Fear ought not prevent expression on law blogs


All too many law firms and lawyers are afraid to blog for fear they’ll offend someone, somewhere, some time. Many already blogging write posts that read like milquetoast for fear of expressing themselves.

Deevy Bishop (@deevybee), a professor of developmental neuropsychology at OxFord, makes a strong case why fear of expression cannot hold bloggers back. And those not blogging from beginning.

Deevy was responding to Trinity University Student, Brian LaPorte, who wrote that students ought not blog. The reason being that “it is almost impossible to avoid writing something that will offend someone.”

Deevy, of course, advises that bloggers need to think carefully about what they say, and the impact it will have. But fear cannot paralyze you.

…[I]t’s impossible to avoid offending someone somewhere, unless what you write is so boring and anodyne that nobody would want to read it. But I despair at the idea of a future generation so cowed with fear that nobody ever says anything original or controversial.

I’m not arguing that students and junior academics should sacrifice themselves on the altar of freedom of speech, but rather that they should have confidence in the positive as well as the negative power of the internet. If what they say is worth saying, they will get support.

Blogging legal case and statutory summaries, which read like case briefs by first year law students, is the stuff that few read. What is the value you are you offering to business people, consumers, and other lawyers? How does anyone remember you?

Having others challenge your views, maybe views not fully formed, and changing your own views overtime is okay. In fact, per Deevy, it’s a huge benefit.

…[I]f you are lucky, your blog will attract comments that expose you to a wide range of reactions and help clarify and develop your thinking. This can be both fun and useful. LePort worries, though, that this may mean your incomplete and half-baked thoughts on an issue are used against you by those in positions of authority.

As a senior academic, I hope I can offer some reassurance. In general, I see blogging as an indication that the author is a bit out of the ordinary – someone who cares enough about things to write about them, and who is willing to try and move discussion forward. If in addition they change their views on the basis of feedback, that’s fine. Obviously, it’s possible to reveal yourself on a blog as uninformed, irrational or bigoted, and that is definitely not good. But most of the blogs I read aren’t like that.

Demonstrating that you are intellectually and emotionally alive is what will get your blog read — and enable you to establish yourself as a reliable and trusted authority. It’s that authority status — and the trust — which will get you hired to do the work you love.

Deevy anticipates the point I hear regularly. You blog and understand social media. Most lawyers, especially those at our law firm, don’t.

It may be blunt, but what choice do you have?

…[S]ocial media is an unstoppable force and even the most traditional institutions are starting to focus on developing strategies for harnessing its power.

Yes, anything lawyers write can be read by anyone – and be challenged. Sure, it’s a public medium. Arguably more so than conference presentations and articles, where lawyers have historically expressed insight and views.

But isn’t this part of what comes with the territory of being a real lawyer. Who else is to explain and champion the law? Who else to breath light into the law for non-lawyers? Isn’t a dialogue, including expression of different views, how we learn as lawyers? Not to mention the access to the law we provide the public by listening into this dialogue. Isn’t dialogue between leading lawyers part of how we advance the law?

If lawyers and law firms fail to see the advantages of blogging for the public, for the advancement of careers, and for growing business, because of fear, that would be a real tragedy.

As Deevy says, “That would be like staying at home with the door locked because you’re scared of what may happen if you go outside.”

Image courtesy of Flickrby Ninian Reid.

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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