Balkinization, an influential legal blog started by Yale Law School Professor Jack Balkin, turned five years old in mid-January. The legal academy has never been the same.

Although the blog was not the first online journal devoted to legal issues, it is still widely considered a pioneer in establishing the blogosphere as a serious venue for legal discussion. Balkin’s blog, which has drawn over 3 million visitors since launching on Jan. 13, 2003, helped redefine the information cycle among the legal academy, the government and the media, Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh said.

“Balkinization helped to change the face of legal communication and scholarship,” Koh said in an interview. “The kind of analysis that policy-makers, scholars and journalists used to wait for in paper publishing cycles now appears overnight in your inbox.”

When Balkinization debuted, the legal blogosphere was still in its infancy. Glenn Reynolds LAW ’85, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who founded the blog Instapundit in 2001, takes credit for convincing Balkin to join the movement at a dinner following the 2002 Revenge of the Blog Conference at Yale Law School.

Whereas Reynolds’s blog caters to a more general audience, Balkinization has distinguished itself by the status of its contributors — including law professor Marty Lederman LAW ’88 of Georgetown Law School, Yale Law professors Ian Ayres and Heather Gerken, and professor Mark Tushnet LAW ’71 of Harvard Law School — and the quality of their contributions.

“The caliber of its contributors is tremendous — it has some of the top names in legal scholarship today,” Reynolds said. “They tend to put up long, essay-like posts on topics of the legal academy.”

Balkin is at the vanguard of the legal field for recognizing and embracing the Internet’s potential value in academia, said Sanford Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas, Austin School of Law, who began contributing to Balkinization four years ago.

“Many postings are scholarship of a high order,” he said. “The legal academy hasn’t caught up with that.”

Balkinization’s reputation has been propelled in particular by its coverage of the Bush administration’s interpretations of executive power in waging the war on terror.

“I don’t think there’s a better site in the country over the last four years for anyone interested in the issues of torture or presidential power,” Levinson said. “The quality of its coverage of the torture issue has made it literally a must-read for anybody interested in this issue, whichever side you’re on.”

But Balkinization avoids the bitter partisanship of many blogs, Reynolds said, largely thanks to the personality of its founder.

“He leans left, but he’s a very open-minded guy who plays well with others, which sets a tone that keeps it from being angry and catty as other blogs can sometimes get,” Reynolds said.

As it firmed up its role as a prominent voice in mainstream political conversation, Balkinization heralded an Internet-driven wave of change in legal discussion and education in the United States, Levinson said.

Balkinization and its peer blogs provide an intermediate stage between a newspaper and a law review, Reynolds said, and they make legal analysis widely accessible and more immediate.

Law review articles are now commonly circulated and publicized over the Internet, Reynolds said. Still, the lag time between composition and publication for a law review article can last up to two years.

“Blogs are instant gratification,” Reynolds said. “This is the 21st century. Why wait a year?”

Fifteen years ago, Levinson said, months passed between a court decision and the publication of legal analysis, but now it happens in real time.

“A court decision or veto statement will be released in the morning, and Jack Balkin or Marty Lederman will have a law review-worthy statement by that afternoon,” he said. “Why wait a year if you can get something out in the next week that can contribute to an ongoing dispute while it’s really important?”

Balkin did not respond to requests for an interview in time for this article.