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


Josh King said...

Although there is value in permitting anonymity in blog commenting, it should only be used in edge cases. And for lawyers, one would hope those edge cases would be few and far between. Sad that it seems to have instead become the general rule.

kris said...

Your self employment gives you the luxury of not giving a shit. I, on the other hand, continue to be employed by other lawyers who can google and find everything I've ever said on the Internet. Yippee. Something else to use against me.

Besides, why do you car if Ms Law Student publishes under a fake name? Does that in of itself make her comments less substantive than if she outs herself as Carol jones of East Jesus, Alaska?

Andy Barovick said...

I think "kris" kind of proves your point. He probably wouldn't have to be so paranoid about what he has said on the internet if it wasn't stupid and groundless--traits that anonymous contributors to conversation on the internet tend to have.

Had he had the fortitude to use his real name, he might have provided more thoughtful and defensible comments, and would not now be quite so concerned about his internet footprint.

Knights of the KKK are anonymous. Executioners wore hoods for ages. But people who have something positive to contribute, who have something to say, who have guts, allow others to see who they are talking to. That, too, is a vital part of the legitimate sharing of ideas.

In other words, I liked your post a lot.

kris said...

Erm, Kris is my real name.

Jesus wept.

Kris (borrowed name, because it makes me sound cooler than shg) said...

"Erm, Kris is my real name."

Heh. And that changes eeeevvvveeerrryyttthhhiiinnngggg!!!

It can be very tiring to chat with young people these days. They fart and can't figure out there's an unpleasant odor emitting from their buttocks.

Anonymous said...

Brian: Something to consider... a lot of law firms tell their associates that they aren't allowed to have a public presence on the internet that isn't approved by the firm. The logic is that you get paid by the firm, you're a reflection of the firm, so therefore, if you want to stay stuff in public it had better be (a) anonymous; or (b) approved before hand by the firm. Junior associates can choose to either post anonymously or not post at all. Partners aren't interested in associates expressing thoughts and adding to the discourse -- it's all about how clients and other lawyers perceive the firm. Stupid? Yes. Unfair? Yes. But it is what it is. On the flip side, associates get paid while learning how to practice law under more experienced attorneys. That's not a bad situation, but it comes with a price.

To respond directly to your article, I would like to post things using my full name but it's not exactly in my best interest at this point in time.

Being an experienced lawyer with a good reputation and a book of business also provides a great deal of freedom. It's what many of us younger lawyers are trying to achieve. But we have to get there first.

My Law License said...

Anonymous above,

As I said in the post - "I get it, I just don't like it."

Used to be lawyers were spokes people for injustice, advocates for causes, cases, legal positions. The internet hasn't made our voices louder, its sent many of us in to the underground as a trade off for the mighty dollar.

kris said...

absolutely, Brian. I'm a hired gun. Paid by people who think I need to believe and think like them to defend or prosecute.

So yes, until I have built up my business to the stage where people can work that out for themselves on the basis of my track record rather than a blog post, I'll be keeping my last name to myself.

My Law License said...

Thanks Kris. I posted your comment even though it made absolutely no sense.

Anonymous said...

There's another reason for posting anonymously: I have a past. In my youth I did something monumentally stupid, and the fact that I've spent the past 30 years doing everything I know how to do to make up for it counts for nothing when that's the first thing that shows up in a google search of my name.

So, if I want to participate in any internet discussion about anything, my choices are to either post anonymously, or brace myself for an inevitable avalanche of ad hominems. It doesn't even matter what we're talking about; it could be the weather in China. Just as soon as I say something that somebody else disagrees with, or that ticks someone else off, they'll run my name through google and make sure that I personally become the subject of the conversation.

And yes, I understand that one sows what one reaps and all that. That doesn't mean that I have to deliberately place myself in harm's way.