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.

Newsflash: Legal Bloggers are real people! Reflections on the #LawBlogs seminar

This week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a seminar about the future of legal blogging held at One Crown Office Row, home of the brilliant UK Human Rights Blog.

In his post entitled “That was the future of legal blogging”, Adam Wagner of the UK Human Rights Blog gives a good run-down of what was covered.

Legal blogging is certainly alive and well if the #LawBlogs event is to be a barometer. There are new blogs springing up all the time to augment the body of older ones – one member of the panel, Carl Gardner, set up his blog in what he called “ancient history in internet terms” (2006) – and covering all aspects of the market.

It took being in that room with a large number of people who blog for me to realise just how many varieties of law blog there are.

At the moment, I’m not in a position to write about the finer points of law; I don’t feel sufficiently qualified. I tweeted a while ago about this, saying I was a frustrated law blogger because despite my desire, I don’t know enough law to blog authoritatively. But that doesn’t matter – even those who clearly do know enough to blog in that way don’t always do so; for every blog like Carl Gardner’s, Adam Wagner’s, David Allen Green’s (although his New Statesman blog is less about legal intricacies) or the fantastic LawThinkUK blog, there’s one like Legal Bizzle’s, Tim Bratton’s or mine (not that I’m in their league, of course).

I intend, as I progress through my career, to keep up my writing. Whether that is to continue writing about the process of studying & working in law and its impact on me, like Barry Gross or Tim Bratton do, or whether I’ll move into doing more complex analyses, I don’t know. But whichever one it is, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

One of the questions that was discussed was “who do you blog for?”. One of the things I took away from the evening about blogging is that whoever your intended audience may be and whatever effect you hope your writing will have, you are ultimately blogging for yourself. Blogging is unpaid and, as was agreed in the form of much nodding and murmuring when it was mentioned at #LawBlogs, can be very time consuming. It’s not something that any of the legal bloggers would do if they didn’t enjoy it. And I think it’s that enthusiasm that comes across when you read a blogpost – even when Legal Bizzle’s at his most irritated I can sense that, even if he’s not enjoying the work or the people with whom he has to interact, he is enjoying telling the rest of us his story. Blogs aren’t written entirely for the writer’s benefit, though – if it was just about the writing, we’d all be writing diaries – and the more legally-focused blogs rely on their audience in a different way to the ‘therapeutic’ blogs.

It’s sometimes easy to forget – or rather, it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend – just how many blogs you read in the course of any given time period. I was surprised to sit in a room with 30 people on Thursday night, each of whose blogs I have read at least once this week, in some cases many more times than that. There are also plenty of bloggers who were not in the room whose blogs I have also read this week.

#LawBlogs was marvellous because it confirmed to me that there really is a “blogging and Tweeting community”. It was great to meet in person the people who before now had simply been Twitter account names, especially those who use alternative names and photos, and to talk about things we have in common. The main tie binding those who were present was an enjoyment of law (although some might say it borders on an obsession with law).

There were people from all stages of qualification, from lowly, GDL-studying me to those who have made it to the very top of the profession; people who work in all areas of law, and those who write from the outside about the law and its practitioners. It was great to find common ground about blogging with people whom I’d never have met were it not for Twitter, talking about self-censorship in blogposts and the value we’ve found in tweeting about law.

Without the invention of the internet, there would never have been an invitee list like there was at #LawBlogs. Being there was a great pleasure, and there are plans afoot to hold a bigger version of the seminar later in 2011. For me, it was yet another great illustration of the power of the network. Long live legal blogging, in all of its many forms.

Podcast with Charon QC

Over the Christmas period, I was approached by Mike Semple-Piggot, better known (by some) as Charon QC, and invited to join him for a podcast about my experiences on the Graduate Diploma in Law.

The podcast has been recorded and is now available by clicking on this photo:

The link to Charon’s blogpost, which has links to other Lawcasts in the series, can be found here.

I hope you enjoy listening to it!

Social Networking can be both Social and Networking…

“You’re on Twitter? What are you, an egotist?”
“No-one wants to hear what you’ve got to say for goodness sake”
“Isn’t it all people just writing ‘I’m having a cheese and pickle sandwich’? Who cares when someone’s having a cheese and pickle sandwich?”

These are all genuine responses I’ve had when I mention that I use Twitter (@AshleyConnick). They’re the kind of responses that I’m sure many of the more-than-145 million registered users of the social network have heard in their time. My last blogpost was about not telling people they’re objectively wrong, so of course I believe that people are entitled to their view. But I am writing this in order to try and leave them better-informed about the way Twitter works, and in doing so hope perhaps to change an opinion or two.

The deadline for my first piece of coursework on my Law Conversion course is approaching, so in honour of this I decided to do the piece of work. I started it one afternoon before moving on to other work and then napping pre-Day 2 of the Adelaide Test. At tea of Day 2 (4:40 am GMT) I was not tired and decided to resume work. I tweeted that I was going to relegate the cricket into the background in order to do my essay. “What’s the essay on?” came the question from two distinguished tweeters: David Allen Green of Preiskel & Co (@davidallengreen), who blogs under the name Jack of Kent (a must-read) (@JackOfKent), and Mike Semple Piggot, aka Charon QC (@charonqc), who amongst many things produces the wonderful “Insite Law” website, an invaluable legal resource. I replied that it was on a comparison of the rights and remedies available under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 with those available under the tort of negligence and contract law. There followed a discussion of the issues, with me gaining some valuable insights and knowledge. I was able to learn about resources to help me in my studies, about the practical impact of the legislation from the perspective of practising and experienced lawyers, and about books for me to read around the subject with. As CharonQC said at the time to David and me, “where else but twitter could three men be discussing Contract and watching the Ashes at 6.00 am – love it!” This is not something that many people contemplate to be what happens on Twitter – a useful conversation rather than a series of pronouncements with no engagement from others, which is the assumption.

A while ago I was quoted in a Guardian newspaper article by Neil Rose, who tweets as @LegalFutures, in an article called “Tweet success awaits the savvy lawyer”, in which he talked of the fantastic networking opportunities available online, and the great and inexpensive method of publicity it provides. There is no doubt that Twitter is a place for social conversation and no small degree of nonsense – any of you who have read my tweets may be comfortably of that opinion. But it is also a network of such opportunity. I use my twitter account as a newsfeed, a method of communication with people I would not normally have access to, a way to converse with people with similar interests and many other things besides.

The College of Law’s media director is one of the many people I have “met” via Twitter. Jon Harman, who tweets under the username @colmmu, is keen to move the teaching of law forward with technology. He and I conducted a webchat a couple of weeks ago, using a messageboard system that may replace the current ELITE website the College uses. He is as effusive as I am about the benefits of Twitter. “This is why I am keen to explore facilitating the connections,” he said to me after reading the discussions I’d had at 6am with David and Mike, “the knowledge is in the network!” He’s not wrong.

I shan’t pretend that Twitter as a website is solely a work-related entity. I shan’t pretend that it’s even that for me. But it has brought me many new ideas and many connections with people I could never have otherwise had. Whether it’s being able to ask Surrey’s opening batsman Michael Brown (@MichaelBrown80) how his rehab is progressing, discussing a Telegraph newspaper article with its author, Steve James (@sjamesjourno), whilst he is on the other side of the world, or talking to lawyers in Scotland, Leeds or even in my own city, Twitter has given me a great deal. We don’t always talk about law – but then at “networking drinks” or whatever the ‘traditional’ method of gaining these kind of connections is, is the topic of conversation always serious? We are connecting as people with a common interest and that is hugely valuable.

This may have seemed like a defence of what I choose to do with my time, but it isn’t; I will carry on Tweeting regardless of what people think, as I have done for more than 12 months and more than 8,500 bursts of 140 characters. It is an opportunity to show those who don’t understand the medium what it can do for you. The world is changing and moving forwards rapidly – this is one of the ways it is doing so. A discussion which runs parallel to my opinions blogpost is one I consistently have with my friend Leanne about how useful generalisations are. Here is another example of how I feel they are unhelpful: to say that Twitter is for egotists or the cheese and pickle sandwich-eaters of the world does not only those people who use the network a disservice, it also shows a closed mind to the possibilities of the system to the person saying it. I’m a person who likes to try to be in possession of all the facts before making a judgment. I don’t necessarily always achieve it, but that’s what I try and do. I feel that some people who have dismissed Twitter have done so before considering all the relevant information. If they were to use the network, they might be surprised at what, and who, they discover.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 71 other followers

%d bloggers like this: