On Wednesday night I attended a gathering of Bay Area blawgers hosted by the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University and organized by Professor Eric Goldman, the institute's director. The event was designed as half discussion and half meet-and-greet, though unfortunately I had to leave early to catch a train and therefore missed most of the socializing. The discussion, however, was very interesting. It proceeded as a round-table discussion about the nature of legal blogging and the various unique issues faced by attorneys who blog. As can be expected when you get 45 law-types into a room together, the discussion was dominated by a handful of people, but there were comments from a large number of attendees. My participation was limited to one or two wisecracks and a few funny/boring stories.
In light of the fact that almost everyone there was representing a blog, a large part of the experience was observing the different types of legal blogs, and what different blawgers hope to gain from the practice of blawging. There were a few people whose blawgs were practically a fulltime job, or at least a significant portion of their professional life. In my case, of course, I do everything I can to keep the blog separate from my job, and never (as far as I can tell) blog about things I'm working on or have worked on. This is due in part to the way this blog evolved -- it began as a supplement to the comic strip but quickly became the main focus of my online identity, but all the while retained a very personal nature. Once I graduated from law school and could no longer blog about the law student experience I made an effort to increase the frequency of posts dealing with legal issues, but these have always been interspersed with personal anecdotes and silly pictures of my cats.
To be sure, there's a part of me that fantasizes about becoming the next Dahlia Lithwick, so in a sense I'd like to cut my teeth as a legit legal writer by turning this thing into a more fully developed and formidable legal blog. This may or may not happen, particularly in light of the self-censorship that legal bloggers of all sorts seem to be stuck with. Despite the fact that I've tried valiantly to anonymize this blog (though, frustratingly, if you Google my name this is the first thing that comes up), I'm always careful never to blog about anything that might relate to a case I'm working on or may work on in the future, whether it's my views on a particular legal issue or a comment that might be viewed as critical of a particular party.
The issue of self-censorship came up at Wednesday's event, and the discussion was very interesting. The group generally acknowledged the need to self-censor in certain respects but also discussed the effect that this has on a blogger's credibility, a conflict that many of us found very troubling. This brought up the issue of whether blogging anonymously is the answer to self-censorship. In response to this question, there were two great points: (1) Blogging anonymously may also affect your credibility, since you're not taking ownership of the things you say, and (2) If you keep an anonymous blog and then blog willy-nilly, you run the risk of your identity being eventually discovered, which might be a worse scenario than identifying yourself at the outset and watching what you say.
Other topics of interest were what voice you choose to blog in (my propensity for pottymouthery and my unhealthy fascination with exotic dancing probably aren't exactly professional assets), the organic development of blogging etiquette, and (just as I was leaving) the possible legal pitfalls of running a blog. This latter topic was particularly revealing, addressing things like people posting copyrighted or defamatory content in the comments section (please don't do those things, by the way).
All in all I greatly enjoyed the event, my only complaint being that I didn't get more of a chance to socialize with my fellow nerds. Although a highlight for me occurred before the discussion, when Boalt Professor John Steele recognized me not only as a Boaltie but as the school's erstwhile cartoonist.