Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Expressing opinions - law blogging and taking a stand

The other day I was reading an article posted by Kevin O'Keefe about expressing opinions in law blogs entitled 'Take a stand on your law blog : Debate can be good'. The article was in response to another blog by Scott Greenfield entitled 'Dead Lawyers Have No Enemies' on the same topic. The timing of these two articles was quite good, as only an hour before reading those blogs I was turning over in my mind the various pros and cons of expressing opinions and views in law blogs (or 'blawgs', as the learned authors note).

Some of the pros that I perceive are as follows:
  1. You are seen as someone with an opinion.
  2. By giving this opinion you differentiate yourself from simple reporting blogs which either express no opinion, or which express weak opinions.
  3. By expressing an opinion and getting noticed, there is a greater chance that your blog will be discussed and distributed.
  4. Being able to concisely express a view and persuade others is key to being a lawyer and advocate.
  5. You are perceived as someone who has the courage to express views to the public without fear of criticism.
  6. You may cause readers to think differently, and by doing so, gain their respect.
  7. You may cause people to disagree with you, and by them doing so and expressing it to you, you learn the other side of the argument.
  8. The process of receiving and handling disagreement and criticism hardens your skin. A hardened skin is an essential attribute for a lawyer and advocate.
Some of the cons that I perceive are as follows:
  1. A reader might read your blog and, by reason of your opinions, elect not to use you as a lawyer and/or advocate.
  2. Your articles may be viewed as overly simplistic, or overly complicated, and as a result, the reader may perceive this to be reflective of your personal attributes.
  3. A reader might fear the risk of inadvertent disclosure of a material fact, issue or view in a current matter in which the reader is involved.
  4. If your opinion criticises a decision of a Judge, this may have an impact on your relationship with that Judge when appearing before him or her. 
  5. Similarly, by criticising the submissions of counsel or the actions of a law firm, this may impact your current or potential relationship with them.
  6. The opinion (or the existence of the blog itself) may cause the blog to be distributed and discussed, which increases the amount of readers with whom the above issues could arise.
I note that the cons all seem to have the consequence of not getting work which you could have otherwise had, whereas the pros seem to have a mixed consequence of developing yourself professionally as a lawyer and advocate and getting work as a result. I suppose the denial of work (in the cons category) has an equivalent negative effect of suppressing professional development by not getting work.

As a young(ish) lawyer and a relatively new member to the Victorian bar (signed bar roll in 2008), I do hold some of the fears that I list in the 'cons' paragraph above. However I feel that if I am honest in the opinions I express on my blog and don't weaken them, or go to the opposite extreme and indulge in excessive and strong opinion-making, then I don't think it can hurt in the long term.

Do you have any further pros and cons or views? Please provide your comments.


  1. Bar Rule 58 probably applies to blawging barristers, reasoned academic or educational discussion is okay, but polemic is probably out. For that reason, taking a firm stand on a legal issue might be risky for a practicing barrister.

  2. R58 appears to prohibit opinion by counsel on the merits of a current (incl. appeal yet to be determined) or potential proceeding or on any issue arising in the proceeding, other than for genuine educational or academic discussion.

    So if it is a finalised proceeding then opinion may be ok. There is probably a thick fuzzy gray line between an opinion on the merits and genuine educational or academic discussion.

  3. A good springboard for discussion. There can be a reticence about reflecting on wider issues and this can impede professional growth. The commentary about intersection with written professional rules is good. I submit that the written rules should be robust enough to allow constructive andnwide ranging public discussion through blogs and other media.