Is it dangerous to put your head above the parapet? Anonymity in legal blogging

Recently, I read an interesting blog by Miss TS Tweets, a Trainee Solicitor somewhere in southwest England (so she says). The post was about articles that she writes for journals or magazines, which are credited to her supervisor rather than to her. Despite wanting some credit for her writing, she says that she values her anonymity too much to repost the articles on her (excellent) blog.

She’s not by any means the only blogger who relies on anonymity. Magic Circle Minx’s post about the skills she can add to her CV is one of the best advertisements for anonymity there is, whilst Legal Bizzle consistently utilises his pseudonym to reveal things about contracts he sees and people he deals with.

At the recent #LawBlogs seminar, Alice Morrissey posed the question of whether it was wise for people who were looking for training contracts to conceal their identity online, for fear of what they said being used against them.

I have never had a problem with people looking at what I do online. Perhaps that’s because I live a dull life, but perhaps it’s because I know that there is a likelihood that even if prospective employers don’t search online for information about you, prospective clients might. The other major reason I’ve never minded – and even actively encouraged – people searching for me online is that I’m actually pretty proud of what I do and the things I write.

The real issue comes, I think, with the tone in which you’d like to write. As far as I’m concerned, I’d be happy for anyone to read my blogs and know who I am. If I was writing in a more critical manner, I might not be so keen for that to happen. That’s not to say that named blogs must be consistently uncontroversial and never say a word out of line – Tim Bratton, Tom Kilroy and Melanie Hatton educate just as much as Legal Bizzle does, they just do it in a different manner.

The extension of my thought process led me to wonder whether, once offered a training contract, I’ll need to be more careful in what I write. After all, I’ll no longer have to simply worry about my own reputation, but also that of the firm. I came to the conclusion that my writing style and tone simply differs from bloggers like Magic Circle Minx. As such, I don’t think the content of my blogs will change dramatically, even if I encounter situations which are similar to those she has faced, such as fetching haemorrhoid cream for a supervisor.

It is largely unavoidable that one will feel a greater amount of security when writing under a pseudonym than when putting one’s own name next to what is being written, with everything that may come as a result of one idle internet search by an employer, colleague or client. Oedipus Lex summarised it best here:

That appears to be the crux of the issue for me. There is no objective right or wrong answer to the question of whether anonymous is better or not. It merely depends on the kind of writing you wish to publish (even this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule – Travis The Trout writes some of the most helpful and insightful blogs around and is perfectly happy to conceal his identity). If you’re thinking about blogging or tweeting, and are wondering whether to do it anonymously or not, just think about what you want to write and how free you’d like to feel when doing it. One of the many things the #TwitterJokeTrial has taught us is that what is posted online is not always akin to having a chat with friends in the pub. You sometimes need to be on better behaviour than that.

I don’t find posting under my own name to be much of an inhibition at all. I don’t change what I write as much as I thought I would. Each person needs to weigh up the factors for themselves. For me, the benefits have far outweighed any burden I may have felt to alter my style or content.

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About Ashley Connick
Ashley Connick is a trainee solicitor at an international law firm. For a full profile, please visit the "About the Author" section of the blog.

25 Responses to Is it dangerous to put your head above the parapet? Anonymity in legal blogging

  1. Charon QC says:

    I am not anonymous… I write under a pseudonym. Fortunately, I don’t have an employer to worry about. I often sack myself, claim some damages, and re-instate myself… I suspect that the legal ‘powers that be’ have long given up on me…. and only ‘roll their eyes heavenwards’ when I write the Muttley Dastardly nonsense… but I do know they read it… if only to check that they are not in it? :-)

    I have no problem at all with Anonymous bloggers. If they write interesting material, amusing material or provide good analysis.

    If an anonymous blogger takes up libel as a hobby, behaves like a troll or abuses other commenters….then I simply disregard them and if they do it on my blog… I delete the comment or change their link url to a porno site.

    Sometimes..anonymity is essential. The Police blogger Nightjack was outed by the Times. A great shame. A very good blog lost.

    Well… therev we are… orf for a glass of wine… it being a Wednesday. Enjoyed the post.

    • Janice pritchard says:

      Charon,you are so right to take comical view of yourself.I laugh at pompous,greedy,snobby Legals all the time.What a system you have bought into.Shameful.Out them all you cowardly bunch.Dont worry,if they sue you,you are so darned brilliant,you’ll get off,you know that. Janice

  2. Legal Bizzle says:

    Good post, Ashley. One quibble – I’ve only written a couple of pieces that I wouldn’t want to put my real name to because of what’s revealed in them. I blog anonymously mainly because I’m self-conscious about my writing, although also partly because I know that no matter how careful I am to obscure identifying details (and I am) some people will (wrongly) read themselves into the story and get upset.

  3. Alice Morrissey says:

    Anonymity in blogging is always going to be a hot topic and I think you’re right to say that there is no objective right or wrong answer. It really does depends on what you’re trying to get out of blogging. For some, a blog is a way to vent and purge all of the frustrations in life / work. For others, its a genuine way to engage with an particular audience. When it comes to engagement with legal topics, it can be really helpful for those reading to know who is writing / commenting as it is a way to gague their relative authority on the topic. Not that authority makes what they are saying any more important, but it is interesting to consider the external factors (i.e. the job they do) which might influence their opinion.

    Blogging, certainly in the legal world, is constantly evolving. I have noticed that more and more people are happy to blog / tweet using their own names. I think this is a sign of blogging / tweeting becoming more mainstream and an acceptance that it is a valid and appropriate alternative to traditional sources of information.

    As is often the case, I think diversity is important. Its important that we have a mix of anonymous and open bloggers / tweeters as it gives individuals the ability to choose how they engage. If an individual is wary of voicing their opinion openly then its really important that they have a channel to vent anonymously – blogging is really changing the game by opening up channels of information which can only be a good thing.

    Alice (real name!)

  4. Jon Dickins says:

    Interesting post Ashley. I do not blog anonymously, but then I am self employed so I am only answerable to myself (I do make it clear on my blog that I am not commenting on behalf of any organisations with whom I consult). I blog partly to raise my profile now I am no longer attached to a law firm, partly to keep up to date and partly to make facetious remarks when I feel like it! I may have self censored occasionally, when I would not have done so under a pseudonym, but I think if I were off the leash things might seriously derail, to mix several metaphors!

    Good luck with the career and the blogging!

  5. Bugsie says:

    One challenge of anonymity is if you are “pushing” a particular agenda. Your expertise or viewpoint may well be influenced by your employment. If so, you risk your credibility and your employer’s being undermined if you are unmasked. This is especially risky if your agenda has a “target” who can benefit from unmasking you.

    There are positives but it is not simple!

  6. Great post Ashley. I think the answer depends on what you intend to get from blogging: if you view writing as an escape valve to vent frustration and say “what it’s really like” then you have to be an anonymous blawger. If, on the other hand, you want to raise your profile and showcase your writing skills, legal knowledge, passion for the job etc, particularly if you’re trying to land a training contract or a new job, then you’ve got to stick your head over the parapet. As you say in your post, you just need to exercise care, but you would anyway if you were writing a magazine article or writing a letter to a newspaper.

  7. Good post Ashley,

    I think, as Alice says, it very much depends upon your circumstances. I do blog (although not in the same league as the others mentioned in this post, it must be admitted!) and I do not blog anonymously.

    I am an employed solicitor and as such, I am always very careful not to say anything that could be construed as negative in light of my employer. I am accordingly very careful of my content.

    I think it can be dangerous to put your head above the parapet unless you continually self-censor, but that said, with a bit of common sense, blogging is a fantastic way of standing out amongst the crowd of other solicitors.

    I am sure your employers would not have offered you a position had they not been happy and encouraged by your on-line output…. and on that note, good luck with the job!

  8. Pingback: Is it dangerous to put your head above the parapet? Anonymity in … | U.S. Justice Talk

  9. The IPKat says:

    The rule of anonymity is simple: the less known you are, the more you can say but the less anyone else will pay attention. There is point at which these three variables meet — and it’s different for every one of us.

    I’ve found it helpful to use several “voices” on my weblog. My own, which is usually quite neutral, and that of two fictional cats, one of whom is a little naive but has a strong sense of (in)justice, the other of whom often verges between sarcasm, provocation and abuse. This has helped me say whatever I want, while criticising organisations with which I have worked (and in some cases their clients), but it’s a complex solution that doesn’t always lend itself to the problems that other bloggers face.

  10. gyges says:

    I’ve written paid for articles under my own name but I’m only prepared to blog under a pseudonym. I do this for a couple of reasons: one is that writing high quality articles is hard work, when blogging I don’t always put that amount of work into it (with a couple of exceptions). Another reason is that I allow my pseudonym to behave as a separate character to myself; expressing opinions that I wouldn’t necessarily express, simply for the latitude this allows.

    There’s most probably another reason but I would remind you of the first reason.

  11. Jane Rae says:

    I agree with other comments that it is great to see a mixture of both – you wouldn’t want all of one or the other. I would be too nervous to write anonymously assuming that at some point – maybe down the line – I would be ‘outed’ and then the history is there for all to find. Sometimes it would be great to write anonymously! Maybe two twitter accounts is the answer.
    Interesting post – thanks!
    Sorry not to meet you in person tonight.
    Have a great time.

  12. Nearly Legal says:

    Ashley. Interesting post. You are of course right that it depends what you intend to write, and how, but anonymity is also subject to the law of unintended consequences. This is a longer version of something I was going to say at #lawblogs, but @lawyercatrin passed over me…

    When I started Nearly Legal, back in the mists of time (2006), I was a paralegal. I wasn’t wholly sure what I would be writing about and was even less sure – this being the pre-historic period for lawyers and blogging – what my then and prospective future employers would make of it. (this was at the time that the first blogging related sackings were making the news). So I began anonymously. I stayed anonymous even after the blog became a housing law specialist site, fairly early on. Even after others joined in to write for the blog, I stayed anonymous – remarkably the others joined without knowing who I was.  It had entertaining moments – people speculating as to who NL was in conversations (inaccurately but flatteringly), or recommending to me that I should read the blog to improve my housing law knowledge. 

    I was finally outed in 2008, just after I qualified.  Happily my firm were very happy about it. The trouble is that my identity on the blog was by that time very firmly established as NL. It would have been a major change to the whole tone of the blog and community that had grown up there to start writing under my own name. So, I found myself in the rather odd position of wanting to take some credit for the blog, but not actually being able to do it via the blog. 

    Housing law is a small world, so (thankfully) who NL ‘really was’ got circulated and it has certainly done my career no harm, quite the reverse, but my name is not out there for prospective clients etc. Who read the blog. It is therefore a well read anti-marketing vehicle. Not getting people contacting me through the blog may or may not be a bad thing, of course, considering the number of people who already demand free advice and/or are at a tangential relation to reality. 

    When I was outed, I must confess that I did go back and prune a number of the more personal earlier posts, ironically including one on the merits and challenges of anonymity. But anyone setting out to blog anonymously now should perhaps bear in mind that they may have difficulty taking credit for the blog’s (unforeseen) success later on, or at least not without destroying the basis of their blog in doing so.

  13. I had the fun of being asked about my blog in a pupillage interview. Didn’t seem to do any harm.

    I don’t blog anonymously, but I don’t go out of my way to identify myself either. That’s partly because I like there to be a distinction between me and my blog.

    It is actually quite difficult to make your blog truly anonymous, and the belief that you are so can lull you into a false sense of security. If you post in your own name it makes you more aware of the risks. That was what made me post under my own name: if I didn’t I suspect I’d be more willing to rant and say stupid things that could come back to haunt me.

  14. Nearly Legal says:

    I’ve just found that I didn’t delete that 2006 post on anonymous blogging, veracity and ethics after all. It was still on my blog and, together with an exchange on Aristotle and Rousseau in the comments, is here
    http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/2006/08/anonymity-the-confessional-and-um-me/
    Times have changed a bit, but maybe not that much.

  15. Michael says:

    I think it’s very much an individualistic thing; different bloggers crave anonymity for different reasons.

    For a lot of people, blogging is a cathartic experience, either because they’ve having a good bitch and moan or throwing a post up online about something more serious just happens to be their way of letting off steam.

    Like Charon said, it’s the quality of the blog that matters, not whether you can put a real name to it. :-)

  16. Writing as an employee is a problem. You can publish something that is not defamatory, and not purporting to be the view of your body, or your view as the postholder, but if your employer dislikes your tone, or finds it critical of the organisation or a sponsoring or partner organisation (and when in you work for the HPA, as in my case, criticising Department of Health or government can be viewed as doing this, no matter how justified), you can be disciplined.

    You might win in the end; but if the employer makes an unreasonable decision the appeals process can be unwieldy to the point that it’s easier simply to give in and not make reasonable criticisms.

    This is not good for public life or accountability. The people who know what’s going wrong are likely to be the ones who can be censored this way, to ensure that the public never finds out, and improvements are not made.

  17. travisthetrout says:

    Thanks for the mention Ashley.

    Like other people who have commented I blog anonymously for a number of reasons.

    When I started blogging in 2007 (previous blog), it was much more common to blog anonymously. When I started writing my current blog in 2008 it was much the same feeling, so I stayed anonymous.

    Since then things changed – I became more confident in my writing and less people blog anonymously – this resulted in a few people learning my identity.

    Part of me would love my blog to be written in my name, but before I got settled into my current job I didn’t really want to take the risk given that I do blog about work. Additionally, when I got my training contract, a number of people asked if I was going to continue blogging. As I probably will continue to blog while doing my training contract I felt it was best to resist the temptation to “out myself” as such. Not that I write anything I wouldn’t want my name on anyway, but its just a safety net.

  18. Jon Busby says:

    Hi Ashley

    One of your tweets said “read it here’ so I did.

    I remember the anonymity dilemma when I started the blog I did before Legal 2.0 which metamorphosed into the DirectlawUK blog. Then I thought it would be a bit odd claiming something and then not declaring who I was and what my interest was = credibility issue.

    2.0 was created to give me more writing freedom and move me a few yards away from our product and give lawyers some insight, an opportunity to engage more informally, a chance in my small space to see what was going on.

    I kind of do the reverse to anonymity and am very very open about who I am mainly because that is innate in me but also because in the Dumb Table of Dumb People, Dumbest at the top, lawyers are way down at the bottom. In other words most lawyers I know can see straight through a phoney…esp if he is a software vendor.

    When I used to have time I did ponder on doing a more risque blog about lawyers as I meet a heck of a lot of them. I wasn’t going to talk about law but leftfield stuff like their style, their character, their offices etc. I was going to do it under a pseudonym…I have the domain and the Twitter account for that. I just lack the guts at the moment.

    Also anonymity can be counter productive for what I have to say. I can totally understand a lawyer being cautious as they are representing a firm, and in a way so am I because I am doing that too. But Epoq gave me licence to do it as long as I didn’t damage the brand, mislead or misrepresent. That said I always caveat it with ‘my thoughts.’ I am also very clear about who I am and who I work for on 2.0.

    Interesting add though. I come up with and write all my blog posts but I occasionally get them sense checked internally or by a collection of trusted lawyers. Noone gets to change the theme/intent/content, ( sometimes I am told “that’s bollxx”), but I share and we collaborate to check tone and grammar. I am not so vain that I do not listen to another opinion especially when the final output is hopefully for everyone’s benefit.

    At the end of the day, content wins.

    As with a lot of social media, there is no right or wrong way (discounting rude and offensive)…just your way. If it works great, if it doesn’t you adapt.

    Jon

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  22. Wes says:

    What an excellent blog. I’ve pondered anonymity quite often. First of all I enjoy that secret cave I’ve created on the internet, the safe pink bubble that is totally disconnected from my real life. Secondly, due to negative experience in the past, it makes me feel uneasy already when people ask me for my first name via DM, or even pressure me to post a picture (what are these guys thinking?), or ask for other details which, combined like puzzle pieces, could hint at my identity. However, since my blog is entirely hobby-related, the issue is a different one. Congratulations on your training contract, I’m wishing you all the best.

    Cheers,
    Wes

  23. Janice pritchard says:

    If you cant tell the truth you are in the wrong job.Truth shouldnt be compromised.You are what you believe in.But be half a person if that suits.Janice.

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