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Lawyers and Blogging

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March 24, 2006, 14:28
Shannon Edmonds
Lawyers and Blogging
[Someone recently asked me why there are no prosecutor blogs. By the sound of this article, there are too many lawyers blogging away already ....]

After (Billable) Hours
Lawyers hoping to escape drudgery trade one form of verbiage for another.

Friday, March 24, 2006
Wall Street Journal Online

The recent disclosure (by the New York Observer) that the anonymous legal blogger Opinionista is 27-year-old former law-firm associate Melissa Lafsky--following the recent disclosures (by The New Yorker and the New York Times) that former prosecutor David Lat was the voice behind the blog Underneath their Robes and that former Harvard law student Jeremy Blachman penned the blog Anonymous Lawyer--raises a question. Are all lawyers secret bloggers, frustrated writers or both? More important, should they keep their day jobs?
Lawyers and blogging go together like witches and stoning. According to a survey conducted by, lawyers ranked fourth among both readers and posters to blogs. Many of the best-known blogs, such as, are run by lawyers. It's easy to understand why blogging attracts the J.D. set: Few professions combine as much creative talent with so much mind-numbing work.

Each year thousands of otherwise perfectly normal college graduates with perfectly worthless degrees in the humanities venture into law school in the hope of landing a paying job that requires no science and little math. Many have been encouraged by college counselors who have told them that law school will "keep their options open"--code for delaying the inevitable for another three years--and it pays better than academia.

Law schools feed this myth because they need paying customers, even as the members of their own faculty are refugees from the very firms to which they are sending their students. Upon graduation, however, many students find that the entry-level jobs they get are little more than glorified secretarial positions. Sure, they pay well, but how many paper clips can you remove from a stack of documents before you start questioning your entire existence?

In the dark hours, writing seems like a natural escape. It's what most lawyers do (when they're not reviewing documents), and though blogging is very different from drafting a prospectus, it's close enough to fool many lawyers into trading one form of verbiage for another. Writing a blog can also be done in secret, on your own time (or during office hours if you're careful), and it is potentially lucrative (if you can get some ads or make a name for yourself). For many lawyers, writing is also their true love, a dream they had before financial concerns and parental pressure drove them into drudgery. Some turn to nonfiction, hoping to transform their legal meanderings into punditry. Others (myself included) seek to channel their inner McInerney by penning the next great American novel, or at least a best seller.

The first generation of lawyer/writers, like Scott Turow and John Grisham, were able to blend law and writing (even now, Mr. Turow practices part-time). The second generation seems to want only to avoid practicing law at all costs. Mr. Lat, for example, essentially forced his employer to dismiss him by posting comments about some of the judges before whom he appeared (though he denies that he was fired). He now writes for the blog, a Washington gossip site made notorious by Ana Marie Cox. Mr. Blachman wrote screeds in the voice of a fictional law firm partner that effectively made him unemployable by any major firm, then unveiled himself to the Times. His novel will be published this summer by Henry Holt. Ms. Lafsky told the New York Observer that she outed herself to "forc[e] myself to really make a career in writing work." In January she signed with a literary agent at ICM and quit her day job. She is writing a novel.

We should applaud their efforts to escape a profession that has one of the lowest levels of job satisfaction. If money is the goal, though, these lawyers might be more successful if they played the lottery. Legal-thriller writer Lisa Scottoline once told me that she wrote her first book as a way to earn some money following a divorce. She succeeded in spite of her naivet�. Most writers will not see a cent from their efforts. Those who do will quickly realize that they cannot survive on books alone. Instead, law will pay their bills while they toil in obscurity, learning a cold, cruel lesson about the realities of the publishing industry: It takes more than a cup of coffee and a laptop to write a good book.

It also takes more than a blog. While the breathless form of the Web diary might work to titillate readers as they surf during their lunch hour--particularly when the author is anonymous and dangerous (to himself, if not to anyone else)--holding a reader's attention over the course of 300 pages requires a different skill entirely. The same unattributed gripes and gossip feel random and weightless strung together page after page (one reason perhaps that Ms. Cox's novel has not been particularly successful). Quotidian blog entries succumb to what the late author Frank Conroy called "abject naturalism," the agglomeration of details devoid of larger structure. Without a clear narrative thread, a blog is simply sound and fury, signifying nothing but misplaced ambition.
Good writing, contrary to the advice of your creative writing teacher, is about more than what you know. The world these writers are trying so desperately to flee is not a world any of us would want to visit for more than five pages: the overbearing boss, the dehumanizing office, the mindless drudgery. It might have worked for Kafka, but only after he turned himself into a cockroach.

The lawyer/writers who have succeeded--Mr. Turow, Mr. Grisham, Ms. Scottoline and a handful of others--have done so because their worlds are so unlegal, or illegal. After all, it's not every new associate who finds that his law firm is controlled by the mob (as was Mr. Grisham's in "The Firm") or every Supreme Court clerk who is tricked and then blackmailed into disclosing pending decisions (as was Brad Meltzer's in the "The Tenth Justice") or every defense attorney who has to represent her professed twin sister (as in Ms. Scottoline's "Mistaken Identity"). Law is just an excuse for a venue in these books, not its raison d'etre.

Unlike unhappy families, unhappy lawyers are all unhappy in the same way. A happy lawyer, now there's a story worth telling. Start a blog!

Mr. Stracher is publisher of the New York Law School Law Review and author of "Double Billing: A Young Lawyer's Tale of Greed, Sex, Lies and the Pursuit of a Swivel Chair."
March 24, 2006, 15:00
Scott Brumley
If I was the suspicious type, which I'm not, I might suspect that you're trying to send a message about the quality and quantity of postings by some of the frequent fliers on this site. To be sure, though, I am suspicious of anyone who uses the term "raison d'etre" in their writing. Now I have to go back to writing my novel about a government lawyer who discovers the vaccine against bird flu, but is pursued by thugs from HMOs who want to silence him before he distributes his liquid gold to non-network providers at a discount.
March 24, 2006, 15:48
Shannon Edmonds
As someone with 300 more posts than you, Scott, I can assure you that I know better than to throw stones! (and who has time to throw stones between typing all these posts?)

I know many prosecutors who are frustrated novelists-to-be, but I don't know any who have ventured into the Blogosphere with their own blog sites (at least not openly). Why is that?
March 24, 2006, 15:58
J Ansolabehere
I love the TDCAA user forum because I learn a lot--really! But I also enjoy the posts, some of which are truly creative and outright fun to read.

Janette Ansolabehere
March 28, 2006, 11:05
Shannon Edmonds
Yes, but no prosecutors have their own blogs. At least none that I can find. And it's not just here -- I can't find one anywhere in the nation.

March 29, 2006, 08:08
Stacey L. Brownlee

Josh posted this somewhere on our site not too long ago. I saw him at a training at the NAC.
March 29, 2006, 17:42
Josh is a rather fearless person when it comes to exposing his opinions to public review. I have worked with him on several NDAA projects and have found him to have an amazing energy for stuff that burns up the rest of us. When I saw him last, he was on his way to a panel discussion at Berkely on the death penalty. I'd take the death penalty before submitting to that form of torture.
April 29, 2006, 16:49
Shannon Edmonds
Judge Reprimands Prosecutor for Personal Blog


When a temporary San Francisco prosecutor wrote on his personal blog about a misdemeanor case he was handling last December, he probably didn't think the judge would read it.

But Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow heard about it. And he didn't like what he read.

Karnow didn't find the postings prejudicial enough to throw out the entire case, as the defense wanted. But in turning down that motion to dismiss this week, the judge still came down hard on ex-prosecutor Jay Kuo, calling his conduct "juvenile, obnoxious and unprofessional." Karnow also stated his intention to send his written ruling to the State Bar.

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