, March 10, 2002.
- Ernie the Attorney’s first post was March 2, 2002.
- Bag and Baggage launched on Nov. 28, 2001.
- Tins by Rick Klau launched on Sept. 11, 2001.
- Instapundit’s archives start on Aug. 8, 2001.
- Overlawyered launched on July 1, 1999.
Based on that, I awarded the title of first legal blog to Olson’s Overlawyered.
But then came Greg Siskind.
Siskind is an Internet pioneer who in 1994 launched Visalaw.com, the first immigration law firm website in the world. He also lays claim to being the first lawyer in the world with a blog, as I noted in a 2013 post, The First-Ever Law Blog (Reconsidered).
In May 1998, Siskind set up something that he did not call a blog, but that was structured like one. It was a web page he created to provide updates on legislative developments surrounding proposed changes in Congress to the H-1B visa category for professional workers. You can still see that page, courtesy of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
Like a blog, the page contained time-stamped entries, organized in reverse-chronological order, with the latest updates at the top. The first entry on the page is dated May 7, 1998, and the last is June 8, 1998, meaning the updates continued for roughly a month. Siskind once wrote that the page was extremely popular and in one day alone received more than 50,000 hits.
As Varadarajan said a decade ago in the Wall Street Journal, dating the first blog is an imperfect exercise. Yes, Siskind’s H-1B page had some of the attributes of a blog. But it was a temporary effort to track a specific issue. Olson’s, on the other hand, created Overlawyered as a blog and has continued religiously to maintain and update it ever since.
By the way, of the 13 early legal blogs I listed above, eight remain active. In addition to Overlawyered, you can still follow:
- SCOTUSblog is alive and well and thriving.
- TalkLeft, by Denver criminal defense lawyer Jeralyn E. Merritt, is still actively covering politics and crime.
- The Trademark Blog, written by New York lawyer Martin Schwimmer, keeps covering IP law.
- How Appealing, written by Pennsylvania appellate lawyer Howard Bashman, still has its appeal.
- The Volokh Conspiracy is in residence at Reason.com, where it is as active as ever.
- Ernie the Attorney has evolved from blogging lawyer to law-practice consultant, but he is still cranking out the content.
- Instapundit is still putting out the punditry as actively as ever.
Five can still be accessed, but are no longer regularly updated:
- Inter Alia remains up, but Tom Mighell’s last update was in April 2016.
- Jottings by an Employer’s Lawyer is still accessible, but was last updated in April 2017.
- The Shout can still be accessed, but author and civil liberties lawyer Jennifer Granick has not updated it since June 2013.
- Bag and Baggage, by California lawyer and podcaster Denise Howell, had its last post on Jan. 28, 2013.
- Tins author Rick Klau has moved on from the legal world to become a partner at Google Ventures. He has had only one post since 2015, a January 2019 review of his new Jaguar.
So congratulations to Walter Olson on his blog’s 20 birthday. Two decades in, and his blog is as vital and compelling as ever.