An email came in this past week from a relatively new blawger. His blawg is exceptionally good, funny, thoughtful, bold and pointed. He showed no fear of taking a stand. But up to that point, the comments he received were generally supportive, interesting or funny. This time, a commenter attacked.
The transition from being read by a few friendly folks, who find a blawg and stick around because they share the perspective of the author, to gaining interest outside a small circle of friends can be jarring. We all prefer to hear that others agree with us, think we’re not dead wrong if not awfully darned right. It’s natural.
Many blawgers actively avoid anything that might make a reader not agree with them. At most, they offer tepid opinions, then qualify them so that no one could ever be offended. They sacrifice strength and clarity, even having a point, for fear that it will upset someone, turn them away, make them hostile. They cannot bear the idea of someone not liking them.
The difference between law blogs, blawgs as I prefer to call them to distinguish blogs that are written by or about the law from marketing blogs, aggregating blogs and weblogs that catalogue the daily activities of people, is that they are written by men and women whose purpose is to express a point of view on a subject of overarching public interest, the law.
While blawgs are hardly as in-depth as law review articles, they do offer substantive information and, to some greater or lesser extent, reflect a perspective on legal issues. They stand for something. Any time you take a chance, put an idea into the public marketplace and subject it to peer (and general, as you have no control over who reads what you write), review, there’s an excellent chance that someone is going to disagree with you.
If you can’t handle disapproval, then you should not have a blawg.
At Above the Law, David Lat pulled off a monstrous coup in getting Mark Herrmann, formerly of Drug and Device Law, who moved from Jones Day partner to in-house, to write a column. The comments following Mark’s first column were generally directed toward his physical beauty, with the commentariat ignoring the fact that under no other circumstances would the riff-raff have access to so accomplished a lawyer. Yet they preferred to discuss his appearance than express their appreciation for Mark’s taking the time to write for them.
Subsequent critics of Mark Herrmann’s columns argued that they wanted to hear other aspects of in-house life rather than what Mark chose to write about. Lat responded, in the comments, that if there was another in-house lawyer who wanted to write a column about the subjects the commenters raised, he was open. But he added some qualities that were required for the job.
As for the commenters (the delightful present company), (1) using a pseudonym doesn’t prevent the writer from getting his or her feelings hurt (just ask Roxana of “Notes from the Breadline”), and (2) if you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen. If you’re going to write on the web, you have to be ready to be insulted, attacked, and mocked. If you can’t handle a few nasty words, then you don’t belong on the internet.
There is no group of commenters more vicious and disinhibited than at ATL, where nothing is sacred. Lat nails it when he says a writer has “to be ready to be insulted, attacked and mocked.” That’s life on the interwebz.
Many would-be heroes of the blawgosphere can’t take the heat and, at first attack, fold up their tent and disappear. Others lash out in the vainglorious attempt to fight back. Still others shrug it off. The guy who emailed me reacted to his angry commenter with a challenge, telling the attacker he’s welcome to take it outside. No response came.
When we write things that matter, that take a stand, we make enemies. To not make enemies is to not say anything of worth, to not live. Some will be natural enemies, people who hold views diametrically opposed to ours. Others will be blithering idiots, suffering from the Dunning Kruger Effect. These are the ones who can’t let go and persist in their fight as if their life depends on it, even though they just get sillier without any clue how ridiculous they sound. Don’t bother trying to tell them, as they will never understand or accept it.
One commenter last week took me to task for using language that he thought was too strong. Others take me to task for using language that’s not strong enough. Of course, they’re talking about the same language. You can’t please them all, and I marvel that commenters don’t realize this and truly expect a blawger to meet their individual sensibilities.
Sometimes the enemy is someone you respect, and these are the ones worth addressing. Even people who respect one another can disagree, sometimes vehemently, but this is where the effort is meaningful and the dispute worth hashing out. This is also where some of the best discussions arise, where peer review is at its best.
In a recent post, products liability lawyer Bill Marler wrote about his adversary in a case making a presentation to an industry group that used him, his face, his name, an image of a pile of money and a lawyer chasing an ambulance, as the poster boy for all that’s wrong and evil with plaintiff’s lawyers. This was, perhaps, the greatest compliment a lawyer can receive, to be so despised by his adversaries that they hold the lawyer up to an industry group as the devil incarnate.
If lawyers are judged by the caliber of enemies they make, you’ve done an exceptional job. Congratulations.
I can only dream of my puss gracing a dart board somewhere in the bowels of the Department of Justice.
Don’t fear the attack or disapproval. Embrace it. There’s no way you can stand for something without generating enemies online, as the universe of readers will naturally include those who will disagree and feel compelled to let you know that out there, in that vast digital wasteland, there is someone you don’t know who comes to your home to enlighten you with the fact that you are wrong, stupid, ugly and evil.
For those who seek validation from the internet, you don’t find it in approval, as there will always be blithering idiots who agree with you as well as those who don’t. You are validated by those who attack you, for you’ve said something that mattered enough to make them angry.
For the rest of us, just take it as proof that you’re alive. Only dead lawyers have no enemies. If no one says mean things about you, then you’re doing something very wrong.