At the New York Times, Tim Kreider complains of how the word “content” went from satisfied to freebie.
NOT long ago, I received, in a single week, three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money. As with stinkbugs, it’s not any one instance of this request but their sheer number and relentlessness that make them so tiresome. It also makes composing a polite response a heroic exercise in restraint.
People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing. They often start by telling you how much they admire your work, although not enough, evidently, to pay one cent for it. “Unfortunately we don’t have the budget to offer compensation to our contributors…” is how the pertinent line usually starts. But just as often, they simply omit any mention of payment.
I wonder how much the Times paid him to write that? Even a trench lawyer with a blog gets a ton of requests for free “content” daily, which is better than some of the total nutjob blogs that just grab posts as if we’re on their team. To even start describing some of the insanity the internet has brought to my front door is impossible; there are people whose craziness is far beyond a normal person’s wildest imagination, and there is an audience for pretty much anything out there, no matter how disgusting or nuts. But I digress.
Free is the new black. It’s true that blogs undermined the value of writing, not because we’re an adequate substitute, but because we’re free. People will suffer a lot of mediocrity to get it for free. The old adage, you get what you pay for, was meant as a slam. It’s now merely a reminder that you shouldn’t gripe too much since it didn’t cost you. It’s a fair trade-off.
Having a big internet to choose from is a huge opportunity for lawyers. I know this because my pals, Carolyn Elefant, Kevin O’Keefe, Niki Black, Mark Britton and many others tell me so. Except I keep getting phone calls and emails from people who want a lawyer for free. Tons of them. And even if I won’t take their case for free, will I at least answer their questions for free? Or give them a free consultation?
Another pal, Mark Bennett, spent the past week engaged in a kerfuffle with some baby lawyer. She was giving free advice on a problem far away from her jurisdiction for the purpose of self-promotion, except the advice she gave was dead wrong. She was very miffed with Bennett for not correcting her in a kindly manner, screwing up her effort at creating a carefully crafted internet persona that somehow neglected to mention she was incompetent.
But her advice was free. And it was all for a good cause, her self-aggrandizement. Lawyers shouldn’t do that to other lawyers, Bennett was told. It’s unprofessional to smack an incompetent lawyer. It’s not unprofessional to be an incompetent lawyer, however. Incompetent legal advice is the price of a free internet.
I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing. I have to admit my empathetic imagination is failing me here. I suppose people who aren’t artists assume that being one must be fun since, after all, we do choose to do it despite the fact that no one pays us. They figure we must be flattered to have someone ask us to do our little thing we already do.
The reinvent the future of the new normal of law folks have been arguing to everyone in their echo chamber that tech changes everything. If they’re right, then we’re doomed. People who get arrested are entitled to legal counsel, but only if they can’t afford to hire one. That’s not how most feel, however. They feel entitled regardless. Everything they read on the internet tells them that lawyers give it away for free. A Twizzler costs money. Legal advice is there for the taking.
Kreider writes about how technology is the delivery mechanism of content, but content still has to come from somewhere. If you want content, someone has to create it. There are plenty of people willing to do so for free because they haven’t figured out that the “exposure” they’re promised is a meaningless come-on. Them and a zillion others just like them get exposure, all twelve people who stumble onto your crap website. Only a handful capture any audience of worth, and even then, they only manage to get exposed as someone who gives it up for free.
Beyond the phone calls for free legal advice, often ending with the caller angry that I won’t give them what Avvo promises I should, there are the lawyers who have just started their blog and want me to “take a look” and, perhaps, throw them a link. They are garbage, the sort of content that marketeers tell them to post using their top ten rules of successful blogging.
Lawyers are going the way of writers, devaluing what we do in order to gain the promise of exposure, failing to think hard enough to understand that we’ve told the world that we give it away for free. So what if you’ve conclusively proven you’re incompetent in the process; it’s free and they’ll suffer incompetence for the right price.
Eventually, lawyers will come to the realization that the technology that thrilled them with promise has worked to the benefit of Google and Apple, but has left them empty and worthless. And when someone Googles a lawyer for advice and stumbles upon an incompetent fool, they won’t be upset. After all, at least it was free. Well played, technology. Well played.