Photo of Bexis

We’ve been thinking about Francis Pileggi and his woes over at the Delaware Corporate and Commercial Litigation Blog. (As an aside, we must note that Francis’ blog is everything this one isn’t: It has fancy graphics, nifty links, and all kinds of bells and whistles. We, as you’ve surely noticed, have bupkus.) According to this recent post, Francis has been blogging (on his own, at his own cost, and spilling his own sweat and tears) for three years. His blog has succeeded and now has a fairly wide readership. Francis’ firm has apparently noticed his success and now wants to create a series of firm-sponsored blogs — including Francis’! The firm will start paying the monthly fees for his blog, but the blog will now have a standardized firm logo and, perhaps, some firm influence in the posts.
We have two reactions to this.
On the one hand, who cares?
We’re all partners, and we all benefit when the firm benefits. If hijacking the blog serves the greater good, so be it.
On the other hand, I know you want to eat the bread, but where the heck were you guys when I was sowing the wheat?
Creating a successful blog requires a breathtaking amount of time and energy. You have to generate three or four theses each week — think about that if you haven’t managed to generate and publish three or four theses over the course of your entire career — write them up in an enticing way, and figure out the related technological and other issues. Once you’ve done that for this week, you can start thinking about next week’s posts. And all of that effort is essentially hidden from the firm. The effort doesn’t show up as “billable hours” or “client origination” or any other metric that law firms typically measure. The payoff to a firm, if any, is extraordinarily long-term, as the firm (or the individual blogger) builds a “brand,” establishes a reputation, and ultimately benefits (if one counts only financial rewards) terribly indirectly, if at all. If a firm suddenly wakes up one day and realizes that raising its public profile is a good idea, should the blogger be peeved when the firm decides to co-opt his “brand”?
We’re not selfish. We don’t mind contributing to the collective effort of our law firms; indeed, that’s the task to which we’ve devoted our professional lives. Moreover, even if this blog is not expressly affiliated with either of our firms, we assume that our firms are receiving some marginal spillover benefit from our labors.
But we do empathize with Francis’ situation.
If a law firm takes over a blog, it may well change the character of the endeavor, and that could make a real difference.
For example, we simply don’t hawk our services (in any direct way, at least) on this blog. In fact, the National Center for State Courts told us that it examined our blog for any signs of self-promotion before creating a permanent link to us from its “Mass Tort Clearinghouse.” The NCSC decided — correctly to our eye — that we’re a resource, not an advertisement.
Law firms are not always that subtle. We’ve seen, for example, “articles” in the legal trade press under the by-lines of three big-firm partners that contain no substantive analysis at all and are a transparent ruse to convince readers that the “authors” have expertise in a particular area and clients should retain them.
News flash: We’re not impressed. No one is. No one reads that crap in the print media, and no one would read it on-line, either. If law firms imposed their sensibilities on independent blogs, Lord knows what would happen.
The trouble with law firm influence wouldn’t stop there. We do other things on this blog that might raise an eyebrow if we were under the umbrella of a large institution. We’re often self-deprecating, for example. Suffice it to say that law firms wouldn’t know the meaning of “self-deprecating” if the dictionary were open to that page.
And we write risky stuff here. Just yesterday, we wrote that “a set of just 340 cases is for rookies.” Could those words come back to haunt us? If you’re sufficiently conservative (and the study of law builds conservatism into people if it does nothing else — we spend our whole lives looking backwards at precedents), you might worry. Will some future client, facing only 250 cases, think that we would take its problem lightly? When we object in some future court to the burdens imposed by defending only 100 cases, will some plaintiff’s counsel use our words against us? You could spend all day fretting about this stuff and ultimately break the tie in favor of never writing anything.
But we have two responses: First, we were kidding (in a sense) when we wrote those words. It was a joke. Get it? (Note to future client and future judge: It’s actually very hard to defend 340 cases. We’d have to call Bexis back from vacation.)
Second, if we can’t have fun, what’s the good of surviving? In our own personal time, we think we’re allowed to run these little risks, and we just hope our words never come back to haunt ourselves, our clients, or our colleagues.
We don’t mind running those calculated risks, but we’re not sure that an institution would make the same choices we do. For that reason, we would be concerned if one of our law firms wanted to seize graphic and editorial control of this blog. (Actually, they can have the graphic control; no one could do worse. It’s the editorial content we worry about.) A blog that was formally affiliated with a law firm, with the firm taking responsibility for its content, would be unlikely to print words such as the ones you’re now reading. It’s not the fault of the particular firm; it’s the inherent (and proper) conservatism of the institution.
So we’re on your side, Francis Pileggi. We don’t think your firm should have done this to you.
Here at the Drug and Device Law Blog, however, we think we’re safe from any hostile takeover by a law firm — because we’re (either cleverly or insanely) from two different firms. In our real lives, we’re not cooperative at all; we’re head-to-head competitors. Which of our two firms could claim our creation and insist that we conform to its rules?
(By the way, Bexis wrote this post; Herrmann had nothing to do with it.)
(No he didn’t, you lying S.O.B.)
We have one final thought: Maybe we’ve accidentally created a valuable commodity in this little experiment of ours. And maybe someone would like to own it. If one of those law firms with obscenely high profitability wants to make us an offer, we’ve reserved a spot for your firm’s logo right there at the top of this post.