The View From Below

My old pal Gideon Strumpet twitted something the other day that caught my eye.

I love when law students become internet famous for the law and write columns but don’t represent clients.

Law students, new lawyers, law professors are all busy writing about very interesting subjects of great social and legal import, about which they know nothing.  In the past, I’ve noted the problem when non-lawyers write about the law, giving what would appear to others to be sound legal advice. Except it’s totally wrong.  But hey, they aren’t lawyers and have no obligation to get it right. They have a right to be as wrong as they want to be, and anyone who doesn’t realize they’re being fed garbage gets what they deserve, right?

But what about those who seek to appear credible?  They promote their qualifications to wrap themselves in ascribed credibility, and perhaps write (for free, naturally) for a high-readership rag that gives them attributed credibility.  The only thing they lack is attained credibility, but readers will never realize that they have done nothing to earn cred.

Gideon’s point is important: you may want desperately to spread your name and opinions across the internet, but you don’t know squat.  And the readers, who know even less than you do, don’t realize you don’t know squat.

Years ago, the blawgosphere was fairly critical of law students, young lawyers and lawprofs publishing stuff they had no authority to say.  This made people unhappy, as they wanted to be internet heroes expressing their opinions without anyone calling them stupid.  I was personally responsible for the death of a few blogs, here and there, when their authors found out that they could not post idiotic garbage and get a tummy rub in return.

And finally, the gist of this post was to teach a lesson, about playing the role of public pundit when one lacks the ability, or authority, to do so.  The lesson wasn’t directed solely at Stef or Keyana, but to any young lawyer inclined to think that they can mess around in the blogosphere without suffering the consequences of their actions.

I’m chastised by commenter, third year lawyer  Olga Wayne, for writing this post, told that I should be “ashamed” of myself, told that there were a thousand others things I could have done if I didn’t like Keyana’s post.  While true, it’s irrelevant.  This post isn’t about liking what Keyana had to say, but about making a point about public posting by young lawyers.  If they don’t know what they are talking about, they shouldn’t post.

Good times, but those times are gone.  The problem is now pervasive and growing.  While my pal Carolyn Elefant is on summer recess, she’s turned over the keys to My Shingle to guest bloggers, where a swarm of unknown baby lawyers, some of quite dubious integrity, are busy providing listicles of their advice. Why would anyone want the advice of a lawyer less than a year out on how to create a successful law practice?  They think they’re totally brilliant, and can’t conceive of the idea that they might want to achieve success before offering to teach others their methods.

Then I read some articles written by non-lawyers on issues I’ve addressed here, where the authors include quotes from “experts” and “scholars” to add some fluff to their posts. They take their quotes from more mainstream interweb publications than a lawyer’s blog, and bolster the cred of their quotes with the usual hype.  So what’s wrong with that?

Well, the “experts” and “scholars” turn out to be law students or baby lawyers.  Or lawprofs who not only never met the inside of a courtroom, but have to wait on the public line because they’ve never been admitted to practice law.  And yet, they’re elevated to “expert” and “scholar” status, giving their opinions gravitas.  It’s not that they’re invariably bad opinions, or even wrong opinions.  It’s just that they haven’t yet earned the authority to offer opinions.

But that’s such an old school, curmudgeon concept. Earning respect. Earning credibility.  Gaining the experience by doing something, and doing it well, is hard work.  Gaming Google to create the appearance of importance is far more fun and a whole lot easier.

As I was asked when I was harshing their happy by criticizing the public punditry of youth, why must old guys ruin a good time for the young?  Why can’t we just let them write what they want to write, spread it as far as it will go, and bask in the glory of internet importance?

At the time, my answer was because no lawyer has the right to make people stupider.  I still think it’s a good answer, and still believe that we have a duty, a real, actual duty as the Ethical Consideration 2-1 requires, to not make people stupider.  But to the extent people vote with their feet, it appears I’m wrong.

People prefer confirmation of their biases. People prefer simplistic, easily chewable, easily digestible legal information. People prefer funny, snarky, happy, ignorance to the hard work of understanding and getting it right.

People don’t really care who feeds it to them, as long as they’re being fed what they want.

When self-proclaimed expert Adrianos Facchetti wrote at Blog For Profit, run by disbarred lawyer Grant Griffiths turned marketing guru, “You are what Google says you are,” the danger was obvious.  Instead of heeding the call for caution, law students and young lawyers prefer to live dangerously. But isn’t the goal of every young lawyer to become internet famous?  That’s all that matters.

25 comments on “The View From Below

  1. DDJ

    [Not trying to pick nits, but in the phrase below didn't you intend "could NOT post"?

    "...when their authors found out that they could post idiotic garbage and get a tummy rub in return."]

    1. SHG Post author

      Yes, but my editor Marilou gets to sleep late on holidays. Don’t be so harsh on her or she will be sad.

  2. william doriss

    There are lawyer wannabes, and then there are full-fledged lawyers desperately trying to get out the back door and find alternative ways of making a living. Just sayin’; it’s a terrible situation. Before they hang themselves, that is. Speak loudly and carry a small schtick. That may do the trick.
    Please dear Lord, let us not forget the words of The Declaration of Independence today.

    1. SHG Post author

      You, of all people, should appreciate the issues with inadequate legal advice. It’s not about kids pretending to be pundits per se, but about non-lawyers reading what they have to say, thinking they have a clue, and acting upon it. To their detriment. You remember detriment, right?

  3. william doriss

    One man’s detriment is another man’s excrement. No argument here. Honest.

  4. David Woycechowsky

    When representing a client, one shouldn’t be acting on a blog entry, or relying on a blog entry, regardless of how expert and/or experienced the blogger is. Instead, you read the cases yourself and decide how to argue based on that. I think what makes the blogosphere cool is that it is a place where you can talk about the law outside of the framework of representing clients. Good legal discussions in the blogosphere have more to do with what the law should be, rather than what the law is.

    I have (infrequently) used blog posts to find cases, statutes, law review articles and/or regs of interest, but I don’t use blog posts to interpret cases, statutes or regs of interest, or to decide whether and/or how they might apply to client work. If I ever wrote a blog post, I certainly would not other lawyers basing their work for clients on that. It is just not what blog posts and discussion thds are for. They are for something else. Something interesting and good, but not billable work.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m thinking less of lawyers and more of non-lawyers, who decide how to conduct themselves based on what they read, regardless of source. This is particularly true when involved in an interaction with police, where they “assert their rights” in ways destined to cause them pain, forfeit rights and assure arrest if not conviction.

  5. Vincent

    Sadly, this phenomenon doesn’t only apply to the Legal Profession. Lot’s of hot air balloons disguised as experts, and social networking/internet publishing is what get’s the balloon off the ground.

  6. Richard G. Kopf

    SHG,

    The idea that the practice of law, or even “law” itself, can be learned in law school or shortly thereafter is a dangerous fallacy.

    As far as lay folks are concerned, spend a day going through Westlaw reading pro se cases (civil rights, habeas, I don’t care). After that, the indisputable power of your point–don’t listen to lay people for legal advice–is not strong enough. In the words of the smartest lay person ever to be born, Gene Wilder, “You [are one] stupid, ignorant son of a bitch, dumb bastard” if you rely upon Internet lay experts for legal advice.

    All the best.

    RGK

    1. SHG Post author

      I thought that was a quote from Abraham Lincoln.

      Judge, you wouldn’t believe how many non-lawyers think they know the law because the internet said so. I see it here. I hear it when I speak with new clients. It becomes part of never-ending online arguments. There are these gross assertions, made with absolute certainty, repeated over and over. It scares the crap out of me, knowing how many people read stuff on the internet and truly believe they now know the law.

      An article on a website like Slate will get ten times, one hundred times, as many readers as here. If you read some of the crap there, you realize how dangerous the internet can be. And by virtue of appearing there, the “advice” has attributed credibility. After all, if it wasn’t true, they wouldn’t publish it.

    2. william doriss

      I beg to differ. I was a pro se litigant in federal court. I lost, naturally–99.7% of us pro se litigants lose; lost at the appellate (2nd Circuit Court) and lost with the Supremes. I am not exactly stupid, nor have a low IQ like some of the police officers I have encountered in life. But that does not mean in any way, shape or form, that I did not have a good case. Just BECAUSE I am unable to formulate my arguments according to your high-and-mighty expectations does not mean that I do not have a perfectly good and certifiable (“certiorari”) case.
      This is exactly what bugs me about the entire US judicial system: You have the right to petition the Sovereign for “redress of grievances”, but you–apparently–do not have the right to be heard. Unless of course, some newbie clerk-apprentice, fresh-grad somewhere in the underground labyrinth of the so-called judicial branch decides you deserve to be heard. It’s absurd on its face, trust me.
      Excuse me while i go vomit and look for some pain killers in the medicine cabinet. Where’s BarleyCorn? I need backup!
      And let us not forget Independence Day. There was a reason for our treason in 1776. Which the King’s Courts did not recognize. How easily we forget!

  7. Socialist Gumshoe

    I’m of the under thirty set and I appreciate your points here. I hesitate to be critical of people I do not know. However, I have to agree many people in my generation seem to value identifying themselves as something over actually doing the things that someone with that identity would do. For a lawyer, practicing the law and representing clients. It is massively disappointing as we have had some unique advantages which could be put to a much better use.

    Anyways, I am curious if you have any non-lawyers or young lawyers whose blogs you enjoy or recommend. I doubt it will address the more widespread problem but perhaps giving support and recognition to those who are doing it right could help.

    1. SHG Post author

      If you look to the right of this page, you will see a list of them in my blogroll. Some are old. Some young. Some lawyers. Some not. All are, in my opinion, worthy of your time.

      But they also tend not to be the sort to let their reach exceed their grasp, a critical component of accuracy, honesty and integrity.

      1. Socialist Gumshoe

        I assume your blogroll is made up of blogs you would recommend. I was curious about a more specific question – are there people in the groups above who you think are doing it right?

        If the answer is that you just like the blogs you like and don’t have as much a sense of their age or occupation, that is fair enough.

        1. SHG Post author

          So you want me to go through each one, identify for you the ones who are young or non-lawyers, and then spoon feed each to you so you don’t have to waste your valuable time finding the answer to your question? Would you like me to chew your food for you too?

          1. Socialist Gumshoe

            Jeez, you really are a curmudgeon. You make Gid look like a kitty cat in comparison.

            Anyway, my question had nothing to do with not wanting to waste my “valuable” time looking through your blogroll myself. I have read a number of the blogs on your blogroll. I was asking your opinion because I would think as someone more experienced than myself you might be able to easily answer the question. I see that is not the case, whether because you can’t easily answer it or because you just don’t want to. Point taken and I will keep it in mind.

            1. SHG Post author

              As someone more experienced than you, stop behaving like an entitled little brat. Let me ask you a question: have you written anything here that would be interesting or worthwhile to anyone else? I’ll give you a hint. No. So you’re a leech. And still you think you’re entitled to ask for my time to answer your dumbass question because it’s convenient for you? Now you’re a parasite.

              If you have nothing useful to contribute, then keep it to yourself. Nobody gives a flying shit about your hurt baby feelings. Yes, I really am a curmudgeon. Don’t waste my time.

            2. SHG Post author

              It doesn’t make her a bad investigator, but kids don’t see their own entitlement because that’s all they know. They just expect others to do for them because…they’re special.

  8. Mark Stoval

    Scott,

    It has always been true that there were loud mouths who peddled snake oil advice to the gullible. And, my lord, there have always been the gullible with us! I don’t think you ever had a chance to stop it.

    You do good work here for those with eyes to see. For example I wrote a post called, “One reason the police are your enemy” in which I referenced your “Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight” to good effect. (or so I think). I would supply links but they are not welcome here.

    I am not in your state, don’t ever expect to need a criminal defense lawyer, and am a little old now for rash action — but I think reading this blog is still valuable. Certainly, your reports of how the cards are stacked against the defendant are posts that millions should read. Thanks for taking the time to do this. (and for free!)

    ~ Mark

    1. SHG Post author

      While I appreciate the kind words, Mark, I’m really not talking about the loud mouths who peddle snake oil advice, but well-intended law students and young lawyers who have no business peddling advice. They aren’t necessarily trying to scam, but don’t appreciate that they don’t yet have the knowledge and experience to do so.

      They have plenty of opinions, and they may well believe what they say, but they’re still in the early learning stage themselves. Still, they use their “credentials” to suggest that their opinions are worthy of publication and deserve credit they have yet to earn. And non-lawyers believe them.

  9. Chris Miller

    This topic always reminds me of the following quote, not sure where I heard it first. “The law is simple when you don’t have to worry about what it is.” Meaning when you aren’t actually representing clients, it is easy to spout off on the law. But get a real live client in your office who’s situation depends on your advice and who is going to sue you if you are wrong, it all gets a bit tougher then doesn’t it?

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