Walter Olson of Overlawyered & Point of Law [LexBlog Q & A]

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Today’s LexBlog Q & A is short but sweet, and features legal expert Walter Olson in the hot seat. Walter, who serves as a senior fellow at the New York City-based Manhattan Institute, also writes for the popular blogs Overlawyered and Point of Law.

In a brief e-mail interview conducted earlier this week, Walter discussed his past relationship with the legal blogosphere, the role blogging has played in his professional life and more.

1. Rob La Gatta: You’re credited as starting one of the oldest – if not the oldest – law blog on the web. What made you think starting a legal blog was a good move at a time when nobody else was doing so?

Walter Olson: I’m a writer, and the desire to write came first, before much thought as to who the audience would be. It started more or less as notes to myself, on topics I figured I might write about later. Also, while Overlawyered is a blog about law, its early readers were more policy types and journalists than lawyers.

2. Rob La Gatta: In many ways, blogs have indirectly created a new system of checks and balances, where people and businesses are held much more accountable simply because their moves are constantly being documented on the web. Do you believe blogs have the power to contribute to the “reform of the American civil justice system” that you say we need?

Walter Olson: The fact is, despite the obvious dangers in it, that blogs are great at shaming. No one wants to have the top page of Google hits on one’s name be from having committed some ethical howler or taken some ridiculous position in a case.

If you haven’t given up on the idea of self-policing by professionals (and I haven’t) there is real hope that legal blogging will focus peer pressure and scrutiny on the underside of law practice in a way that the prospect of bar discipline often fails to do. This isn’t just law, by the way – read the medical blogs and you’ll see plenty of frank talk about the ethical dilemmas and temptations that doctors face. It’s quite an education, actually.

3. Rob La Gatta: I notice that you’ve popped up in a wide range of print and television media outlets. Do you believe your blogging work has helped enhance your overall professional reputation?

Walter Olson:

Sure. Reporters and their editors inevitably spend time on blogs, as do talk-show bookers. How could they not? They use Google constantly, and Google leads them to sites like mine. Most working reporters are also starved to see intelligent reactions to stories they’ve done. As a book author, I was already a media source, but it’s not uncommon for reporters making their first call to say they feel they “know me already”. It’s blogging that does that.

4. Rob La Gatta: What is your take on the future of the legal blogosphere…will it continue to gather steam? Do you think that eventually, lawyers will need blogs to stay competitive?

Walter Olson: It continues to change and expand at an incredible pace; new bloggers can still make a name for themselves in months, even weeks. I would say that certain types of lawyers – in particular those who want to become well known with the press or among other lawyers, but are not already handling front-page cases – really should consider blogging if the aptitude is there.

5. Rob La Gatta: Since you’ve been blogging for quite some time, you’re probably one of the most well-suited individuals to answer this question: if you were to meet a lawyer just starting his or her first blog, what is the one most important bit of advice you’d offer them, and why?

Walter Olson: Find a niche (or two or three) that you’ll never tire of writing about – very few of the good niches are taken. Then write short, pace yourself, and leave them wanting more.

Interested in hearing more? Check out some of our other featured guests…Walter is just the latest in our ongoing series of legal blog interviews for the LexBlog Q & A.

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