The question is not a new one, but it's gaining traction in the blogosphere lately as the old concern spawns new debate. And it seems to be true that the majority of high-profile legal blogs, whether in academia or the practice of law, are helmed by men.
Sites such as Above the Law (David Lat), How Appealing (Howard J. Bashman) and Balkinization (Jack M. Balkin) are each authored or edited by one man. The China Law Blog is written by Dan Harris and Steve Dickinson of Harris & Moure. The Volokh Conspiracy, another popular law blog, list 18 contributors, none of whom are female. The woman blogger whose name comes up most frequently in the legal space is law professor Ann Althouse, but her blog isn't primarily about legal issues.
So what's behind this seeming disparity? There are three basic theories in circulation. Whether they have merit, and whether one or more in combination serve to explain the apparent dearth of strong female voices in the legal blogging area, can't be empirically judged. But they're worth exploring anyway.
Theory #1: Women law bloggers are out there, you just don't see them. "There are more women (law) bloggers than you think," says Carolyn Elefant, an attorney in private practice who writes the MyShingle blog (and is a Law.com blogger as well). "I think they predominate in the practical blogosphere. I think this myth of there being fewer female bloggers got started because the focus was more on the big-name sites, which tended to be (run by) men."
"Someone asking, in some ways hyperbolically, 'Do women blog?' is not reading the blogging that women are doing," adds Mary Dudziak, a professor of law, history and political science at the University of Southern California and founder/editor of the Legal History Blog.
Joe Hodnicki, co-founder of the Law Professor Blogs Network and co-editor of the Law Librarian Blog, says about 30 percent of his network's 100 or so bloggers are female law professors. "That pretty much jibes with the numbers that are out there," he says, citing the AALS's 2007-2008 Statistical Report on Law Faculty, which found that 36.9 percent are women. "In my view, women blog in proportion to their percentage in the legal academy."
One explanation for the apparent lack of female voices is that while they're out there, they're not as well-promoted as the male bloggers. "Folks tend to link to their friends, and it's especially hard for a newer blogger to break into that closed circle," says Dudziak.
"Trying to get links requires being a little extroverted," says Kimberly Amick, co-author of the California Appellate Law Blog and a senior associate at Archer Norris. "It can be a little intimidating, but it's really no different than walking up to someone and shaking their hand."
And, says Hodnicki, "It's a crowded blogosphere now, so it's harder to acquire an audience." That's especially challenging for junior academics, says Dudziak; "If people don't know you, how do you get them to read you and link to you?" Case in point: BlawgWorld 07's list of the 77 most influential "blawgs" (legal blogs) includes just 13 (16.8 percent) authored by women.
But even outlets that purport to be comprehensive don't feature many women. For example, the American Bar Association says that women comprised 30.1 percent of all lawyers in 2007. But in LexMonitor's directory of AmLaw 200 blogs, approximately 157 of the blogs' individually named contributors are male, but only 48 -- or 23 percent -- are female. And only one of the 108 blogs listed was authored by a solo woman -- the HIPAA Health Law & Technology blog by Helen Oscislawski. By contrast, 39 sported a single male author.
Many in the profession don't seem to realize there's any disparity. Womble Carlyle's Internet marketing manager, Aden Dauchess, said he believed the contributors to his firm's 14 blogs mirrored the gender breakdown of the firm itself, in which 35 percent of the attorneys are women. Yet the blogs list 45 men as contributors and only eight women -- or 15 percent.
Theory #2: Women don't have the same time to blog as men. "Regardless of what we say about women's equality, women with families have disproportionate child care responsibilities which leaves them less time to pursue things like blogging," notes Kathleen Bergin, co-author of the First Amendment Law Prof Blog and associate professor of First Amendment and constitutional law at South Texas College of Law. Dudziak says, "I wouldn't recommend blogging for parents of newborns or toddlers unless they're (contributing to) a group blog."
Laura Black (not her real name), a blogger and attorney in private practice, adds, "There's also the utility issue: whether blogging is a useful use of time." Bergin agrees; "It can be discouraging for women to try to make time for blogging because the rewards aren't immediate; it can feel like an additional obligation without a benefit."
However, Christine Hurt, the co-director of the Program in Business Law and Policy at the University of Illinois, notes that in academia, junior professors -- who are of an age where they're more likely to face family-related time crunches -- are actually more likely to blog than tenured professors. Hurt herself has three small children and is a successful blogger for The Conglomerate. "I actually think blogging is more suited to people with small children than the traditional ways of marketing yourself," she says. "I can blog in the middle of the night, while my children watch the Backyardigans, or for just 20 minutes at a time. I can't travel once a week to attend workshops or conferences (to further my career), but I can blog."
Karen Carey, a partner at Womble Carlyle who regularly about for her firm's construction-industry blog, says, "I see blogging as an investment of time, not a waste of time."
Theory #3: Women are more prone to professional or personal attack, so they avoid blogging. Is blogging more dangerous for women than for men? Many prominent female bloggers, including some in the legal industry, have faced backlash based on gender that runs the gamut from mockery to death threats. Kathy Sierra, while not an attorney, provided an object lesson in how Internet threats can derail a career. The popular author and programming guru gave up both blogging and public speaking after a spate of anonymous violent threats and the posting of her personal information online.
Says Black, "Women online are targets of aggression; there's something about the pseudo-anonymity of the Internet that seems to bring it out." Black knows firsthand of this. Several years ago, a reader began sending her threats referencing his military training, knowledge of deadly weapons and belief that she "should die." He's still out there and posts vitriolic comments whenever her name is mentioned online. "It makes me think about giving it up," she says. "But are you going to give into that fear? That's what he wants. Still, you have that moment of the soul at 3 a.m. wondering if he's going to come to my house and hurt me or my family."
Attacks can also focus on professional livelihood. Bergin was the target of an aggressive campaign started by one angry reader who called for her firing. "He sent an e-mail to my dean, all the associate deans and every single member of my faculty demanding that I be 'summarily dismissed' within 48 hours," she says. The harassment continued for two weeks, although the dean and faculty stood by Bergin.
In a separate incident, someone stole Bergin's online identity and began posting comments attributed to her. Both experiences made her a little less confident about blogging. "I had to take a step back and evaluate what I put out there and what kind of backlash it could provoke."
Even milder criticism can come back to haunt female bloggers, says Bennett Capers, an associate professor at Hofstra University. "For a female academic to blog pre-tenure is really putting herself out there to scrutiny," he says. "Often when you're up for tenure, people seem to just be looking for any reason to deny it."
"I think women have a harder time establishing their legitimacy, especially if you teach in a male-dominated area," says Bergin. "By virtue of the presumptions that might be working against you, you're always concerned with what the impact might be on your professional reputation if you say 'XYZ' online."
Whether these concerns persuade women to stay out of the blogosphere is hard to prove. "One thing that would be interesting to see is who exits the blogosphere -- it is women, is it men, is it both? And why?" says Hurt. "Then you'd have a little bit more to go on, if you could show that men and women join at the same rate but women drop out."
Hurt says she's been criticized in ways her male counterparts haven't and says there's a sense that women law bloggers may attract more "comment trolls" than men. But that hasn't made her want to quit.
"You do have to have a very thick skin to be a blogger," she says. "You have to be able to withstand both the 'I don't agree with you' and 'I think you're stupid' comments. Absent the death-threat, blackball campaigns, my career doesn't hinge upon what a random Internet reader says to me."