People: Throw Off Your Shackles and Blog!

People: Throw Off Your Shackles and Blog!

As someone who has built a successful law blog and who has been blogging daily for more than two years, I’ve been asked to write a series of posts talking about how to blog, what to do and what not to do.  “How to” blog is always a tricky, touchy subject, one that sounds dangerously close to impinging on the thing that is most beloved among bloggers, their autonomy and sense of freedom.  The internet is the new Final Frontier, a place where no man has the right to tell another what to do. So I do not say “how to” in the sense of suggesting there is any one correct or right way to blog. Blogging is like music, you’ve got to play it the way you feel it, you’ve got to give your own interpretation to the material.  And that, really, goes right to the heart of the matter.
 
One of the worst and most depressing characteristics of legal writing in general is its reactionary nature, its slavish reliance on form and formula, its rigid adherence to orthodox tone, format and style at the expense of communication.  Legal briefs and memoranda are among the most horrendously offensive works of this reactionary legion, thousands upon thousands more piling up every day, each one seemingly designed to intimidate, harass, mystify and anger the reader at every possible turn.  When you try to read and understand one of these works, sometimes it feels as if you are walking forward in neck-deep snow, sometimes that you are  running a gauntlet manned by screaming misanthropes, and sometimes that you are utterly and hopelessly lost in a snake-infested bayou on a moonless night.
 
Why is this? Remember Orwell’s explanation in Politics and the English Language, which after 60 years remains a fire bell in the night: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.  When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”  Orwell was one of the earliest advocates of what came to be called the plain English movement, and he despised the English of his time as both pompous and deceptive, little better than an attempt by the writer to put one over on the reader.  Despite all the talk since then about how lawyers should write in plain English, well, look at it this way.  If lawyers were on trial for writing plain English, would there be enough evidence to convict them?
 
This question brings us back to the subject of blogging.  If legal blogging is to be yet another display of lawyer obfuscation and tediousness, another clothesline on which to hang their insufferable, flaccid prose, better that it should not be done at all.  But legal blogging does not have to be merely another forum for the boring to drone on to the bored – it can be not merely another format for transmitting the same old information in the same old way, but something radically different, a new means of communication.
 
This is what lawyers all too easily lose sight of when writing – that the goal is not to show how smart they are, or even to win.  The goal is to communicate with the reader.  All other aims must be secondary, because these goals stand the best chance of being realized if the primary goal is first achieved.  The reader’s needs must always come first, before any of the writer’s needs.  The writer must work hard, so the reader does not need to.  Blogging can be a great place for lawyers to discover how to do this, to break free of the iron claw of Latin and dead English, to use creative language, to employ metaphor, simile, allegory, and character development, to discover the storyteller within, to really connect with the reader.  Even judges and other lawyers, so they say, are human.  Given a choice between analysis that plods along like a mastadon on crutches and analysis that is both insightful and entertaining, the market will choose the more attractive product. 
 
Once you have experienced actual communication with readers, rather than faux “informational” writing, once you have tasted that freedom, you will never go back to bondage.  Legal bloggers of the world unite – you have nothing to lose but your chains.
 
 See more posts from David Rossmiller at http://www.insurancecoverageblog.com/