On December 9, 2016, I will celebrate 14 years of blogging at MyShingle. Or perhaps observe is the better word. Because these days, this blog brings me as much sadness as joy as I grieve for my life and the world as they were back in those optimistic days when I unleashed my blog into the world and waited for the big magic to happen.
Certainly I can’t deny that lots of great things have come out of blogging. Blogging has spawned wonderful, genuine friendships with other lawyers all over the country and given me a megaphone to voice my crazy views on the practice of law and our changing profession to a far broader audience than I could have ever accessed through the traditional legal trade press.
I’ve also blogged around long enough to see at least one of MyShingle’s original goals — to increase the availability of affordable resources for starting a practice — realized: Today, MyShingle is joined by a multitude of blogs and online communities for solos –Solo Practice University , Lawyerist , Above the Law as well as state practice management blogs and vendor blogs like those written by Clio , MyCase . As for MyShingle’s other goal of changing the profession’s conventional view of solo lawyers as “bumbling and harried rubber-soled creature with a cheap briefcase bursting at the seams,” or inferior to biglaw and instead, as innovators , heros and the soul of our profession as I’d ambitiously intended — while I can’t say that I’ve succeeded , it’s not been for lack of trying.
These days when I sit down to post, I’m reminded of my past accomplishments but also of my husband, and the future that we’d planned that will never happen. MyShingle was really the first and only law-tech project that my husband and I worked on together. My husband first proposed the use of slash-code so that I could build the “solo portal” that I’d initially envisioned. He installed the software, explained how to FTP files (which is how many set up a blog in the olden days) and gave me a couple of pointers on HTML. I took over after that, creating the design as my husband gave me feedback on matters like the most appealing shade of blue for the background, and when I finally started writing, he read my posts or sent me interesting stories to cover. Years later, as our daughters’ departure for college neared and with the growth of a legal technology industry, we’d toyed around with the idea of other future collaborations – with my husband doing the coding and me on product development and legal. That’s not an option any more.
Beyond the personal loss, the way that blogging was “back in the day” only magnifies by way of contrast the horrific present that is the post-truth era unfolding in front of our eyes. Sure, fake news is nothing new, as Kenan Malik contends in an Op-Ed piece. But what’s different and dangerous this time around is the growing financial incentive , fueled by the Internet ad revenue to produce fake news story, and the increased propensity of many to unquestioningly accept fake news at face value and take real action.
The fake-news, post-truth era has forced me to re-think some of my initial positions on legal blogging and online content. When I started MyShingle and up until recently, I’d viewed the web and blogs and social media as a way to level the playing field; to give solos and small firms a voice that they didn’t have in trade publications like the ABA Journal or ALM Media and a competitive presence that they couldn’t otherwise afford with pricey advertising or exclusionary ratings systems. I simply couldn’t see a dark side or a downside to dissemination of more information.
For that reason, over and over and over again against stupid bar decisions that cracked down on purportedly “deceptive” advertising that in my view, only the most moronic of consumers could ever believe. Now, I’m not so sure that’s true—many indeed are gullible . Maybe Greenfield and those other bloggers with bite who criticized the alt.legals and other techno-driven schemes as dangerous to clients were really right all along.
It’s also increasingly difficult for truth to serve as an antidote to fake news – which is the optimal solution under the First Amendment. As a blogger, parsing through fake stories to disprove them can be exhausting. While it’s been said that truth is stranger than fiction , the truth is rarely as sensational or salacious and so even if an accurate story is published, there’s no guarantee that anyone will read it. Fake news stories also force bloggers — particularly bonafide legal bloggers whose reputations are at stake — to operate more cautiously, checking sources instead of just throwing up a post in the heat of the moment which can slow things down.
So what’s the answer? For me, I’m still firmly opposed to increased regulation by the state bars, which are always more about politics and personal perspective than protecting clients and expanding access to justice. I’m more hopeful about technology to monitor lawyer advertising for deception or other fake news story – like verdicts won or cases handled.
But ultimately, fake news places more pressure on lawyer bloggers. We no longer have the luxury of standing by and ignoring lies, particularly those about the judicial system, the way the legal process works and false claims by other attorneys. Our blogging takes on more significance than ever — and yet somehow, the weight of all that responsibility takes away the fun and the lightness and the big magic that made me fall in love with blogging fourteen years ago.