Law professor stirs up controversy online

| Scene Reporter

Since taking his current post at Washington University’s School of Law in January, Professor Brian Tamanaha has drawn national attention for his contributions to a high-profile legal blog called “Balkinization.”

“I’m trying to explain problems to people and give a substantive response,” Tamanaha said. “I’m a lawyer. I can do that.”

In June, Tamanaha wrote a post called “Wake Up Fellow Law Professors” in which he highlighted the discrepancy between the high number of students admitted to law school and the dwindling number of available positions for lawyers in the current job market.

He also accused some non-elite law schools of distributing deceptive statistics about graduates’ employment rates.

“It’s a concern for a lot of law professors, as it should be,” Tamanaha said. “It’s an irresponsible situation we should all be aware of.”

In his post, Tamanaha argued that many law schools mislead students about their prospects, which causes them “to enter a saturated legal market with long odds against them,” he said.

He followed up with an Oct. 18 post titled “The Irresponsibility of Law Schools.” The post included charts showing an increase in law school acceptance rates and an overall decline of legal employees in the workforce.

A newcomer to St. Louis, Tamanaha posted regularly for “Balkinization” for five years. The blog which was started by Jack Balkin of Yale Law School.

When Tamanaha began writing for “Balkinization,” the nation was embroiled in legal and ethical debates surrounding the Bush administration’s stance on torture.

“Initially, I was reluctant to contribute,” Tamanaha said. When he finally agreed to join Balkin’s project, many of his early posts focused on controversial torture-related issues. He has also blogged about natural law, racism within the law and legal reform.

According to Tamanaha, “Balkinization” is just one high-profile legal blog among many, including “Above the Law” and “Instapundit.”

“For whatever reason, law professors have really gotten into blogging,” he said. “It’s quite unusual in terms of blogs that there are so many in a particular area. Really, it’s quite an oddity.”

Originally from Santa Monica, CA, Tamanaha holds degrees from the University of Oregon, Brown University and Harvard University. Before coming to St. Louis, he spent 15 years in New York, where he taught at St. John’s University.

Tamanaha has also published six books throughout his career, though he feels that blogging may be a better vehicle for what he has to say.

“When I write a book, I have a very limited audience,” he said. “This is an opportunity to have exposure to a much broader audience and more immediately.”

While blogging is a very different and much quicker process than writing a book, Tamanaha makes sure not to post anything he cannot support with research.

“I’m not saying profound things on a weekly basis, but it does take work and I don’t ever want to put up something stupid,” he said. “This is not me as a scholar, necessarily, but me as an intelligent person with an opinion.”

Despite the controversy surrounding his recent posts, Tamanaha said that he does not regret his contributions to the blogosphere. In fact, his blogging has even provided him with several professional benefits; Tamanaha has been interviewed by several news corporations, including National Public Radio.

Although some of his recent posts have drawn criticism within legal circles, Tamanaha stands by what he has written.

“When you say something that means something, it’s often controversial,” he said. “I always ask myself, ‘Do I want my name attached to this?’ Because once it’s out there, it’s beyond your control.”

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