Monday, December 12, 2011

A Generation Of Proud, Anonymous, Lawyers

The debate over privacy is dead. It isn't really, but apparently, in order to be "cool" on the internet, you must declare something "dead." The debate over privacy though is dead, as there is no privacy on the internet, or in smart phones, and anyone who cries about it, is a moron. Write something, text something, put anything on the internet or in to your phone, and assume someone not intended to see it, will. As lawyers love to say - GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.

But the debate over anonymity is not dead, it is growing, and it is divisive.

I think anonymity is important. It's important when reporting a crime, and can serve other important purposes - like when the statement made can put someone in jeopardy of harm - real harm.

Anonymity is also important to those that are cowards. Without anonymity, blog comments would be vast wastelands of intelligent conversation and vigorous debate by people willing to put their name to their statement/argument/lucid thought. Instead, we get comments about people's appearance, ethnic background, and made up shit that is just written to generate a response.

Anonymity is also important to liars. Without anonymity, someone couldn't comment - without the fear or retribution - on a blog post or news article with something that the writer knows to be false.

Some of it is just silly, and some of it is downright scandalous.

When it comes to lawyers and law students, anonymity is simply pathetic. We are, or are going to be, members of the bar, advocates, leaders. Instead, we are no better than the flip flop wearing, basement dwelling, unemployed and angry citizenry who spend their days protected by their fake name or "Anonymous" on the internet, saying whatever they want, and claiming that they are simply fulfilling their patriotic duty under the First Amendment.

There are two reasons I am not anonymous. I am not afraid of letting people know what I think, and I don't come from an upbringing where I was led to believe it was appropriate to lie about people, and otherwise say things publicly without putting my name to it.

Not only is there a feeling that anonymity is OK today, people believe it is a God given right and dammit if they are going to come out of hiding and speak their mind. Anyone who doesn't think much of online fear-based anonymity, is a dangerous person.

So went the debate a few days ago between myself and a law student. The debate began when this anonymous law student was (like many anonymous keyboard tappers who have found a nice home at Above the Law (ATL)) upset about the new comment policy allowing columnists to decide whether to accept comments. I think the policy is stupid, (ut oh, are they gonna fire me?), I think that people who can't take it are pathetic, but it's the new policy.

This anonymous law student was telling one of the ATL columnists who invoked the policy to "rise above it" and continue accepting comments. I thought it hypocritical that an anonymous law student was telling a (not-anonymous) lawyer to allow comments (the bulk of course which are anonymous), so I stuck my nose in it, and here's the relevant portions of how it went:

First, this anonymous law student announces that a columnist has chosen to no longer allow comments, and then says:

@LawStudentDiary hiding isn't the answer.

Brian Tannebaum - But you're anonymous.

Then after the typical nasty shit that happens when someone like me tries to talk to someone like her, @lawstudentdiary says a couple interesting things:

You either allow people to be anonymous and thus be honest, or you have real people, who have to self-censor.


If no one was allowed to be anonymous, you wouldn't have hardly any commentators.

Then of course, as twitter goes, someone else jumps in and claims that this is about something much more important:

@clarinette02 @btannebaum @lawstudentdiary May I ask you : Who were the very first drafters of the US constitution? haven't I heard they were anonymous?

Yes, and I've had Tang, just like some of our Astronauts.

And then of course, I finally got the "you stupid old man" comment:

@LawStudentDiary @ @btannebaum Haha, okay. Most of the internet is anon. Some of your fellow ATLers are too. It's how things work. I'm sorry you don't get it.

That's me, Mr. he doesn't get it.

I do though. I get it.

I just don't like it.

I don't mind that people are allowed to be anonymous. There's no requirement for people to say who they are while mindlessly typing things that make total sense to them and the world in which they live. But this entitlement (there's that word again) that society has, that law students and lawyers have, that not only can I be anonymous, but I have to be because if anyone knew what I really thought, I'd be homeless or have the shit beat out of me, is disgraceful.

Think about it - you, reading this. Lawyer, law student. Is this what you wanted? To become an advocate and then spend your days in hiding on the world wide web, in fear not just of your own stupidity and hate, but more importantly, in fear of your cogent thoughts, ideas, perspectives on life?

That's who you are when you are anonymous - no one.

Anonymous comments are welcome as long as they say something relevant and half-way intelligent and aren't a vehicle for a coward to attack someone. I trust you understand.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The One Comment That Got To Me

No, not those comments. I've been the subject of negative comments in print and online for longer than any social media hack has been working from home after their failed law career. I'm not talking about the anonymous online comments. Those generate laughter and some eye rolls, but I'm lucky enough to have been the brunt of hatred ever since I opened my big mouth in college. It rolls off me like another article about how the way I practice law is dead and I must get on the train of a total virtual practice or I will die.

I'm talking about a comment I heard from a lawyer. A lawyer I've been a friend to, a lawyer I've advised, counseled, and helped do some things. This lawyer has become successful in their own right, both professionally and politically, and never fails to say thank you. I like this lawyer, and I'm glad this lawyer is doing well.

So the lawyer tells me that some lawyer asked whether my friend really believed that I helped them out of unselfish motives. There of course had to be some motive, it couldn't be just...that...I like this lawyer and was there for the advice.

I've been dealing with this for my entire career. From the first time I joined a Bar association, went on the board, ran for office, ran for another office, on another board, in another association, the lawyers whose entire practice is the walk from their car to the courthouse and back to car to go home, have always believed that lawyers like me only get involved in things, in other people's campaigns and efforts, out of an ulterior motive.

And that motive is?

To become a judge.

Of course.

This is understandable. There are plenty of lawyers who climb the ladder of bar associations and other organizations with the goal in mind of wearing the robe.

But it's never been mine. No, I'm sorry to disappoint, sorry to shock the world, but my motive has never been to make $142,000 a year, sitting on a bench everyday saying "denied," "granted," "next case," and hoping every 6 years that no one runs against me and takes my job.

Nope, I've never applied for an appointment, never filed to run, never told anyone I was interested.

Actually, about 10 years ago there was an article in the paper about a (failed) effort I was trying to start to have every local bar association pass a resolution banning judicial candidates from joining their organization. I would see the parade of otherwise socially inept judges all of a sudden becoming members of this and that association during their campaign. I wanted it stopped. The associations wouldn't touch it.

I'm 42, I love practicing law. I love a new client, I love writing motions, I love negotiating. I love the fact that my income depends on me, and isn't the same amount no matter what I do. I love that every day is different.

But the morons out there can't see that. No way, I must want to be a judge - why else would I help people, plan CLE events, advocate for changes in the law?

Why must it be that the only reason people get involved in their profession is to leave it and go do something else, like judging?

Yeah, maybe in 15, 20 years I'll change my mind, but no time soon, and it won't have anything to do with the things I've done in bar associations or charities.

I do these things because I like to do them, because I value relationships, because with the people I get to know and work with, I don't have to rely on my twitter account or other website to bring me clients.

What I have realized though, is the same people who will never imagine that there are lawyers out there that just enjoy getting involved in their profession, are the same people who think the only reason to blog is for business. These are the same people who have the robotic script: "I see you have a blog, you get business from it?"

The perception is not limited to any one thing, it's a general perception among desperate and unhappy lawyers that those who don't spend their days banging their head against the wall trying to drum up business and instead are doing other things, can only be doing them with ulterior motives.

So to you, the asshole that asked my friend that question, yes I know you read my blog, I know you read it, hate it, but secretly wonder if you could do the same thing. To you, the one who asked that question wondering if you could get the same advice and counsel from me, wondering if there was something you could hang your hat on to say "AH-HA," it's not there. You've reached a dead end.

And I hope you have a good mirror.

Anonymous comments are welcome as long as they say something relevant and half-way intelligent and aren't a vehicle for a coward to attack someone. I trust you understand.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark