November 13th, 2019

Shit-Blogging Goes Mainstream

Back in 2010 I ripped into legal publishing behemoth FindLaw because they had turned to shit-blogging: Producing “content” in the form of writing up local car collisions and then closing with “If you’ve been injured…”

I wrote at the time:

To be clear, dreck-bloggers aren’t interested in creating good content, they simply regurgitate local accident or arrest stories and place a call-to-action link at the bottom.

This pattern has now hit the sports world. On the op-ed pages of the New York Times, former Deputy Editor of Deadpspin, Barry Petchesky, discuses how he was fired because his stories did not deal, in the words of Deadspin’s new owners, with sports. Deadspin had been bought by G/O Media, a private equity firm.

Deadspin believed that sports didn’t end at the locker room, but included a whole host of player and management conduct that occurred off the field. It had an expansive view of sports, just as I have an expansive view of personal injury law that I believe covers ethics, and SCOTUS and marketing and every other aspect of a professional service business.

Petchesky was clear on his view of the scope of a sports editor:

We wanted to show the world the reality of sports, to help readers and players alike understand the labor issues, the politics, the issues of race and class that don’t materially change when the power dynamic is owner/player. In 2014, we obtained audio of then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rant against what he considered ungrateful black employees. “Do I make the game, or do they make the game?” Sterling said. Deadspin’s position was that it’s all in the game.

With this purchase, Deadspin follows Sports Illustrated to the grave. Control of SI had been given to “wannabe tech company” TheMaven, which last month fired half of Sports’ Illustrated’s vaunted newsroom, and then went about trying to “hire” local people for peanuts to cover local teams.

In other words, SI is becoming a “content mill,” much the way FindLaw set out to do 10 years ago. Deadspin will presumably follow the same route as it’s website becomes zombified to run local stories that are little more than click-bait, or computer-generated articles.

And this isn’t much different than many financial articles, which are now written by computers instead of people. Every so often I see articles that will give some generic statement about a company’s earnings and I think, “Huh, you can say that about pretty much any story.” Then I Google the sentence and see that it was a line repeated over and over and over again. (See: The Rise of the Robot Reporters)

This use of artificial intelligence to write news stories isn’t limited to margin players of the news business. It’s being used by the Associated Press, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

The obvious problem with all this, of course, is that such pieces – whether written by computer or clueless human — focus only on the who, what, where and when. They really can’t answer why.

This downgrading strips all nuance, color, flavor and human analysis as to the greater ramifications of what an incident means. Context is lost. A robot writer cannot, for instance, understand the significance of ambulance chasers and what that might mean for society at large. It can only report on who was arrested. Or how much a stock changed relative to expectations. Or the scores of a minor league baseball game.

Computers will never see the fire in the eyes of the people involved. No matter how many shit-blogs are churned out in a subject area, th eye will always be devoid of context.

Even lowly bloggers such as myself get pitched on these “services” with “content writers” sending me emails every day asking for my humble little piece of digital real estate so that they can spam the web with their links attached to generic and dreadful “how to” pieces.

I’d rather this space go quiet than publish their pablum.

The “content” writers, whether they are human or computer generated, can’t deal with emotion. They don’t find humor and heartbreak. They can’t sit back and wonder at why things are the way they are.

As Petchesky noted:

Deadspin was the voice of the long-suffering fan, finding the humor and the heartbreak in everything in the world of sports. It was the fan wondering why he was paying $200 to go to a football game to watch a team whose owner would rather pocket profit than pay to improve the roster. It was also the fan troubled by the culture and the politics of sports, the fan who couldn’t help noticing that the larger issues of the real world spilled onto the field. Sticking to sports, pretending that sports can take place in a vacuum, would have been profoundly dishonest.

It’s only getting worse. Im not sure what, if anything, I can actually do about it. But when quality vanishes in favor of quantity, it should be noted, and a small prayer uttered that people will still see and respect quality, and allow it to rise to the top.


March 20th, 2017

Breslin and Blogging

Breslin on a bar stool, where he belonged, via Daily News and Michael Brennan/ Getty Images

I was reading an obit of the great New York newsman Jimmy Breslin, who died yesterday, and a quote jumped right off the page that I wanted to share. Because it’s about blogging, sort of.

His readers and reputation were clearly that of the everyday working man, and not the hoity toity elites. How did he make his curmudgeonly pieces spring to life?

Before one gets to writing styles – no one needed a dictionary to read a Breslin piece, he being the antithesis of George Will — one needs to address motivation.

As in motivation for writing the piece to begin with. The quote:

Asked in a 2012 interview what he aimed for as a journalist, Breslin replied, “To please a reader: me.”

“I didn’t care about anybody else,” Breslin said. “If I thought it was humorous, if it made me smile, I put it in. I wrote it in the paper and didn’t care what anyone thought.”

I note this because, while no one would ever confuse me with being Breslin, it reflects my own motivation to write this blog for the past 10 years.

With no publisher (and obviously no editor) I write whatever the hell I want. Which is usually on the personal injury law, but I’ve obviously taken a very expansive view of what that subject entails and feel free to get sidetracked if I like.

Writers gotta write. And you can only do it if you have a zest for the subject, be it law, running, or ponies.

If you write for others, instead of yourself, your work will probably suck. That’s what happens when a writer doesn’t have an interest or a passion in the subject. People that write for Google algorithms will always turn out crap.

It’s a pretty good lesson for bloggers.  Write what feels good and what feels right. Then hit the send key and go about your day.

If others like it, great, and if not, well, nothing lost there since you weren’t writing it for them.



November 18th, 2016

10 Years of Blogging (A Retrospective, Part 2 of 2)

ny-personal-injury-law-mastheadYesterday I started a retrospective on 10 years of law blogging with some of my favorite posts. In this second of two installments I have more, culled from the 1,400+ that I’ve done.

But it’s worth noting a significant change that’s occurred since I started in 2006. While there may be many blogs, there seem to be fewer and fewer that actually interact with each other.

Or at least that’s seems to be true from the consumer end of the law: personal injury, criminal justice, immigration and the like. Many are little more than adjuncts to websites that are stuffed with keywords in the hopes that Google will find them, and then clients will, and they act like islands unto themselves.

The death of the legal blogosphere has long been discussed. Back in the “good old days” bloggers would be linking like crazy to each other and they built upon, or rebutted, the arguments and assertions of others.

Today? Twitter and Facebook seem to have taken a lot of the steam out of the blogosphere, as a short Facebook update or tweet now often takes the place of a blog posting with any depth. It’s fast and it’s easy.

It’s that speed and ease, of course, which also lends itself to less thought and more vacuous comments and conduct.

I’m still at it here, though I do so only when I have the time.  I stand as guilty as others of taking things I might have blogged about, and simply shooting off a tweet that’s then quickly lost to the electronic ethers. As time allows, I hope to reverse that practice in the coming year.

One further note before the postings: I’ve tried hard to shy away from political posts and stick with my core issues. Tort “reform” obviously crosses that boundary.

Of late, however, there have been many Trump posts, as he acts like a one-man bar exam. Everything he does seems to cause legal issues. Some examples that I’ve addressed are: Supreme Court nominations, defamation, sanctions, labor law, and client-attorney privilege. I have no expectation that will change.

Without further ado, a few more of my all-time favorites:


Scalia: “There Is No Right to Secede”This had nothing to do with personal injury law, of course. But the story of how the late Justice Scalia wrote a letter to my brother, which then went viral 3+ years later, was really, reallyreally fun. Really.

Does the Tea Party Believe in Conservatism or Tort “Reform”? (8 Questions) — Some people use politics to further an ideological agenda. Some use it so just get whatever the hell they want. This post sits at the intersection of the two.


I think I’m required by law to use this photo when discussing April 1st postings.

On Becoming the White House Law Blogger — It’s been over six years since I got that April 1st appointment and the New York Times ran with it based on “blogospheric chatter.” Having that much fun shouldn’t be legal.

Outsourcing Marketing = Outsourcing Ethics (5 Problems With Outsourcing Attorney Marketing) — Legal marketing is inextricably intertwined with legal ethics, so if you outsource your marketing you have outsourced your ethics and reputation. Lesson: Don’t outsource you ethics and reputation.

Study Says Texas Medical Malpractice Tort “Reform” Is A Bust (Is Congress Listening?) — There are 86 posts here that are tagged with Tort “Reform.” This is one of them. Because I’m a sucker for using data and analytics instead of anecdotes to prove a point.

Are FindLaw’s “Blogs” Tainting Its Clients, Commentators and the Profession of Law? — FindLaw printed crap, using the same name of my blog. And I called them out on it. Big time.

Barney Speaks Out (An Interview with the First Pooch) — After George Bush’s pooch bit a reporter, I did a a little legal analysis and then decided, what the hell, why not interview the dog? But of all the things that have happened to me as a result of this blog, being quoted on the editorial page of The Economic Times of India about the initial bite has to be the most unexpected. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, you can make parts of it up.

Joseph Rakofsky – I Have An Answer for You — From the first time I was sued (along with many other law bloggers), wherein I told the plaintiff to “Go shit in a hat and pull it down over your ears.”  It’s a type of legalese.

Judge Rips Doc for “Huge Lie”; Perjury Prosecution Possible; Victims May Number in Thousands — When a judge ripped Dr. Michael Katz for what the judge called a “huge lie,” it led to this post and then a 7-part series on defense medical exams along with my call for a state investigation into insurance fraud perpetuated by the insurance industry itself.

Shooting the Messenger (I’ve Been Sued Again) — Reporting that prior story of the judge repeatedly calling Dr. Michael Katz a liar got me sued, for the second time. But you know what? Reporting on what a judge says is fair game. And yes, the suit was quickly chucked out by the court. Same as the first one. Lesson: Don’t bring a stupid suit against me — I will humiliate you.

About That Aunt Suing An 8-year-old —  A story that went viral for no good reason other than a reporter wanting to write a skewed article about it for page views.

Death by Red Bull, An $85M Lawsuit, And The Money Shot – One of my pet peeves is lawyers that do stupid things for publicity that have the effect of poisoning the jury pool.  The comments, by the way, are priceless.

New York Needs More Robust Anti-SLAPP Legislation — My op-ed in the New York Law Journal regarding frivolous defamation suits, and threats to bring them, that have the effect of stifling free speech.

That’s it for now, unless I come back with Part 3 of this two-part series.  Stranger things have certainly happened.


November 17th, 2016

10 Years of Blogging (A Retrospective, Part 1 of 2)

ny-personal-injury-law-mastheadI started this blog 10 years ago today, absolutely clueless about what I would do with it.  I just liked to write and figured this would be a good arena to take oft-times complex subjects and break them down to their easy components. (The Purpose of the New York Personal Injury Law Blog)

After putting up that first little post I remember telling my webmaster about the six hits I got from that post. I found readers so quickly! He told me they were Bulgarian spambots.

Since then I’ve appreciated something that I didn’t appreciate back then: That the practice of law, even in a small niche like mine, has an extraordinary breadth.  There was no real reason to limit myself to local judicial decisions, or trial practice and tips.

And so I have ranged far and wide into the subject of attorney marketing and ethics, Supreme Court nominees, tort “reform,” bar exams, confidentiality and privilege, insurance fraud by the insurance industry itself, and the First Amendment.

And I’ve written about running a few times, because it’s my blog and I get to make the rules.

Among the few rules that I actually try to follow:

  1. No personal attacks. There is a difference between tearing into someone’s argument and an ad hominem attack;
  2. No gratuitous coverage of local incidents where people are likely to hire lawyers due to injuries;
  3. No self-aggrandizement, or this blog would look like an advertisement, and worse yet, be dreadfully dull; and
  4. Try hard not to do “me too” posts that merely repeat the news/thoughts of others.

Along the way of writing 1,400+ posts, I’ve had over 2M+ page views, and have stumbled into the pages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, among many media outlets. The NYT ripped off one of my stories, and the WSJ figured out how to do so also.

I’ve written a few op-eds and appeared in editorials. I’ve done television interviews, given lectures, and appeared on the sides of busses in a NYC Marathon ad.

This humble little site has been viewed in the White House, Supreme Court, Justice Department and CIA, and been seen in 200+ nations, according to Google Analytics. I’ve been sued twice for defamation, and been threatened several other times.  The blog was part of the inaugural class of the Law Blog Hall of Fame run by the American Bar Association, along with just nine others.

In other words, it’s been a bit of an adventure. As I sit here typing, I can’t keep from humming along on what a long strange trip it’s been.

Today and tomorrow I’m going to reach back into the archives to link to some of my favorite posts. And when I say favorite, I don’t mean the ones that received the most number of hits. I mean the most fun to write, or ones that I thought important regardless of what others thought.

Because if you don’t enjoy the experience of writing (regardless of whether you do it well), or believe there is a point to what  you are doing, then you shouldn’t bother blogging. You’d be miserable, and worse yet, your words would suck. If you’re not inspired to write, it will be abundantly clear in the finished product.

And so, without further ado, Part 1 of some of the babies I enjoyed birthing:

Robert Bork Brings Trip/Fall Suit for Over $1M, Plus Punitive Damages And Legal Fees — This 1997 post hits my list because the suit was brought by a big white shoe firm, and the firm utterly screwed up the simple act of drafting a complaint. And they did so on behalf of a big shot judge for a suit destined to attract media attention. Lesson for laywers: Bigger law firm does not mean better, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, ask.

Doctor “Flea” Settles Malpractice Suit After Blog Exposed In Court — Nine years ago a medical blogger decided to live-blog his own malpractice trial, and it was painful on many levels. His posts and the lawsuit attracted very wide attention at the time in the legal and medical blogosphere, and ultimately landed on the front page of the Boston Globe. Lesson: Don’t write anything you’re afraid to see on the front page of the paper.

Who Sits Jury Duty (The Turkewitz Beer Test) — Jury selection is an art. Since I’m not a great artist, this is the way I do it. Your mileage may vary.The Bubbe Maisse Report (aka “Judicial Hellholes”) – Every year the tort “reformers” come out with a “report” to declare judicial hellholes. The problem? It’s merely a collection of favored anecdotes. Does the press care? What do you think?

Supreme Court Grants Cert in “Fantasy Baseball” Case; Three Justices Recuse Themselves Due To Participation in High Court League — I had the idea to write this 2008 post about a month in advance of April 1st, then kept adding to it. And adding. And adding.  I loved writing it, and hoodwinked a few folks. And the premise is still good regarding the circumstances by which SCOTUS judges should recuse themselves.

It was 20 Years Ago Today — Lessons from an around-the-world backpacking trip I took in 1988-89.

Hudson River Plane Crash To Test New York’s New Attorney Ethics Rules? — I had a problem when New York amended its attorney anti-solicitiation rules: How do I write about those rules in practice after a calamity, without it looking like its a covert way of using this blog to solicit? This Miracle on the Hudson splash landing by Captain Sully solved that problem for me, and I’ve been writing on ethics, advertising, marketing and solicitation ever since. The splash landing also had a few other benefits.

As Seen On Oprah! (Kinda, Sorta, Almost) — Back in 2009 Oprah wanted some x-ray images that I have for a piece on medical errors by Dr. Oz.  Her staff proved to me that Oprah succeeded despite them. I just enjoyed writing this, OK? Do I really need another reason? (Side note, Diane Sawyer had no problem striking a deal with me a few years later.)

Your Bar Exam Answer Sheet Is Gone — Now What? — This fun little post about the time my bar exam results vanished keeps getting hit, as bar examiners invent new ways to give test takers a little extra shot of anxiety.  Good preparation for life, I say. And it spawned a series of subsequent posts on bar exam horror stories. If you has the misfortune to stumble on this while prepping for the test, you’re welcome.

The SCOTUS Nominee and the Tissue Box Test -– Supreme Court nominations are always important (too important), and this is my gripe on the lack of judges with real world experience dealing with individual clients.

Did Sotomayor Violate NY Ethics Rules in Private Solo Practice with “& Associates” Name? — A post that the Times ripped off a month later, without attribution, and forced a response from the White House.


Do I look lawyerly?

Five Years of Blogging (And Happy Thanksgiving) — A little explanation as to why I do what I do, given on the 5th anniversary of this blog. While in a turkey suit. And since that particular day happens to be on the immediate radar, I think it’s time to dig that suit out of the basement.

Blawg Review #134 (NYC Marathon Edition) – Back in the day, Blawg Review was a thing, a weekly round-up of the best that the legal blogosphere had to offer. So I was delighted that so many bloggers elected to tell me what they were writing about that week while we ran the NYC Marathon. Oddly enough, I was able to coerce more bloggers to come to my house to meet Arlo Guthrie at Thanksgiving, and got The Bogeyman to come with me to the homes of bloggers on Halloween, in a couple of subsequent Blawg Reviews.

Tomorrow, some more posts as I continue to naval gaze at my little creation.


July 16th, 2016

The Summer of ’16 (And it isn’t going well)

KijoBpBRT♫Summertime, and the living is easy.♬

So goes the song. It’s a time to relax at a beach, hike in the mountains, take in a few ballgames, or just kick back generally with family and friends. The practice of law slows down a bit, as lawyers, judges, witnesses taking vacations makes the scheduling of depositions and trials a “problem.”

And it’s the time of year for news organizations to hunt down “summer stories,” that are usually light, and frivolous, or are strictly local but the national news picks them up and runs with them. A story like Pokemon Go taking off like a bat out of hell, for instance, is classic summer fodder. To be followed by people getting hurt or killed due to aggravated acts of stupidity as they turn a blind eye to their surroundings and chase digital fantasies.

But not this summer.

Yesterday, a bloody coup attempt in NATO ally Turkey.

Just one day after a horrific terror attack in Nice, France.

Which had followed in short order the killing of five Dallas cops (on top of many shootings of black men by white cops).

Which had followed in short order the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

This is all interspersed with the continuing horrors of a civil war in Syria, bombings in Iraq and elsewhere that our news organizations pay scant attention to in relation to the significance of the damage done.

And, of course, a presidential campaign with one candidate seeming to do do all that he can to be racially divisive.

It makes it tough to write about personal injury law. I’ve wanted to, for sure, but each time I sit down at the keyboard I get sidetracked by the latest misery and lose my inspiration.

In my mind, for instance, I had a piece written in my head about the Tesla car on auto pilot that slammed into a left turning truck. Everyone wrote about the car, with few mentioning that the truck was making a left without the coast being clear.

The summer of ’16 is not shaping up well, my friends. Whether or not this goes down in history as a momentous time or not isn’t something I’m smart enough to say, but at the moment it sure doesn’t look good. No one will ever brand this the Summer of Love.

I could issue a little prayer that things get better, but such hopefulness will, in all likelihood, simply leave me disappointed. Another option is to simply disconnect from the digital world, under the ignorance is bliss philosophy, but that will not achieve anything either.

So if the blog is quiet for awhile, you’ll know why. It’s because I’m watching the news.