March 29, 2007
Bay Area Blawgers Meetup Recap
IMHO, last night's gathering of Bay Area Blawgers was a smashing success!
We had over 45 people show up at the event, exceeding our seating capacity! Typically, a fair number of lawyers who RSVP to an event don't show because of last-minute crises, etc. (This is especially true when there's no registration fee). Remarkably, all but a tiny handful of RSVPs actually showed up. I think this reflects bloggers' strong interest in meetups like this--we had attendees who fought a lot of traffic to make it from distant points, including SF, Marin and the Central Valley.
I was also struck by the bloggers' diversity. Just about every segment of the legal industry was represented: big firm lawyers, small firm lawyers, solo practitioners, in-house lawyers, government lawyers, non-profit lawyers, academics, law students, librarians/knowledge managers and legal reporters. Bloggers also covered a diverse range of topics/practice areas: we had a strong group of IP/tech bloggers, but we also had bloggers covering real estate law, immigration law, corporate law, unfair competition law, government law, professional responsibility, politics, legal humor and much more. Finally, we had all of the generations represented; we had lawyers with decades of experience and law students just starting their career.
Thus, this event cut across a lot of the normal divisions within the legal community, yet everyone had something to contribute, and people mingled freely. I can think of few other contexts where such a diverse group of lawyers (and legal-types) eagerly and easily interact with each other. Blogging truly does bring people together--in this case, people from many different backgrounds and walks of life. The main commonalities were (1) we went to law school, and (2) we blog. Apparently, that's enough commonality to form a solid community despite the many other differences.
One other point about the crowd. There's been a lot written about the dearth of women bloggers, a topic that regularly sparks blogwars. See, e.g., here, here (noting that 25% of law prof bloggers are women) and here/here (observing the phenomenon in political blogs). But last night, we had a terrific turnout of top-notch women bloggers. At least in the Bay Area, there's no obvious gender disparity.
In my introduction, I observed that blogging allows us to make virtual friends across the globe, so it’s a little ironic to meet physically, which by necessity limits attendance to people locally. This brings to mind the environmentalists’ 1970s mantra: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” Perhaps in the digital age, we might update that motto to: “Blog Globally, Meet Locally.”
During the discussion, we talked about why people blogged, the challenges that bloggers face, how bloggers develop their voice and strike a balance between personal and professional topics, how bloggers manage reader comments, some risk management issues (like liability for infringing comments), and how blogs may be affecting the development of the law. Although we had a formal discussion for almost 90 minutes, I felt like we barely scratched the surface of these topics, and there were many, many times I would have loved to ask follow-up questions and really explored someone's remark.
We ended up spending a surprising amount of time discussing blogs as an extension of a lawyer's identity and the obligations/challenges of owning one's words. We want freedom to express ourselves, but we also face a lot of constraints due to the possible implications of our words on our reputation or on third parties (such as our clients). Kim Kralowec was a perfect example, as she started out by blogging pseudonymously for a year before taking the cloak off. Then, she was reluctant to blog on defense-favorable cases given her plaintiff-side practice, but ultimately her firm's managing partner encouraged her to blog all sides.
As this indicates, many lawyers fear blogging because of possible future estoppel--i.e., lawyer takes position A on the blog, and then wants to argue contrary position B in the future for a client. On this point, Jason Schultz asked if anyone in the room had their blog cited against them by an adversary. His working theory is that adversaries may raise a lawyer's public statements against them, but that such citations rarely have any adverse consequence.
I had a personal experience with this. When I was being deposed as an expert witness, the opposing lawyer asked me about a post I had made to an email list. (The printout was actually garbled, but that's a different point). But, consistent with Jason's theory, this citation was inconsequential to my testimony or my credibility. In response to Jason's inquiry, John Steele also noted that he knew of 2 different law firms who had their client newsletters cited against them, but again it's not clear that those citations had any effect. So while blogging still has a theoretical risk of further adverse citation, we’re still looking for actual evidence of such adversity in practice.
However, I couldn't resist pointing out how I had been listed on a Rule 26 supplemental disclosure in the Bar/Bri litigation as a witness with potentially discoverable evidence because I had written a few general blog posts on the case.
Kurt Opsahl conducted 2 interesting surveys. First, he asked how many bloggers had filed a 512 OSP registration with the copyright office. No hands, although Mike Masnick from Techdirt said he was in the process of doing so. This result is consistent with my research on the OSP registration database last summer (see here), where I identified only about a dozen blogs that had filed registrations.
Second, Kurt asked how many bloggers had received a cease-and-desist letter. About 10 bloggers raised their hands. I raised my hand even though I don't think I've ever received a "true" cease-and-desist. I have gotten some nasty emails from litigants (typically plaintiffs) unhappy with my blogging on their case, but those rarely contain anything close to an implied legal threat.
However, I did have one situation that's close enough. In that case, a "reporter" (which I put in quotes for reasons that will be obvious in a moment) was surprised by my strong words in a post where I dissected an ill-conceived lawsuit. The reporter emailed me to ask if I thought my remarks were defamatory, and of course I replied that I thought not. This enterprising "reporter" then wrote a story about how bloggers can be irresponsible with their word choices, citing how a law professor (me) had written a blog post that could be defamatory. As part of this reporter's research, he called up the litigants in the deconstructed case and asked them "Hey, do you think Goldman defamed ya? And do you plan to do anything about that?" I think it's fair to insert a "hint hint" after those questions, and I'll let you form your own opinions about whether such questions are consistent with standard journalistic ethics. Then, to complete the campaign, the reporter submitted this story to Slashdot. Fortunately, when other bloggers with actual legal training weighed in, they all were as dismissive of the defamation characterization as I was. But it's never fun having people running around asking other people if they are planning to sue me!
One last point from the discussion: Cathy Gellis said that she went to law school in part to have a say in important matters. But then she realized that to have a say, she needed to speak up--which she now does via her blog. To me, this was one of the best justifications for blogging that I've heard.
At the event's end, I asked if there was sufficient interest in reconvening another gathering of Bay Area Blawgers, but I think the answer was already fairly obvious. It was absolutely terrific to meet people face-to-face, and we clearly have more things we could learn from each other. Therefore, the High Tech Law Institute plans to sponsor a second gathering of Bay Area Blawgers in Fall sometime. More details to come. If you didn't RSVP yes to the initial event, or if you're not on the list of Bay Area Blawgers, then I don't have you on the email list--please contact me and I'll add you.
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