Sorry, But I’m Not Contrite About Ignite Law (Just a Little Late to Respond)

The night before ABATech Show, I participated in Ignite Law 2010:  The Future of Law in Six Minute Increments.  I’ll admit — the Ignite event excited me – and I submitted a proposal  because I think and write about the future of law and also because the Ignite format – 20 slides in 20 seconds – fascinated and challenged me.  Innocent enough motives, or so I thought.  Little did I realize that by participating, I was actually taking part in a vast, crackpot conspiracy to dumb down standards, dupe naive, desperate lawyers into believing that they can run a seven figure practice without anything else but a snappy social media presence, and generally, to run the legal profession into the ground or at least cede control to marketers, gurus and pretentious thought-leaders.

It’s not until I returned back home to Washington DC, where I pretend to practice law and represent clients that I realized the error of my ways, enlightened as I was by Brian Tannebaum’s Watching the Law Ignite in Flames, Scott Greenfield’s Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, Venkat Balasubramani’s
Emphasizing Tech and Social Media at the Expense of Fundamentals and Antonin Pribetic’s Star Trek, Social Media & Legal Ethics.  This quartet of some of the sharpest writers in the blogosphere derided the Ignite event for elevating frivolity over fundamentals, proselytizing lawyers with false promises and suggesting that basics like great writing and great work are the enemy of the profession.

To be fair, these guys have a point.  Yes, fundamentals, hard work and ethics (and maybe a bit of luck) are all critical to success as a lawyer.  But isn’t this fairly obvious?  Call me naive, but are there really lawyers out there who think it’s possible to run a successful practice without honing their skills?  (I guess I’m too boring to attract those types – I usually get calls from newbies who want to triple check ethics rules or who are terrified of filing a complaint before someone else eyeballs it).  Six minutes isn’t a very long time, but one can convey the point that competence matters in six seconds.

So  if I agree somewhat with these guys, why did I participate in Ignite?  Two reasons.  First, as I said at the outset of this post, the challenge of condensing a talk into six minutes and twenty slides intrigued me.  In my bread-and-butter practice area, energy regulation, I often have just a couple of minutes with a reporter or a Hill staffer or government official, so I’m always looking for new ways to convey complex ideas, either through charts or other visual media.  Ignite offered an opportunity to improve my speaking skills to serve my clients, so for me, it was partly educational (yes, I know – it sounds like reading Playboy for the articles).

But more importantly, I spoke at Ignite because like Scott, Brian, Venkat and Antonin, I also have fear – though my fears are entirely different.  Brian wrote in his post:

What I fear, is new lawyers who listen to non-practicing lawyers go from conference, week in and week out to tell them all the wrong ways to get business, and that the way they are doing everything, is wrong. I fear many of the people who spoke here. I fear that I have witnessed a live version of everything I criticize.

That’s what I fear.

As for me, I fear that without a little bit of encouragement, our profession will lose talent; that promising lawyers will depart the legal profession because they don’t realize the myriad of paths that can carry them to success and personal fulfillment.

I harbor that fear because it almost happened to me.  When I was laid off from my firm in 1993 and couldn’t find another job, a few “helpful” friends suggested that I simply leave the law and start a family.  Sometimes I felt so desperate that I thought I’d just walk away from the law, but I persisted and started my own firm, because I was determined to get my ROI from my pricey law degree.  And in 2000, a few months after my second daughter was born, I once again feared that I wouldn’t be able to make a go of it in the law while balancing a family at the same time.

Back in 1993 and even 2000, there weren’t many people talking about alternatives, about different ways of practicing law.  It was all about all-or-nothing, 100 percent commitment whether a lawyer wanted to work for a law firm or start a practice.  Moreover, home with children and working part time in a conservative place like DC I was largely isolated – had no way of knowing the possibility that existed beyond my narrow confines.

When you face head on the possibility of losing a career that you’ve worked hard to attain — and I venture to say that Brian, Scott, Venkat and Antonin haven’t ever found themselves in that situation — it changes your perspective.  When you realize how close you came to missing out on the small but powerful moments that collectively comprise a life in the law – from the family that you spared from eviction right before Christmas to the old drug addict whom you kept out of jail to the industry that you helped to build or the amazing people you’ve met along way – it makes you want to reach out to others similarly on the brink of leaving and inspire them with the amazing possibility that our profession offers as well as the challenges that we face.  If participating in Ignite helped me and others send that message that with a little bit of creativity and ambition and hustle, you can make a life for yourself in the law and do some good at the same time, then I consider it worthwhile.  That’s why I’m not contrite about doing Ignite.

You can view all of the IgniteLaw videos here.  And please, feel free to share your thoughts below (except to tell me that I talk. too. fast.  I already know that!)


  1. William on April 1, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Well said Carolyn. I think this argument has gotten off track, especially considering the proliferation of tweets and blog posts that amount to whiny high school rants, a behavior not becoming of an attorney, despite the rah rah ethical claims. Moreover, the real question of ethics in the online space, at least to me, is the Legal Zooms and quick legal form services that operate under the supposition that all your legal interests are protected by simply filing out a form written by an attorney at some point in time.

  2. Brian Tannebaum on April 1, 2010 at 9:10 am

    William, I assume you are referring to me, and Scott, among others when you talk about the “proliferation of tweets and blog posts that amount to whiny high school rants, a behavior not becoming of an attorney, despite the rah rah ethical claims. Instead of avoiding naming names and complaining about the criticism, why don’t you attempt to diffuse the criticism with the reason why you are right and we are wrong?

  3. Dave! on April 1, 2010 at 9:24 am

    I’m beginning to just tune out people like Greenfield and Tannebaum as much as I am tuning out the ‘social media gurus’. Not because I disagree with them entirely, but because it seems more and more they are just bent on being contrary.
    Yes, they both have some good points. The Ignite event could have had some more substantive presentations and less marketing. But I didn’t see submissions from either of them during the voting. I certainly would have loved to hear either of them speak. The messages of upholding professional ethics, client service, and hard work are all fantastic. So why not try to put that out there in a positive light? Showcase the benefits of doing so–in terms of personal satisfaction and career achievement. Why not posts from Scott and Brian warning of the dangers of a “quick and easy” path in the law without turning off the new and the young in this profession who could actually use a *positive* message from people like them who’ve built good careers? They might claim it’s “tough love” but so far, all I see is the “tough”.
    I’m a new attorney–but I’m not young. I don’t fall for the marketing BS put out by the likes of many self-proclaimed experts, but I’m not anti-marketing (word of mouth and reputation *are* marketing). But I see other new attorneys who are young–and they aren’t listening to people like Greenfield & Tannebaum. Greenfield & Tannebaum seem to be echo chambers for the “boreletariat” as much as the “sm gurus” are for the “slackoise”. Sure, they will claim that’s because all those new attorney’s are just “slackoise” who want a quick buck, but I think the reality is a little different.
    In reality, many are young people looking for mentors. Mentors don’t say, “you’re unethical, lazy, and afraid of hard work”. Unfortunately, these new lawyers are being seduced by the easy way–not just because people seducing them are telling them what they want to hear, but because the people seducing them aren’t crapping on them daily.
    In the end, hopefully before it’s too late, those new (and old) attorneys will see that the marketing gurus and people seducing them are selling something and tune them out. But people like Greenfield and Tannebaum aren’t really contributing much either (on this topic, at least).
    So thank you for being unapologetic *and* contributing something worthwhile to events like IgniteLaw. The best resources that new attorneys and new solos have are people like you and others who *are* practicing attorneys, who also support innovation, and who can balance the caveats with encouragement. And who aren’t jerks in the process.

  4. Nicole Black on April 1, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Bravo Carolyn! Thanks for taking the time to respond to the harsh, and in my opinion, baseless, criticisms being made on Twitter and on blogs.
    One of the difficulties with the criticisms is that, for the most part, they do not name names, but rather cast aspersions against all who participated in IgniteLaw.
    So, your need to issue rebuttal is understandable. But, it’s worthy of note that Scott Greenfield followed this up with a post on his blog indicating that you were one of the few highlights of the evening and were not an intended target of the criticisms.
    So, apparently you’re one of the lucky few absolved of blame for ruining our profession. At least you can take some solace in knowing that;)
    Either way, you’re a true leader and inspiration for lawyers who are seeking to become solos and for women attorneys seeking to balance work and family.
    I for one greatly appreciate all the support and advice you’ve provided to me over the years, and I know I’m not alone. Keep up the good work!
    (Disclaimer: I also spoke at IgniteLaw and I co-author a book w/ Carolyn, but I’d have written the same accolades about her long before we began working on the book together. She’s a true inspiration.)

  5. Venkat on April 1, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I agree this argument has gotten off-track.
    Kudos to you for what you did I think it’s valuable to lawyers to show that there are alternatives. All of those alternatives require a firm grasp of the fundamentals and we both agree on that.
    My post was something that’s been bubbling up over the past 6 mos. It wasn’t directed at Ignite (or any of the talks). I followed #techshow and saw the keynote. (I saw one other Ignite talk which was great.)
    I think I’ll blame it on my own social media habits, but there’s this overwhelming sense that if you focus on tech/social media, you can jumpstart (or leapfrog) your practice. This is just wrong. You may not say it. I may not say it. But there are a ton of people saying it.
    Our generation of lawyers doesn’t need much evangelizing on technology and social media. The one that’s coming needs even less. They need evangelizing on the fundamentals!
    My name is spelled “Balasubramani” BTW 🙂

  6. Richard Maseles on April 1, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Hi Carolyn. As you know, I was at Ignite Law…and I thought you, Tom Mighell, and the ABA journalist rocked..but that’s beside the point. I attended because I wanted to be exposed to something different, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I appreciate everyone who presetned for having the courage to embrace a deliberately limited medium to try and make their points. Many presentations were less than optimally successful in those attempts, but I have enough empathy to realize I’d have a hard time doing at least as well, given the constraints.
    Ignite Law reminds me of the change in real-life jury argument that occurred after a couple of years of LA Law– we learned to get our points across quickly (well, more quickly), because the pretty lawyers on TV were able to do it.
    There’s a lot new going on in the law that practitioners ignore at their peril. It’s not just technological. People who complain about Ari Kaplan’s using his daughter and their Wii to get his points across may not be familiar with the movement in trial law to couch our arguments more in the principles of story-telling. The best trial lawyers always did this, but we really didn’t know that this was one of the tools they used. Now we do.
    Ultimately, I wonder how much of the pushback is from people who are scared and/or intimidated by these changes.

  7. shg on April 1, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Like Carolyn, Niki and Tom Mighell were also highlights of the program. Note that there was nothing negative said about any of them. This wasn’t an accident.
    To Dave, Tannebaum and I, and others of our “ilk”, spend a great deal of time writing postive things to help new lawyers. Apparently, you haven’t read them. Perhaps you should so you could be better informed and gain a little from the mentoring. The vast majority of our writing has nothing to do with slackoisie or social media, but apparently the substantive posts don’t interest you enough, and so you read only those which are critical of these trends.
    You are certainly free to read (or not read) whatever you like, but it’s inaccurate to severely limit your understanding of what we do and then mischaracterize our efforts based upon your limited understanding.
    And Richard, we are trial lawyers. Storytelling isn’t a new movement, and we’ve long known about it and used it, though it may be new concept to you. But storytelling and bad examples/analogies aren’t the same thing. What Ari Kaplan did was just bad. Using an analogy to make a point is a fine mechanism, but it must still be done well (which goes back to the fundamentals issue). Kaplan didn’t.
    One of the best critiques of Kaplan was a point by a commenter at Tannebaum’s post that “they talk so fast and make so many vague points that no one can remember anything other than the fact that they were entertaining.” For some people, that’s enough. For others, it isn’t.
    As for fear, wonder as much as you want, but it’s just a silly exercise. We are early adapters in technology. We simply don’t buy into the notion that tech is substitute for lack of competency, client service or ethics. Is this is what you consider fear? If so, then I’m very afraid.

  8. Richard Maseles on April 1, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    shg, I’ve been practicing law for 22 years. I’ve seen, live, some of the best trial lawyers of this and the prior generation. Story-telling in trial law isn’t a new concept to me, but I’ve never seen CLEs on the subject arise until the last few years– so to others besides us, it must be a new concept, one that needs teaching.
    And as the member of a small-town bar association, I know that fear of new technology remains real. I totally agree that technology is not a substitute for competence, but I also think that understanding where, and how, the two intersect in our profession is vital, which is part of what I take away from Techshow.

  9. Dave! on April 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    SHG, actually, I *do* read your substantive posts. I find them quite valuable, even though I don’t practice criminal law. (And yes, I realize your substantive posts are not limited to Crim Def.) My point was that your other posts (re: “slackoise”) actually detract from your credibility. You can disagree with me if you want to, but I don’t think that’s a mischaracterization at all.
    I think you’d be an even more valuable resource if *all* your posts were focused on substantive issues. Signal to noise ratio would improve.

  10. Antonin I. Pribetic on April 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    At the risk of sounding impertinent, the criticisms of the IgniteLaw program, including my own, were directed at the content, not the the 6-minute, rapid fire format.
    I have presented at and attended various “Six Minute Lawyer” CLE programs and they are largely effective, when the content is otherwise valuable and educative.
    Perhaps Greenfield and Tannebaum were too busy to submit their respective IgniteLaw topic proposals, but the loss is the ABA’s and the attendees’, not theirs. I found Carolyn Elefant’s presentation, in particular, useful and well executed. However, this does not inoculate one from the glaring omission of the program organizers to consider the issues of professionalism and ethics in the context of social media.
    Building a sustainable law practice, developing professional competence and establishing an ethical reputation is the foundation of lawyering.
    Social media and tech law are tools; not the toolbox. Young lawyers need mentoring as much as we did when we first started out. What all lawyers—whether at the beginning, middle, or near the twilight of their careers— should focus on is professionalism and collegiality: this is what makes ours a noble and honorable profession. What we don’t need is “more COWBELL”.

  11. shg on April 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Dave, now we’re talking about a different issue. On the one hand, my “slackoisie” posts total 18 out of over 3000 posts since I started SJ. Too much noise? Perhaps for some, but I don’t think so.
    More importantly, and this may be a bit harsh, but I write for me, not you. If I was writing for you, you would have to pay for it, and checking my pockets, I see that you don’t. Consequently, there is only one vote every morning when I decide what to write about.
    If the signal to noise ratio is too high for your tastes, that’s fine. There are plenty of other blawgs to read. On the other hand, if you come to SJ, read my substantive posts and find them valuable, that’s great. But don’t complain then when I write something I want to write, but doesn’t suit your taste. You get what you pay for.
    I make no excuses nor apologies for my decisions. They are mine, and mine alone. As I tell people who ask me to write about various subjects, or not write about others, no one puts a gun to your head and forces you to read. If you don’t like it, you’re free to go.

  12. Dave! on April 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    SGH, It doesn’t sound to harsh at all. But as I’m sure you’d agree: I’m entitled to my opinion. I *am* absolutely free to complain. That’s the beauty of liberty, neither of us gets to stop the other from complaining about whatever we want. You complain about the “slackoise” and I complain about you complaining about the “slackoise”. How recursive.
    And I do read what I want, which is why I just skip your “slackoise” posts (most of the time). No one is asking you to apologize or make excuses, just offering constructive criticism.
    And you don’t just write for you alone–don’t be disingenuous. If you just wrote for yourself, you could keep the posts tidy on your PC or in a shoebox under your bed. You want others to read your work or you wouldn’t be posting on the Internet.

  13. shg on April 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Now I’m disingenuous? I wasn’t aware of my motivations until you informed me. I would hate to be disingenuous (it’s very unbecoming), so I take my statement back and await your further instructions.

  14. ageorgialawyer on April 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    I too read about techshow. What struck me as a little “off” was that Ignitelaw’s statement is: The future of law practice.
    I thought it seemed a bit off that 8 or the 16 presenters were not (as it read) actively practicing lawyers.
    Now, being just a simple guy from the south I thought: Would a trial lawyer association has a non trial lawyer as its president? How about a Cuban Business Expats’ group having a Filipino at the helm? Or a single man as president of La Leche?
    Here, it was more basic to me. It would be like hiring a trial consultant who does not go to trial.
    I probably don’t go as far as BT or others. Its a tech show after all.
    I will be at the next one, so hold the pffttt’s til then.

  15. Dave! on April 1, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Yes, I believe you are. Your sardonic response doesn’t make it any less so.

  16. Lisa M on April 2, 2010 at 7:27 am

    I attended IgniteLaw, and I enjoyed the presentations. As Venkat acknowledged, “the focus of the show is on technology in the legal profession so you can expect the focus to be on technology….” The show wasn’t billed as providing a primer on the practice of law for budding professionals, so I didn’t attend expecting to hear about the fundamentals. Also, Matt Homann repeatedly reached out on Twitter to ask people to present at the show to provide their vision as to the future of the practice of law, and the people who presented were those who took the time to develop PowerPoint decks and short oral presentations to share that vision. Critics of those opinions should step up and appear at next years IgniteLaw to fill any perceived void. I am glad that I attended, and I intend to return next year.

  17. Lisa Solomon on April 2, 2010 at 10:20 am

    As a fairly regular CLE presenter, I’m familiar with criticisms that a program “should have” covered X or Y or Z. Attendees offer feedback like that no matter how closely the program hews to its description in promotional materials. Ignite Law was exactly as advertised.
    Antonin’s view that program organizers made a “glaring omission” in failing to “consider the issues of professionalism and ethics in the context of social media” ignores both the process and content of Ignite Law. With respect to process, as other commenters have pointed out, Matt Homann put out numerous open calls for program submissions. To the best of my knowledge, he posted all submissions on the Ignite Law website for all to vote on.
    With respect to content, two of the sixteen presentations (12.5%) dealt directly with ethics (Kevin Chern, The New Ethics of Legal Marketing; Will Hornsby, Lawyer Advertising, From Here to Eternity). Now, Scott, Brian and Antonin may not like what Kevin and Will had to say about legal ethics, but that’s not quite the same thing as saying that the Ignite organizers ignored ethics issues.

  18. Andy Arnold on April 3, 2010 at 8:38 am

    A fair response to a good deal of unfair criticism. My lack of enthusiasm for Ingite Law is perhaps due in part to stereotypical reasoning: I lump much of these presentations with the evangelicals who overhype social media in order to hype themselves. So, I only listened to about 5-6 presentations. Perhaps reviewing the other videos would prove me wrong.
    And, I’d would admit I share the superiority complex that drives the mean-spirited critiques. Intellectually, I see law as a struggle of ideas and interests for power; social media seems mostly a struggle for attention. Of course, those who mock social media gurus are seemingly also struggling for attention, and it could be argued that “real lawyers” aren’t tweeting at 3 pm on a workday (which is probably 6 days a week if you are a “real lawyer.”)
    For me, there is room for a few tweets a day despite the flurry of a successful solo litigation practice. And, there is a place for events similar to Ingite Law, but where the fast-paced presentations focus more on the struggle of ideas as they do the struggle for attention. In that regard, Ingite Law has a good deal of room for improvement.

  19. Antonin I. Pribetic on April 5, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Lisa Solomon’s comment above is fast food for thought.
    First off, I never heard of Matt Homann or IgniteLaw. Listening to Nicole Black’s video mea culpa on Law Tech suggests that not many else knew about it as it was apparently put together at the last moment. Let’s just say that I’m not a member of the ABA social media lawyers club.
    On Lisa’s second point: A grand total of two out of 16 so-called “professionalism and ethics” IgniteLaw presentations (by Kevin Chern, The New Ethics of Legal Marketing; Will Hornsby, Lawyer Advertising, From Here to Eternity) constitutes merely an afterthought. Each of these 2 presentations were focused on current ABA legal marketing/advertising rules.
    In fact, the embedded message that I decoded from the slide presentations is that “we need new ethics rules for the 21st century to allow lawyers to unrestrictively advertise in social media”. Sure, virtual bench advertising works.
    However, there are more subtle and profound ethical issues affecting how lawyers perceive and interpret their professional and ethical obligations in the face of new law technology: Privacy, Confidentiality, Conflict of interest, are but a few.
    Equally disappointing is the lack of any substantive content at IgniteLaw on how the iPad represents a paradigm shift for the legal profession. Seriously, I want to know more about legal tech, but I need to hear more about the Semantic Web. Never heard of it? Nevermind.

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