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Blawg Review #27

I'm no attorney. And it's been said that I "have as much judicial experience as Harriet Miers." All true.

What I am is a journalist who covers legal blogging--blawgging, to use Denise Howell's coinage. That's why I open this week's Blawg Review with a direct response to Jonathan Glater's Friday piece in The New York Times, "Opening Arguments, Endlessly." Next I sample how blawggers have written about each of the topics below.  In a nod to your varied tastes and busy schedules, I've quick-linked each of these menu items so the page will scroll directly to the topic when you click. That said, each section may make more sense if read in succession--and I saved the best for last. Here goes:

     Blawg Review #27

  1. Jonathan D. Glater's "Opening Arguments, Endlessly"
  2. Judiciary - The nomination of Harriet Miers
  3. Philosophy - Physician-assisted suicide
  4. Policy - Government detainees
  5. Practice - Just rewards
  6. Clients - Consumer aid and interests
  7. Tools - Advice from the trenches
  8. Blawghers - Women and legal blogging
  9. Humor - Nomination redux, fish porn
  10. Announcement

1. Jonathan D. Glater's "Opening Arguments, Endlessly"

Mr. Glater wrote in The New York Times on Friday:

"There is no reliable data on how much of the blog universe consists of lawyers, or of any other profession, for that matter. But several influential blogs do seem to be run by lawyers, who constitute considerably less than 1 percent of the population ... If lawyers are talking a lot online, perhaps that is not surprising -- lawyers talk a lot offline. But lawyers were quick to offer less cynical justifications for the trend, if indeed there is one ... " [Emphasis added]

Blawgger responses to the piece varied. Evan Schaeffer, who was quoted in the piece, wrote that he was happy for the mention but noted Mr. Glater's error: "Mentioned in The New York Times ... Which is cool, except that the writer got the facts wrong. I cover Ohio law? Actually, I practice in Missouri and Illinois ..." It's an error that Mike Cernovich says "shows why blogs were born" and later uses to question the Times' overall credibility: "A newspaper that I routinely spot making errors cannot be trusted." David Giacalone disagrees, writing "That assertion -- along with Mike's conclusion that 'There isn't too much [thinking] at the Times' --  shows why Web logs frequently can't be taken very seriously." In Mr. Giacalone's opinion, "Given its space limitations, today's throw-away piece in The New York Times about the relatively large number of lawyers with popular Web logs did a fairly good job ... I think the Times article was meant to be and is a puff piece."

While I agree with all three of these reviews, up to a point, Mr. Giacalone nails it with his "throw-away piece" comment. Yes, the piece is journalistically flawed (the error, the cliche as lede, the use of a single source for data and the lack of a "nut graph" -- indeed the article seems to question its own premise in the sections I bolded above). However, I am more disappointed that the newspaper of record again misses the real story about legal blogging: The value placed on blawgs by their writers and readers.

The question Mr. Glater and the Times could have asked and answered (and didn't) is why so many attorneys are carving out precious billable minutes to write and to read blawgs. Sure, you may say to yourself, Stone is paid to write a legal blog so she's biased. Yes, I am paid to write a blog for one of these three networks that sponsor blawgs, a relatively new phenomenon. Indeed, 11 months ago, Law.com launched its blawg affiliate network and was the first mover in what is now an increasingly crowded field. Why did Law.com go there? Why do the rest of us choose to invest hours in this type of enterprise rather than in something else? Is it really our frustrated writing muses? Um, no. There's a big story here. Blawgs are hot for a variety of good reasons that encompass everything from extending one's own personal brand to the quality and distribution crisis faced by traditional media. Don't take my word for it-- try these answers I blogged for Law.com's launch:

"Why should you carve out precious billable minutes to read blogs? The best short answer to these questions was written in March 2003 by Jim Calloway of the Oklahoma Bar Association. In an article advocating blog readership to his fellow members, Calloway wrote:

"T]here are some brilliant people writing blogs and law blogs. Lawyers who charge their clients hundreds of dollars an hour are freely dispensing their wisdom and analysis online for anyone to read. Law professors at some of our nation's top law school now regularly opine on court decisions released just a day (or a few hours) earlier. And if one of those decisions impacts a case you are handling, that analysis could be very useful to the practicing lawyer."

"... As The Volokh Conspiracy's Eugene Volokh wrote me in an e-mail last month:

"Law blogs provide analysis that's timelier, more legally sophisticated and more thorough than what we can get in the mainstream media, or even in the legal media. When you want to understand some computer crime law issue that's in the news, what better place to look for it than in posts by a law professor who specializes in computer crime? Few traditional publications will have writers with that kind of expertise. And blogs, of course, often link to key documents -- cases, statutes, complaints, pieces of evidence, and so on -- that the mainstream media often don't provide."

So -- is there indeed a legal blogging trend, to answer Mr. Glater's question? Yes. Are attorneys writing blogs that are influential -- or just talking a lot online? Today's Blawg Review seeks to provide some representative answers. As for myself, I think the blawg  links below put the issues of the day in better context, whether you're an attorney, a journalist or simply someone interested in interpreting the system that governs our everyday lives, as Americans or as someone involved with its laws.

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2. Judiciary - The nomination of Harriet Miers

President George W. Bush's nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers as a replacement for retiring justice Sandra Day O'Connor has dominated all legal news this week, online and off.  Kudos to:

"I know absolutely nothing about Ms. Miers, beyond the basics from the media. But my initial reaction is that it's unfortunate (but not surprising) that for both Supreme Court nominations, the president has chosen well-connected insiders with ties to the executive branch, rather than individuals who are more likely to bring a more "independent" perspective to issues of government and especially presidential power ... On the other hand, I'm pleased that Miers is (a) not from an elite law school; (b) not a federal judge; and (c) spent the vast majority of her career outside the beltway. All good things to bring new perspectives to the Court, and, in the case of (b), break a silly tradition [that Justices MUST be from the federal bench] that has evolved."

Read on for The VC's 30 posts on the nomination -- all on one page here -- and hundreds of user comments.

  • One blogger who has known Ms. Miers since she was 12, The Mommy Blawger, weighed in with a personal vignette and these links to other Miers supporters:

"My father's family, most of whom are Catholic Democrats (as was Ms. Miers, once upon a time), are delighted to know someone who has been nominated to the Supreme Court. They always liked her, and we all have been following her career for years. No "Harriet who?" comments around here. It's probably the only thing that George W. has ever done that they have approved of. The conservative pundits, however, are "disappointed" and "underwhelmed." With a few notable exceptions; Marvin Olasky is blogging both "pro" and "con" -- but he has interviewed actual people who actually know Ms. Miers. Texas attorney Beldar is doing a great job of defending and fact-checking (here and here and here and here and here and here). For instance, he points out that the Texas Bar Association is a very different animal from the ABA. Locke, Liddell is a top Texas law firm. And while SMU may not be a "first tier" law school, it is by no means "second rate." It is well-respected both regionally and internationally, and as an SMU law graduate, the wife of an SMU law graduate, and the descendant of an SMU law professor, I will have you remember that. Thank you very much.

"'Every woman lawyer in Dallas, Texas, owes a debt to Harriet Miers,' said Robin P. Hartmann, a partner with the Dallas law firm of Haynes and Boone", quoted in an Associated Press article.

"My point exactly."

More:

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3. Philosophy - Physician-assisted suicide

One of the first arguments heard by the newly formed Roberts Court this week was Gonzales v. Oregon. The question at hand is whether former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft had the authority to issue his 2001 decision that doctors would lose their federal prescription privileges if they performed physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, the only state to authorize this practice. Kudos to:

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4. Policy - Government detainees

The influential king of the link blawg focuses rare prose and important attention to the issue of how America's prisoners are treated:

  • Instapundit:
  • "The Senate has passed a bill setting standards for treatment of detainees regardless of whether they're covered by the Geneva Convention or not. The White House is resisting ...

    "Perhaps current practices are producing a treasure trove of intelligence that this bill would stop, but I doubt that -- and if I'm wrong, the administration should make that case to Congress, not stand on executive prerogatives. And this bill seems to be just what I was calling for way back when -- a sensible look at the subject by responsible people, freed of the screeching partisanship that has marked much of the discussion in the punditsphere. That should be rewarded, not blown off."

    More:

    • See the Instapundit link above for additional links to The Volokh Conspiracy and political blogs. The Conspirators' readers also offer a particularly rich set of links.

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    5. Practice - Just rewards

    Responding to the unhappy news elicited by this year's American Lawyer, owned by ALM, survey of midlevel associates, blogger Bruce MacEwen of Adam Smith, Esq., emphasizes the challenge faced by large law firms on both sides of the pond, as he likes to say, and Carolyn Elefant offers a solo perspective on salary and compensation:

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    6. Clients - Consumer aid and interests

    Everyone complains about lawyers ... until they need one or a hot story breaks. Here are examples of consumer advocacy from last week's blawgs, followed by four posts that provide some interesting depth to last week's headlines:

    Consumer aid:

    Consumer interest:

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    7. Tools - Advice from the trenches

    What do you need to do your best job, as a firm, as an individual (judge, public speaker or blawgger), and as a human? These links offer some advice:

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    8. Blawghers - Women and legal blogging

    Earlier this week, Coast to Coast, a legal audiocast by Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams, asked Monica Bay, Attorney Sean Carter, who blogs Lawpsided, and myself to join them in a discussion of diversity in the blawgosphere.  As I later described, comments by Ms. Bay and myself about women and legal blogging may surprise you. I also shared the very specific, private feedback I've gotten from some women attorneys who tried to balance the partner track, motherhood and blogging -- and blogging lost. (I've also spoken with two men who head up legal blogs who have tried to recruit women attorneys to blog with them and haven't had much success. Email me if you're interested.)

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    9. Humor - Nomination redux, fish porn

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    10. Announcement

    Please help me welcome Blawg Review to the Law.com network of blog affiliates. I've watched this roving carnival with great interest in the past year. It's a must-read. I'm thrilled that the talented, anonymous editor, "Ed.", has inked a deal with my employer. You can read his own eloquent announcement here.

    Thanks for reading Blawg Review #27. Tune in here next Monday for a link to the next issue of Blawg Review, to be hosted by J. Craig Williams on May It Please The Court.

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    If you're interested in seeing your blawg posts appear on Blawg Review, check out the Submission Guidelines for upcoming issues. As with any story pitch, I recommend you also add a few sentences to put your post in context of the week's legal events for your blawg reviewer.

    Posted by Laurel Newby on October 10, 2005 at 10:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (4)

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