Hipster Priorities

Old man Ed. at  Blawg Review sent me the link because he likes to tweak me on stuff like this.  You see, I have a really great email address from AOL because I was a subscriber years ago when the good email addresses were still available.  Mine is SHGLaw.  I’ve used it for what seems like forever.  Everybody who knows me knows that it’s my email address.  I was cool once.

But time marches on, and it’s no longer cool to have an AOL email address.  It’s been said before, but was reiterated by Ernie the Attorney.

Lawyers need a professional email address, and it’s not @aol.com

I submit that high on the list of “professionalism” goals should be for lawyers to get their own domain name for use with the firm email. Can it be considered professional these days for an attorney to use an email address like this: attorney@aol.com? Same goes for @hotmail, @yahoo, and even @gmail.

I’m sure that Ed got a chuckle out of this, since he knows that I still use my old-fangled AOL email address and he loves to point out how un-techno-cool I am.  I have an email address for simplejustice.us as well, but it gets forwarded to my AOL address so I see everything in the same place.  It’s more efficient that way, and eliminating needless complications allows me to spend less time on being cool and more time doing my work.

Ernie, apparently, thinks otherwise.  There are many things that matter greatly in today’s complex world of lawyering, and one of those things is the domain name used by lawyers.  After reading his post, I asked a client how important it was to him that I had a really cool email address as opposed to my old fogey AOL email address.

“It’s very important, Greenfield,” he told me.  “Right after winning my case, it’s the most important thing in the world to me.”

After he left, I commented on Ernie post about his position that having the right email address was “high on the list of professionalism.”  I submitted, in response to his submission, that a lawyer’s email address really wasn’t terribly important, and that Ernie’s time and effort would be better spent submitting that professionalism is better accomplished by worrying about the ability to be a damn good lawyer than about the domain name at the back end of an email address.  I went so far as to suggest that his submission was seriously misguided.

My comment wasn’t the first.  Another person had already written this Ernie’s post was “great.”  Dollars to donuts (no hipster would ever use such a ridiculously archaic expression as this), this commenter had struggled long and hard to come up with the perfect email address, one that would impress the most astute hipster on the internet. 

It’s not really clear to me what a hipster is, though my teenage son has tried to explain it to me a few times.  My understanding is that it’s someone who is more concerned with the appearance of being cutting edge than possessing the underlying skills, knowledge or background to cut the edge himself.  Hipsters wear cool eyeglasses and very tight pants, because they make him look, well, hip.  I get my eyeglasses at the drug store because I lost the ones I bought from the optometrist, and I prefer relaxed fit because they’re roomy and comfortable.

As a matter of respect, I checked back to see whether Ernie had any thoughts on my comment.  It wasn’t there.  Ernie’s comments are moderated, and mine was apparently moderated into oblivion.

Ees_pictureI don’t know Ernie Svenson, though from his picture, he doesn’t look like the sort of fellow to wear tight pants.  My guess is that there are different types of hipsters, and he’s just the Louisiana version.  But regardless, the elevation of such trivialities as one’s email address to appease those children for whom appearances trump substance makes one a hipster no matter whether you wear a neon glasses or pince nez. I just wish lawyers wouldn’t adopt hipster priorities.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having a really cool email address, with the domain being either your law firm marketing name or some variation that tells those for whom the domain name is a viable substitute for things like ability and experience, but on the list of things that matter to lawyers, and more importantly to clients, my bet is that winning their cases is likely to be more important than how hip your email address is.

I’m considering sending Ernie an email to ask him why he didn’t think my comment, though critical, was worthy of seeing the light of day.  I’ve got his email right here, esvenson@gmail.com.  It’s right at the top of his blog, where even us old fogeys can find it.  And no, I won’t hold it against him.

31 comments on “Hipster Priorities

  1. Keith Lee

    Hahaha. I have to be honest, the first time I sent you an email and your address came up with an aol.com suffix my first thought was: “Dear God, those still exist?” My second thought was: “He must be really old.”

    Just looking at someone’s email address would never lead me to believe they were prima facie unprofessional (outside of ElFeugo69@hotmail.com, etc).

    It just made me think that it works for you and you didn’t give a shit what it looks like.

  2. SHG

    It’s good to reach that point in your life when you don’t care nearly as much about appearances as substance.  It would be better if more experienced lawyers in the blawgosphere would pursue that point of view rather than the opposite, so that newer lawyers might consider putting greater effort into their skills than their email address.

  3. Venkat

    I am setting people up with email addresses at Balasubramani.com. Small fee of course.

    I also don’t know exactly what a hipster is. I think someone who lets the pursuit of coolness swallow normal life priorities (they’re just too into ‘being cool’).

  4. SHG

    Ah yes, the name just rolls off the tongue.

    Question: When someone asks you how to spell it, do you respond, “the usual way”?

  5. Al Robert

    Your argument is a classic straw man. Ernie didn’t imply that an email address takes precedence over a lawyer’s competence. His post was expressly offered in the context of “professionalism” CLE courses that are mandated by many states and his point is that using your own domain in your email looks more professional than an AOL account.

    Given your disdain for the institutional bar, I suggest that Ernie’s post provides fodder for a good roast of its professionalism crusade (i.e., there time would be better spent on helping lawyers take practical steps instead of encouraging everyone to be nice). Instead, you take his point out of context and, therefore, your post rings a little hollow. I would expect such an argument from a slackoise or legal marketing maven, but not from such a seasoned curmudgeon as yourself.

  6. SHG

    Professionalism isn’t about manufacturing an appearance of being a professional, but being a professional.  Ernie’s post elevates the trivial, if not irrelevant, to a place of a material concern, thereby diminishing that which truly matters to professionalism.  It’s akin to a lawyer posting under the guise of professionalism why black shoes are better with a gray suit than cordovan.  It’s neither true nor material, and trivializes others issues of professionalism that matter.

  7. Al Robert

    Your point is premised on the assumption that Ernie thinks real professionalism doesn’t matter. I’m not going to speak for him, but that’s not what I got from his post.

    I don’t disagree with your ultimate point, but you are misrepresenting Ernie’s post to make it. He used quotes around professionalism for a reason.

  8. SHG

    So Ernie was only kidding because he put professionalism in quotes?  Boy, don’t I feel foolish for thinking he meant what he said?

  9. Zach

    A person’s email address serves, rightly or wrongly, as a marker of their technological sophistication. Technological sophistication is important to many types of clients. If the owner of a small software company took a look at my card or website and noticed that my email address was “zach@yahoo.com” instead of something like “zach@zachlaw.com,” he’d wonder whether whether I was capable of understanding his business, and whether I’d received enough of a general education to be trustworthy in general.

    As a client, emaill address choice would affect my decision to hire any but the most old, experienced old well recommended lawyer. It would’t be the most important, or even one of the most important, factors, but I’d notice it. Same as a lawyer who met clients at home or used a general delivery address for snail mail. Or had chunks of his lunch all over his tie.

  10. SHG

    This explains why so many owners of small software companies are serving very long prison sentences.

  11. Zach

    Then again, I saw a slovenly old lunch-chunk lawyer leave the courthouse today and get into a brand-new 750iL…

  12. SHG

    That because his good car was in the shop.

    Seriously, anyone who believes that his legal career rests on having a cool email address is insane.  And anyone who suggests that one’s email address is of such importance that it’s worthy of 30 second of concern is similarly insane.  Win cases and you won’t need an email address at all.  This conversation never happened:

    Defendant:  I found a lawyer.

    Pal: Great, has he done a lot of trials?

    Defendant: Nope.

    Pal:  Won a lot of cases?

    Defendant: Dunno.

    Pal: Has a great reputation among other lawyers,

    Defendant:  Beats me.

    Pal: So what made you get this lawyer.

    Defendant: Well, he has a really cool email address.

    Pal. Very impressive, dude. You nailed it.

  13. Ernie

    I didn’t disapprove your comment. I never received it. Try again and I’ll be sure to approve it quickly. And I didn’t say that “professionalism” or other aspirational goals are more important than winning cases or otherwise zealously representing clients. Nor did I imply that.

  14. SHG

    Try to comment again?  A little late for that.  My job is to submit the comment. What happens after that is up to the blawger, not the commenter.

    So I gather that “professionalism” (I use quotes so no one would complain that I misstated your position) or other aspirational goals does include one’s email address?  You may not have intended or realized the implication, but it’s there nonetheless.  When you elevate something as trivial as an email address to the position of being a significant aspect of “professionalism” (see, quotes again), you inherently diminish truly significant things, like skills and integrity. 

    So does your use of the dreaded “gmail” domain for your email mean you’re just some unprofessional slug?

  15. Jeffrey Deutsch

    Zach is absolutely right.

    Maybe you, SHG, can dispense with such trivialities (to you) as making a good impression on people. Maybe, for example, you show up to court in a ratty sweater, jeans and cowboy boots because everyone there (who matters) knows that you really do respect the court and you really are well-organized and competent.

    Ironically, your post is tough to distinguish from the Slackoisie – self-righteous as all get-out, they insist on their “right” to dress down, use slang – and maintain PG-13-rated email usernames, never mind the domains. After all, it doesn’t matter how the other person feels as long as you win cases, right?

    Here’s the thing. The client can’t observe whether you’re going to win cases. The judge can’t observe how you really feel towards her and her courtroom staff. The other side can’t observe how resolute you are and how good – or bad – you know your client’s case is.

    And of course they all know that you know these things and have a vested interest in their having certain opinions about you whether or not they’re justified. That means people have to dig for the truth.

    What they can observe is your dress, cleanliness, articulateness, tone of voice, spelling and grammar…and things like email addresses. And those are good clues, albeit not perfect indicators, of your inner qualities.

    It’s no secret that AOL always marketed itself to Joe Sixpack and Sally Soccermom. It’s always had many computer-illiterate users. And note the term always – it’s one of the world’s original Internet providers. That means if you’re an AOL user, you’re particularly likely – not guaranteed, but likely – to be technically illiterate and behind the times. (Do you want your clients to wonder if you keep up with changes in the law and procedures?)

    In fact, once something gets accepted, the very fact that you don’t meet it can be held even more against you, because it reflects on your capability, and/or willingness to serve others.

    I might add that Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal has come out with a list of different email address domains and the perceptions attaching to each. Sure enough, one’s own domain name comes out the best. Guess which email domain comes out the worst? (Drop me a line for the link.)

    Of course no one chooses a lawyer for having a good-sounding email address, any more than one chooses a lawyer for wearing a clean and neat (and generally not too loud) suit and tie, or for that matter an employer chooses an applicant for not picking his nose during the interview. That’s a straw man.

    Those traits are expected, and they just mean you get further consideration before the final cut is made. The opposite traits mean you get eliminated right off the bat, saving the client time and effort but leaving you with no chance to show what you can do.

    If your calendar is so full that you can have an AOL address with no effect on your business, good for you. The other 99.99% of us need to adapt.

  16. SHG

    Possibly the most misguided comment I’ve had the misfortune to read.  It’s too long to waste time explaining, but it will no doubt be obvious to any lawyer reading it.  Just utterly bizarre.

  17. SHG

    Be nice. Like you, Jeffrey isn’t a lawyer, and I’m not sure why he felt so strongly that he needed to write such a lengthy comment on a subject he doesn’t really grasp, but none of that fresh talk please.

  18. Gregory Luce

    I just feel sorry for the clients or potential clients who send shg@aol.com or sglaw@aol.com or shglaw@yahoo.com what they think is confidential info intended for you, but I guess that’s not much of a concern or issue for you or your clients. Having your own domain can limit that problem, and it’s a cheap way to do so.

    Is it required? Far from it, and it will also depend on where you are in your career and whether it even matters a whit in your particular practice area. Attorney to tech companies? You’d be stupid to use aol unless it’s some post-ironic hilarious message. Criminal defense lawyer? Lot’s more leeway to do whatever you want, as we can see.

  19. SHG

    I can’t speak for others, but I don’t use email for confidential communications regardless of domain name. Most lawyers I know have real offices, and hold real face to face meetings, and engage in real communications with their clients.  Email is merely a convenience, not a substantive communication medium.

  20. Steve

    Your first sentence is not only douchy but wrong. If you’re going to be a douche, at least have a clue what you’re talking about.


    I thought e-mail was dead? or was that twitter? Or the internet. I can’t keep track.

    Why is it that every argument these days boils down to this: “I know you don’t think it’s important but I sell it for a living and my goal is to convince you that even though it’s not important, it’s very very important?”

    I tell young lawyers going into private practice to see if their name is available asa domain. Why, it’s better to give out your name as an email then have people like me try to remember whether it’s gmail, yahoo, aol, bellsouth, or msn.com. Does it look more professional that someone spent $12.99 at godaddy.com for a domain? Sure. Would I care if the person was otherwise qualified to do what I needed them to do and their domain was @earthlink.com? (now there’s a blast from the past) No.

    Todays young lawyer believes that everything other than becoming a good lawyer, matters. It’s no longer about being good, it’a about appearing as if you are good.

    And it’s all bullshit.

  22. Stephen

    Additionally the Oatmeal cartoon he refers to is titled “What your email address says about your computer skills” and people with their own email domain are described as “Good chance of being skilled and capable. Maybe even a programmer or designer”. Obviously, when I need a lawyer who might even be a programmer or designer, that is something to bear in mind.

  23. Stephen

    Surely the most important thing for a professional email address is that it doesn’t stop working unexpectedly. I think the term for this is “first world problems”.

  24. SHG

    It seems perfectly reasonable to expect anyone engaged in programming and website design (or any related field) to be obsessed with the minutiae of such trivial things as email address.  When the advice to lawyers is that the success of their practice depends on such minutiae, or lawyers start believing that something so ridiculously inconsequently comes anywhere near the thousand others things that dwarf such silliness, then it’s bad advice and diminishes all the more important stuff by reducing it to the level of inconsequence.

  25. SHG

    If you have an extra $12.99 and some free time, have fun playing with available domain names.  In the meantime, some other lawyer will be busy representing clients who couldn’t care less what his email address is and are just happy they have a good lawyer standing next to them. It’s not that the two are mutually exclusive, but that one matters and the other is inconsequential nonsense.  To the new lawyer, however, it’s so much easier to get a really cool email address and pretend that it matters then it is working hard, serving clients, developing competence.  You can’t get that from godaddy for $12,99.

  26. John Beaty

    Chiming in here as a, ahem, “consumer of legal services”, FKA “a client”, the lawyer who handled my daughter’s estate had an aol.com address. The only conclusion I drew from that was that he had been emailing for a long time, and so, presumably, knew how to respond if I were to send him an email. Which turned out to be true, every step of the way was followed by an email informing me of the situation, and a hard copy a few days later with any specific, private details.
    But then, I became this man’s client after both a personal recommendation and some research, on his part as well as mine.

  27. SHG

    That was always my understanding, and that none of it was terribly secure since it was all in third party hands.

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