Some Thoughts on “Best” Lists

The ABA Journal is looking for suggestions as to which blogs to include in the 2011 “Blawg 100″—its list of “the 100 best legal blogs.” That prompted me to ponder what I think of “best” lists of this sort.

The Blawg 100 has prompted a measure of skepticism and harrumphing in the blogosphere. Of course, I might be decidedly biased, given that the now-mothballed AdamsDrafting blog featured in the Blawg 100 for both 2010 and 2009, but I have a soft spot for the Blawg 100.

For one thing, the ABA Journal has sufficient clout to offer the Blawg 100 without seeming too presumptuous. In that regard, the ABA Journal’s standing has perhaps been helped by its earnest efforts, under former editor Ed Adams, to be more relevant and engaging. I’m thinking in particular of its “Legal Rebels” initiative. (But here, too, I can’t claim to be disinterested—I was one of its first clutch of Legal Rebels.)

Of course, the notion of a list of “the best legal blogs” is a bit preposterous, as those selecting the blogs can’t avoid being, to some extent, subjective and arbitrary. But it would be unrealistic to expect the ABA Journal to describe the Blawg 100 as “100 noteworthy legal blogs that our editors and readers selected from among many legal blogs, some of them doubtless just as good as, if not better than, those we selected, depending on your interests.”

Since the urge to rank things is universal, it would seem futile to object to someone ranking legal blogs. And doing so could well bring added exposure to some deserving blogs. If anyone is going to rank legal blogs, it might as well be the ABA Journal.

But more generally, the business of “best” lists can get a bit silly.

For one thing, if whatever it is you’re ranking is small enough, announcing your list with any fanfare can seem odd. If you’ve compiled a list of—I’m making this up—the twenty best divorce-law blogs, you might want to avoid suggesting that it’s something that the world has been waiting for with bated breath.

It also makes a difference who compiles the list. If you’re a prominent media outlet or a legal organization, it may be appropriate for you to assume that people will pay attention. But anyone else may want to tread carefully.

For example, FastCase recently announced the fifty winners of the inaugural “FastCase 50” award, which is intended to recognize “today’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders in the law.” The winners include luminaries such as David Boies and Larry Lessig. It doesn’t appear that they received anything other than FastCase’s congratulations. The surest way to validate this sort of prize is to pay the recipients straight cash, homey. (I suggest that $5,000 per FastCase 50 winner would have been appropriate.) If the prize consists of nothing other than having been named a winner, and the company is a relatively small one, the whole exercise can look like a crass marketing ploy, with the company seeking to bask in the reflected glory of the winners.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.