Podcasting as Commentary

Up to a few months ago, I didn’t know much about WWI. I did certainly know more than the characters in Friends, but, like most, I knew considerably less on this conflict than on the other world war. To be fair to me, I had a reasonable idea of the convoluted causes of the conflict from reading Margaret MacMillan’s “The War That Ended Peace” (still, that was only a couple of years ago), but not much about the actual fighting. Then I listened, over the summer, to a 20+ hour series of podcasts by Dan Carlin entitled “Blueprint for Armageddon”, and I finally feel like I have a sense of the nonsense that happened during this conflict. I had never put time driving my car to such good use.

Item #5 in Rob Ambrogi’s “10 Most Important Legal Technology Developments of 2015” is “Podcasts Enjoy a Resurgence”. Judging from the amount of podcasting we listened in my household this last year, I certainly have direct, if anecdotal, evidence that Rob’s statement is true. But how is this concretely influencing the legal world? Most interestingly, can podcasts influence the law itself?

Justia’s Blawg Search is probably the place where you can find the biggest compilation of active legal podcasts, but there is not a ton of discussion of actual law among these. It’s one thing to talk about law practice management topics in a podcast, but it’s another one to see podcasts as a medium for credible commentary or even as a source of law (at least if one can imagine that academics providing long-form commentary about Québec civil law in a podcast would be creating “doctrine”).

The discussion on the value of blogs as commentary isn’t a recent one, and is still active. See also this from 2010 and this from 2013, and for evidence that there is indeed discussion on the role of blogs as potential “doctrine” under civil law, see the description in French of this conference (that I’m sad I missed).

So if there’s such a discussion about the value of blogs as commentary and its influence on the law, I don’t see why we would refrain from having the same conversation with podcasts. An indication that some experts believe that blogs and podcasts may be of equal importance today is found in Rob Ambrogi’s previously mentioned post where it says that “for the 12th edition of his annual Blawggie Awards last week, Dennis Kennedy decided not to talk at all about blogs and focus exclusively on podcasts” (see Dennis’s post here).

It’s also interesting to make a parallel with video as another form of non-text legal information. An increasing amount of video legal content is being uploaded to the Internet, from recorded CLEs to original content in the form of short law firm made video clips about a recent development in the law. Contrary to current legal podcasts, most of such videos discuss substantive law. As a result, I’m tempted to believe that legal practitioners today would be more open to accepting content like a video recording of a conference as potentially valid commentary, but not (for example) an audio-only version of the exact same content recorded in [a basement disguised as] a studio.

But despite its relative and recent abundance in the legal sphere, I don’t think video is an ideal medium for legal information, for now at least. I have yet to see anything else but a speaker talking to a camera. That said, I’m aware that there are costs involved in creating effective visual support in videos.

Even excluding my issue with suboptimal use of visual support I’m sorry to say that the vast majority of us legal professionals aren’t that interesting to see on video (then again there’s that, for those who recently binged on the otherwise depressingly sad story presented in Making a Murderer): we don’t dance, we don’t usually wear particularly colourful or revealing clothing and we don’t usually do anything exceedingly outrageous, funny, dumb or otherwise remarkable on camera.

Until we get collectively better at using the visual part of video content, podcasts seem to me like an appealing medium for non-text legal commentary. Another advantage with audio-only content is that it can be listened while driving (but if reports from Silicon Valley are to be trusted, that advantage may soon go away) or doing something else that makes it dangerous to stare at a screen (walking next to a cliff, for example). As and aside, if we are truly into videos, then maybe it’s time to consider rotating the camera to shoot in vertical mode.

My point is, therefore, that podcasts are a convenient way to convey legal information and we should at least be open to discussing if, when done right, they could be considered as valid and insightful commentary and be cited as such when appropriate, including in courts.

To some of you, this may look as if I’m just looking for the next toy to play with, but if one accepts what some say about members of “Generation Z” having a “mind of their own” (see p. 7 here, or here), finding how the new generation of “clients” of the legal system will learn and communicate about the law is important. I feel that in this context, understanding the impact of non-textual legal information, including both video and podcasting, is key to the future relevance of the legal profession and of current legal information providers.



Random thoughts:

  • Just for fun, I have been playing with Wikipedia’s “create a book” feature and created this book from a compilation of Wikipedia pages about intellectual property law in Canada. It doesn’t look bad at all!
  • The critic, in my last Slaw column, of the 140-character limit in Twitter was heard.
  • This post on Reddit presents a 2016 “technological timeline”. From what I can see, you may well have a virtual reality device in your home soon. I, for one, have abandoned most other modes of entertainment than learning new things by following MOOCs in the last year, and look forward to VR as a potential next big step in online learning, where you sometimes feel a little bit alone late at night in your living room. Having VR in your living room is one thing, but having VR in a court room is a much more interesting idea, in these corners of the blogosphere at least.
  • Speaking of Reddit, for those who read my last post and were intrigued, the Futurology subreddit is a good place to start if you are interested in realistic technological prophecies.

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