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Anonymous Bloggers

There is a group of lawyers I’ve come to know over the last six months to a year and to whom I look up because most of them have more experience in their pinky fingers — probably most of them have shed more law experience through their pinky fingers — than I yet have on some issues.

Don’t get me wrong. From what I’m told, I’m a fine lawyer, even if it doesn’t always feel that way to me. And yesterday, with numerous families surrounding me as I exited a courtroom, all asking for my card and whether or not I could represent their family member, I started to think Year Four as a lawyer might actually be fun. But these guys are like gods to me. They are what I aspire to be.

In some ways.

One thing, though, that I’ve never completely understood — and I’ve remained silent about it until now partly so as not to offend the gods — is their treatment of other lawyers who utilize the Internet differently than they think should be done. My Pantheon frequently castigates others who choose to blog either under their law firm name, or anonymously, for example.

Frankly, I just don’t get it — especially the anti-anonymity thing.

The posting of opinions anonymously has a long and quite remarkable history, particularly (or maybe this is my own provincialism speaking) in the United States of America. In fact, a good argument could be made that the United States would not have existed without anonymous opinion writers and publishers.

Maybe blogging anonymously doesn’t bother me as much because I unfortunately do not possess the photographic memory of some of those I admire. I tend to read things and remember much of what I read, but, for some reason, I don’t usually remember where I read something, who wrote it, or the names of any people who might have been involved in what was being written about. Possibly, then, I don’t care about the anonymity because I won’t remember the names anyway, unless, of course, I encounter them again and again. (I think it took me about a month to remember Scott Greenfield’s name, but that’s because I read his blog more than others; pretty much daily now.)

Scott surprised me the other day, by the way — and first started me thinking about writing this post — when, in a footnote, he criticized a blogging attorney for naming his blog the “Koehler Law Blog,” just because his name happens to be “Koehler” and the blog is a “Law Blog.”

But what finally makes me speak out is Norm Pattis, one of the few bloggers who compares (in my mind) favorably to Scott Greenfield, taking yet anothergreat blogger to task because a) he blogs anonymously and b) he disagrees with Norm about something. Norm normally “agree[s] with what is written there [on the anonymous blogger’s blog]” so he gives him a pass for being a coward.

Ok. What he said was he gives him a pass for his “feet of clay.” I take that as an accusation of cowardice. A completely unfair and false accusation of cowardice unbefitting someone of Norm’s stature and intelligence.

Anyway, now they disagree, so Norm is apparently no longer willing to give Gideon the Pseudonymous a pass. Hey, at least he has a principled reason for his change of heart.

Norm notes that people have various reasons for blogging anonymously.

Sometimes it is cowardice or fear of the consequences; sometimes it is a juvenile love of mystery.

Apparently blogging anonymously is always a negative thing. You get to be juvenile or a coward.

Like James Madison or Alexander Hamilton, neither of whom were much known for courage and bravery; both of whom “blogged” anonymously and thereby assisted in the birth of our nation. In keeping with my piss-poor memory for where I read things, I can’t recall exactly where I got this, but I recently read that Madison, at least, deliberately chose to write anonymously — pseudonymously, to be more accurate, which is how “Gideon” writes, although Norm calls it “anonymously” when he’s not painting it as cowardly — anyway, Madison deliberately chose to hide his identity so as not to have his personal reputation, whether for good or bad, overpower the arguments he made.

I can think of a number of other reasons for blogging anonymously, particularly for someone in Gideon’s position. Increasingly, employers — particularly and ironically employers who happen to be governments — do not approve of employees blogging. There is a fear that something will be said that will have blowback for the government employer. Simple disclaimers are not enough for these employers; if you work for one of them and you blog, you’re anonymous, pseudonymous, or fired.

What would happen to all the good Gideon does if he were fired for expressing his opinions online?

Norm and the other attorneys who blast anonymous or pseudonymous bloggers can’t be blamed much, however. They’re simply unable to break out of the piss-poor training they received in law school, perpetuated by the actual practice of law, where everything is, in the end, actually based on a political game wrapped in a logical fallacy: a kind of “argument from authority.”

As the law is normally practiced, logical arguments are secondary; knowing who stated the rules one hopes to rely upon is primary.

Actually, I’m being a bit simplistic with that characterization — though certainly no more simplistic — and a whole lot less disingenuous — than Norm is with his attack on Gideon. The practice of citing, rather than simply stating one’s argument, carries the additional burden, allegedly, of keeping the law somewhat consistent. It doesn’t really work that way, but stare decisis is the alleged rationale behind requiring citations — names of courts and opinions — to back up one’s argument.

Other than that, though, who really gives a damn for the name of the person who makes a particular argument. The argument should stand or fall on the logic and factual foundation of the argument itself.

But back when Madison and Hamilton — and numerous others involved in the founding of this nation — were writing anonymously, their arguments were irksome to their opponents, as Gideon’s are to Norm. A great deal of time was spent trying to figure out who was who.

Because, in the end, when you’re worried that your own arguments are not sound enough to withstand criticism, it helps if you can engage in a little argumentum ad hominem.

And that’s just a little more fun if you know who the hominem is.

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