Updated Trench Menus, Tweeter and an Aborted Twittergate

Do real lawyers engage in all the tomfoolery associated with social media? The answer is yes. I am a real lawyer, and I blog and I Tweet. I also think that there should be a broader public understanding about what trial lawyers do. Hence, I write about my work. No crime there, I hope.

I am a little ambivalent about it all. And I have from time to time stopped writing. One thing that makes me reconsider the utility of all this is the extent to which the social media becomes, in an some almost Hegelian sense, conscious of itself. I enjoy reading and writing about experiences in the law; writing about experiences in social media interests me not at all. I never attended my senior prom, my high school graduation, or, for that matter, most of my senior year. I'm not good at playing in the pack or coloring within lines.

But I did notice the other day that a decision of mine to start something called a Trench Menu on Twitter has, of all things, become controversial. Others have begun to post their own. Some new pressure to conform is afoot, drawing the naive into the orbit of things beyond their ken. Huh?

First the great marvel of social media: With all the wealth of material out there to read, the age-old conflict between charisma and orthodoxy could not, I suppose, help but to arise. Put ten people in a room, and suddenly there is a right and a wrong way to do something. The folks with the votes are doing it right, whatever it is. In social media land that means there is approval and disapproval to be won. It turns out the Trench Menu has earned the disapproval of some.  I can live with that.

I generally don't read what doesn't interest me. If a topic engages me, I work the topic. When I am oriented and satisfied, I move on. The great joy of the Internet is that there is a world of communicative possibilities forever at my fingertips. I am rarely bored, and if I find myself bored, the fault is my own. This is a peripatetic universe in the best sense of the term.

So what is the fuss about the Trench Menu?

I am adamant that there are not enough trial lawyers as judges. There are none on the Supreme Court. Every time a nomination to the court arises, I go into a funk about the injustice of it all, and write about why the court would be a better place with trial lawyers on it. Another writer has dubbed this the Trench Lawyer Movement. I like the sound of that. Trial lawyers of the world unite! We have nothing to lose but the courts!

So I report daily from the trenches about what I am doing. What kind of case am I appearing in?; am I in trial?, or engaged in trial prep? The "Tweeting" is inoffensive, or so I had hoped, as it reflects fewer than 140  characters. Others have begun to post trench menus of their own, reporting on their days in court. Slowly a sense of common purpose arises among lawyers with similar vocations. If trench menus help trial lawyers find one another and communicate, all the better. At least I think so. Or, to put it another way, beware the asshat masquerading as ethicist.

So there you have the genesis of trench menus. The whole shebang may be a waste of time. It certainly is a form of marketing in that it alerts other to what I am doing. But I am proud of my vocation as a trial lawyer, and will pit my skills against any lawyer alive. It's my avocation writing on social media sites that gives me misgivings.

NOTE:  I received an email today accusing me of violating the attorney-client privilege in a post on Tweeter. The writer had seen the post recast on another blogger's page, a blogger whose professional ethics I had questioned years earlier for insisting on a retainer agreement that notified the client that the lawyer would not work with the client to turn evidence against another. If the client did so, the lawyer reserved the right to withdraw, and the fee was nonrefundable. Revenge is best eaten cold. O

Now I am accused of betraying client secrets. How? In a Tweeter post under the Trench Menu heading, I said I was attending court on behalf of three clients in child sex cases. "All attracted to children," I said. From this it is concluded that I betrayed a client trust, revealed confidential information and otherwise undermined my client's interests. These are serious charges. Another writer sent me a comment reproving me and asking me to acknowledge my error as good instruction for others.

Of course, the simple answer is that the post betrays no confidence. It recites the type of cases and then summarizes the motive the state believed inspired the case. Of course, 140 characters did not spell out the nuances, and readers can be forgiven for drawing unfavorable inferences.

I have removed the post from Tweeter as it is apparently offensive to the weak-minded, but Mark Bennett has posted it in perpetuity as a service to the bar and public.

I've learned better than to waste time on internecine smugness contests on the web. As I said above, I am interested in the law, not the blawgosphere's efforts to become a self-conscious entity with movable parts responding in unison to distant imperatives.

So rather than engage in another link-building piece of naval gazing, I will submit the issue Bennett raised to my local Grievance Committee, the body that polices lawyers. I will publish the results of the complaint here. If I am wrong, I will admit it. But my sense is that Bennett's post is just plain stupid; I suspect he does better with his clients in a court of law. At least I hope he does.


Chief Disciplinary Counsel Mark DuBois regards the issue I submitted on behalf of the Twittergate Committee, composed of a few bloggers who felt strongly about the controversy mentioned above, as frivolous, suggesting that both I and Mark Bennett have too much time on our hands. Case closed. No ethics violation, not even probable cause to believe there was one.

That ends the matter for me. But I am sure you can find continued commentary on it elsewhere.

Comments: (2)

  • Norm, Reading your posts about your practice enric...
    Norm, Reading your posts about your practice enriches my practice. It makes me feel less alone as a criminal defense practitioner. You frequently write something that reminds me of why I chose this life work.
    The lovely thing about social media (as opposed to old-school broadcast media) is that I make choices several times a day (hour?) about what to consume. I choose to read work that makes me a better lawyer. I skip/delete chatter that doesn't. That's really all anyone needs to know.
    Posted on September 17, 2010 at 3:41 am by trabern
  • I have followed the latest brouhaha on the trench ...
    I have followed the latest brouhaha on the trench menu thing with a mixture of puzzlement, amusement, and concern. As a new attorney just getting his practice off the ground, I don’t do the trench menu thing myself, nor do I feel any “pressure” to do so. But I enjoy reading yours, and am glad that you will continue.
    There has been a lot of talk recently about petty envy and jealousy on Twitter and the blogosphere, and I think there may be some projecting going on here by the people making the accusations. Navel-gazing? Narcissism? Please. A sociologist/psychologist studying this issue could have a field day.
    Finally, the notion that you are using Twitter and your blog as marketing tools is laughable. At least it would be laughable if the labeling of anyone you don’t like or agree with as a “marketer” didn't make me think of the red-baiting in the 50s to say nothing of what is going on today.
    Posted on September 17, 2010 at 1:44 am by jamison

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