Putting it in Context: Or, How I Almost Gave up on Blogging

I stopped blogging several weeks back. You won’t have to look hard to see a gap in the rate of posts on this blog from July until a few days ago. And if you look at the post I did earlier in the week, you’ll see something worse than no blog at all. You’ll see a spineless report of some cert. grants with no analysis, thought, or expression of opinion. I think what I finally wrote was much worse than what I didn’t write. Then I thought, again, about no longer blogging. Confused? If you are still reading at this point, then let me explain.

A few weeks ago, a person attempted publicly to use some of my blog posts, via a verbatim recitation, against me. They were read out of context mind you. And the tactic didn’t work. Still, it was not fun. The general theme of the criticism was that I was failing to follow my own playbook.

Nothing I write here is legal advice. And I don’t pretend to think that this or any blog could ever be an A to Z guide on handling criminal appeals. Such an endeavor is not possible. And if it were, I am not qualified to pen it. There are certain patterns in the law that arise repeatedly (hence, the need for precedent), but no two clients or cases are absolutely alike (hence, the need for lawyers and a justice system administered by thoughtful listening human beings). So, at the most logical of levels, it is a mistake for any blog writer to think too much of himself when he says anything in this medium. And it is a bigger mistake for the reader of a blog to believe that any writer has all the answers or for a reader to take the words in a blog as anything strictly prescriptive. I don’t have a playbook on paper, on screen, or in my head for appellate success in all cases. And, in case I have suggested something otherwise, my appellate batting average is not 1.000.

Yet, I stopped blogging for a while because public criticism, whether well intended, well founded, and properly contextualized or not, isn’t fun. There’s quite enough of it in just doing the job, in standing up to make an argument for a client who has already been deemed guilty by a jury of his peers, in standing up before an appellate panel and taking tough questions, in the humbling experience of filing a brief knowing that it will be read by a group of very professional and highly critical audience. Why set myself up by putting my opinions before an audience that might not get it, might become confused to see me trying out an idea in one post and later abandoning it in another, and who might use those words in a less than charitable way.

But this question, I have discerned through some discussions with people I respect, is not just a question about blogging. Why engage at all, really? Why write articles? Why speak at CLEs or Rotary clubs or bar luncheons? Why try to explain to people at barbecues and parties what you do for a living or why you are so passionate about it? For that matter, why did you endure being called on in your 1L year or choose to take on a vocation that isn’t always fun and is often quite messy to do?

But those questions are probably bigger than the ones that came immediately to mind. A little too deep. A little too fru fru. The real questions I was asking myself were more in the neighborhood of seeking an excuse. The real question was a question of motivation. And the scarier question was exactly what is the nature of this medium and how I was using it.

I began imagining a spectrum, with a scholarly law review article on one end and with a seedy full-page yellow pages ad on the other (with a picture of me in front some law books and a clip-art scale of justice depicted) and wondering where my blog fit on it.

So why have I been blogging?

  • To find business? I wouldn’t mind if it happened. But there are easier ways, probably, to get business than this. If you realize business from blogging, it’s likely to come over a long period of time from a blog that is credible and by referrals from other lawyers who know and have critically evaluated your work. Blogging is probably the least important way to get that. You earn business one transcript page at a time, one argument at a time, one paragraph at a time. But you can get that through blogging too, if done with integrity. But it isn’t easy, and it is not for the impatient. Better to design the yellow pages ad and get on with what you normally do in the day. The business I get directly from the blog usually comes in the form of requests to represent people for free. The most dreaded words in the law, I think are “I found you on the internet.” Because what follows is typically a story of a purported injustice that I should be so shocked to hear about that I would never consider seeking compensation for my time and expertise to take it on.
  • Fame? On my very best day, it is pretty depressing to click on Google Analytics. I think that a criminal appellate law blog is not exactly a ticket to fame. When people tell me that they read this blog, I’m often tempted to say, “so you’re that guy.”
  • To engage other lawyers, to think a little more about issue so importance, to try out (and maybe discard) some ideas about the craft, and to have fun. Those are the reasons to do this. And there’s one more that comes when I stumble into doing it well.
  • To take risks. Stick your head up enough and you’ll get hit. And in the short term, it’s better to keep your head down. But in the long term it just sucks to do that.

In deciding whether or how to blog, whether or how to practice law, and whether and how to live, it always seems easier and more comfortable to lock the door and close the blinds. But it isn’t very fun.


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