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.