Much Ado About The Same Old Stuff: This Time The "Slackoisie"

The most interesting drill I ever saw at Gerry Spence's trial lawyer's college was the so-called milling exercise. This was a form of group dynamics that taught an important lesson: Strength is not chest-thumping. Silent laws transform strangers into a pack with discernible roles. They are laws because the behavior is predictable in any group.

It works something like this. Strangers in the room stand to make a general announcement of who they are one after another. The announcement is brief. Imagine this taking place in the loft of a very large barn, with 50 lawyers drawn from all over the nation each trying to put their best foot forward. Once all the introductions are made, folks are asked to stand and mill about the room, looking at nothing in particular. After a brief period, an announcement is made: Go and place a hand on the person you would most like to get to know.

Invariably, this sociometric exercise drew folks to several participants more than all the others. What did these magnets have in common? None was a powerhouse. Those who huffed and puffed about their prowess attracted few. It was those who showed vulnerability who drew others to themselves. Just why that happens is unclear to me. But it does. The group seemed to form around poles representing something like openness. Scoffers and braggarts had few followers.

I was reminded of this today while watching a meaningless debate go viral in the tiny universe known as the blawgosphere, those blogs written by and about lawyers. Distinctions without difference were drawn and celebrated. Lines were drawn. Ritual huffing and puffing was evidence. You see, the Slackoisie are being attacked. It is as if the folks who sought witches in Salem needed a parlor game to pass the twilight hours. Otherwise smart men and women are drawing distinctions without discernable difference.

I am still not sure what all the fuss is about. It all seemed to start with the conceit of older lawyers that the young are lazy, want something for nothing, and are sluggards, unworthy of respect. But this intergenerational twaddle is the same tune sung each generation when the old seek to assert a declining sense of dominance in the face of the claims of younger, more energetic claimants to life's limited fruits. This is mere tedium.

Each generation challenges the one that came before it with new attitudes, new techniques, new ways of approaching the time-tested way of doing things. So today, those in middle-age decry twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings as newbies without soul.  "Oh, Edith," Archie Bunker sighs.

I have three kids in their twenties. Each has soul, although none has much experience in the broader world. We gave these children the shelter of our homes until they could walk on their own two feet and make choices for themselves. We have a budding doctor, a librarian in training, and a child wild with life's mad music. It does not occur to me to scorn them for their inexperience. In fact, I pity their inexperience and sit quietly by watching them solve the problems life presents to them. What can I learn about how to escape the grooves that define my path? They have as much to teach as to learn.

My law firm has lawyers in their 20s and 30s. Here, too, I see the challenge of a new day. I am the old one now. They look to me for ideas. I look to them for innovation. It is inconceivable that I should scorn them merely because they are young. They appear to want what I wanted when I was young. I suspect they will make many of the same mistakes I made, and continue to make. They aren't slackoisie; they are kids.

The blawgosphere seems like a vast milling exercise at Spence's ranch just now. There are no rules. This new social media is a new market, and each person writing here is learning his or her own style. Like it or not, everyone is engaged in social media networking here. Beware the ones who say they scorn it, but have perfected its arts.

This one is above the fray. Another plays at irritation day and night, scorning all in his path. Others turn their nose up at the scent of what they were not long ago. We're sorting ourselves, each strutting and trying to appear to be something to other members of the pack. We are a market of competing brands, some slicker than others and some seeking to persuade and dominate by denying the will to power. Woe is me.

Frankly, it saddens me. I've been spending time culling my links and connections on Twitter. I am fleeing the self-professed powers. Their boasts are empty and tinny, even pathetic. Indeed, these days the blawgosphere seems to have gone half mad. It wasn't enough to learn to share ideas and insights. We had to prove once again that the state of nature exists, and that in any forum without rules, there will be those who seek to transform their vices into a play at strength. To each king his lonely hill, I say. The glory here is that I do not have to watch.

Once again, I marvel at St. Augustine. He was on to something when he distilled a vision of our flawed character. We are defined by what we love, he said. These days, there isn't much to love about the blawgoshere. We are tilting at windmills and pretending the fuss is worth the bother. Plainly, it's not, and hence, it is time to look for new sources of inspiration. The old wells are running dry. It is a predicable pity, and it's not the fault of the so-called Slackoisie. We oldsters are doing it to ourselves.

Comments: (14)

  • Lee
    I agree! Like Gerry Spence. A man way past his...
    I agree! Like Gerry Spence. A man way past his prime and his relevance and yet he continues to preen and strut and brag. He may have been a good trial lawyer, and may even be one of the greats, but he doesn't know when to quit or when to enjoy his "alleged" retirement. I think his announcement in closing argument during the Fieger trial was really a desperate plea for people to pay attention to him. Hell, the media does not call on him to comment or analyze anymore. Been years since he has been relevant to any one other than his sychopantic followers. He really needs to hang it up and get on with his life. His incessant and constant search for adoration and flat out worship really makes him look pathetic!
    Posted on June 13, 2010 at 9:22 am by Watchdog
  • I agree with Gid. I don't know one either. I know ...
    I agree with Gid. I don't know one either. I know a lot of burned out lawyers past their primes who should hang it up though.
    Posted on June 10, 2010 at 4:40 pm by Lee Stonum
  • If I weren't anonymous/pseudonymous I'd write abou...
    If I weren't anonymous/pseudonymous I'd write about the terrific new lawyers I just helped write an excellent motion to dismiss. All the work was theirs; my input was unnecessary. Three brand new attorneys start their own firm, take on a massive case and work the hell out of it.
    My personal experience does not square with these "slackawhatever". I do not know of a single attorney in real life that meets the requirements. But that's only anecdotal evidence.
    Posted on June 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm by Gideon
  • Touche, Trial Wearyier! (Two-Shay, this is, Fr.) O...
    Touche, Trial Wearyier! (Two-Shay, this is, Fr.) Only kidding! You're welcome! Ha?
    P.S., does not square with my own perceptions of the generation either. Harumph and Ahem! Also, history apparently teaches us nothing! CheckMate!
    (We are doomed to repeat, unfortunately for those of us still living.)
    Posted on June 9, 2010 at 9:05 am by William Doriss
  • Norm, I really like your comment moderation policy...
    Norm, I really like your comment moderation policy. Nino
    Posted on June 9, 2010 at 8:04 am by The Trial Warrior
  • I too have had trouble understanding all the whini...
    I too have had trouble understanding all the whining about the so-called "slackoisie." First, it doesn't square with my own perceptions of the generation. Second, as history would teach us, it seems we should be pretty wary any time someone tries to label or categorize a whole group of people.
    Posted on June 9, 2010 at 7:39 am by Anonymous
  • As a so-called layman, I'm enjoying this dialogue ...
    As a so-called layman, I'm enjoying this dialogue immensely. I started reading Simple Justice a few days ago and am finding it a tough go. Had to read the attorney-client-privilege waiver story twice. Not really in a position to weigh-in here, or there.
    Let me just say, I appreciate the comment of Naval Academy guy above. My father, the late Lt. Commander William H. Doriss, was a Naval Academy grad; WWII and Arlington National Cemetery, 1965. A CT native, a v. good man and an unsung hero. My own military career was less than inspiring, but that does not make me a bad guy,...or a criminal. Please allow me say this: it is extremely unlikely that the son of a U.S. Navy officer in the 20th Century would become a criminal or a felon. Although, theoretically, I suppose it is possible.
    For the record, the State of CT tried to paint me a dangerous criminal of the highest order and a felon, illegally and unlawfully at GA 23, 2002. What were they thinking? Who was really in charge of that charade which got zero press? What a farce Official CT has become. My father, had he been alive, would have been there for me, regardless, when no other member of my family recognized the seriousness of the bogus charges which the State threw at me w/out one warrant or probable cause. The State continues to refuse me the opportunity to correct any of the many errors or acknowledge deliberate acts of official malfeasance. Senator Kerry will be hearing from again soon for the umpteenth time. WHD Jr. is a dog with a bone, as long as he has breath.
    Meanwhile, you seasoned attorneys can parse your words, spin your theoretical webs of 'jurisprudence', back-bite and nit-pick to your hearts' content in the blawgosphere--as you call it. I don't really mind you doing this on your own time, but don't we have serious issues to address in 'the law'? Is this really the best that y'all can do? Just thought I'd ask!
    As someone else said, if you don't like it, well then don't go into that corner. But stop crying for godsake!
    Posted on June 9, 2010 at 6:50 am by William Doriss
  • The blogosphere just allows you to cast your net w...
    The blogosphere just allows you to cast your net wider to discover the bottom feeders that have always been around. Prior to social media, you would not have discovered alot of these folks who've misrepresented their past, etc, unless they were local. Doesn't mean they haven't been at it all along. Lawyer advertising has always been rife with problems and misrepresentations. So the young dominate the blogosphere at the moment because they grew up with it. And, surprise, surprise, you find primarily youthful offenders in that population. They blog and rant/rave in online discussion forums much the same way they did around a pub table prior to the internet.
    I've struggled with the "slackoisie" rantings as well because it all seems too simplistic and reeks of defensiveness.
    Lawyers are very good at attacking and typically poor at self-reflection. I appreciate your blog because you don't take the easy road which is attacking and never self reflecting.
    Posted on June 9, 2010 at 5:12 am by John
  • BT said: "I found a disbarred lawyer saying he cho...
    BT said: "I found a disbarred lawyer saying he chose to leave the law to teach lawyers blogging."
    Is Grant Griffiths a "youngin"? From the pic I've seen of him I thought he was older. From my vantage point I haven't seen this "slackoisie" thing either, especially understood as a generational thing. Nor do I have a desire to go looking for it. That doesn't mean it isn't out there somewhere. But unethical conduct is unethical conduct. Certainly it is a legitimate function of the blawgosphere to call out unethical conduct as we see it. What appears on its face unnecessary and suspect is the tagging of younger lawyers as a group, or even the group of lawyers who engage in the time-honored tradition of marketing their services (which probably includes just about all of us in one form or another at one time or another) by the new-fangled means of internet social media networking, with the taint of the bad apples (however numerous the bad apples might be). But what do I know. I haven't read the studies. From what I hear, black people as a group commit more crimes than white people, too.
    Posted on June 9, 2010 at 3:22 am by John Kindley
  • As Brian said, you are stepping into the middle of...
    As Brian said, you are stepping into the middle of a discussion that's been going on for quite a while, and presuming that the tiny bit you've heard is enough to make you sufficiently knowledgeable to render a verdict.
    There's quite a bit to be learned, but you haven't bothered to dirty your hands. It's fine that you were so self-absorbed while others dealt with the problems, but that doesn't alter the fact that you studiously ignored issues that either weren't yours or that others were handling while you were focused on yourself. You know nothing of the empirical studies, the scholarly articles and the devastating consequences, nor do you show the slightest interest in becoming knowledgeable before dismissing the existence of the problem because you don't see it. Is the test of a problem, does Norm see it?
    You also dismiss those who have worked hard to keep the blawgosphere clean. Brian, for example, has done yeoman's work, yet you dismiss it with a simple sentence that lack of candor is not a generational thing. Your statement is irrelevant, not because it's untrue in itself but because you missed Brian's point entirely. The problems he raises are not typical lack of candor, but pervasive abuse of the medium to deceive. That you don't see it is a testament to selective blindness, not its nonexistence.
    It's understandable why you missed it, but it's not understandable why you refuse to comprehend it, or that you could be that detached as to show no recognition at all of the problems Brian raised.
    The easy reaction is to demand that it be proven to your satisfaction. The information is available and its compilation has been going on for years now. If you want to understand, do the legwork. If you can't be bothered, then posts like fall into the category of ignorant bleating. You had every opportunity to become reasonably knowledgeable before writing this post. Instead, you chose to dismiss these efforts from a position of ignorance.
    Your story of the lawyers in Spence's loft is most telling. One way to pump one's importance is to be a braggart. Another is to pander to the sensibilities of the crowd. You scorn those who scorn to gain the admiration of the scorned. But those who come by it honestly do what they think is right. How manipulative to hold yourself up as the only honest broker, knowing that your admirers won't realize the game your playing.
    There are real issues out there that others are addressing while you pass judgment. You certainly have no qualms about scorning when it serves your interest, and you set yourself up as the voice of reason when it doesn't. I don't remember Norm Pattis, a man I've respected for a long time, being like this.
    Posted on June 9, 2010 at 12:09 am by shg
  • BT:
    Lack of candor is not a generational thing.
    Lack of candor is not a generational thing.
    As for names, frankly, my intent was not to call attention to leadership of a pack I do not care to join.
    I do a lot of ethics works, too. We've not seen these issues in Connecticut yet. But we are still small and backwater. Most of my work comes in the form of other forms of misconduct.
    Posted on June 8, 2010 at 4:47 pm by Norm Pattis
  • Back in my Naval Academy days we had a saying: "Le...
    Back in my Naval Academy days we had a saying: "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." Of course, implicit in the saying was contempt for that third way, fit only for "wallflowers in the ballroom of progress." But I've long since come to believe that that third way is worthier than the way of the "leader" or the "follower."
    If the little part of the blawgosphere we habitually haunt can be likened to Spence's milling exercise, you are a blawger and person to whom I gravitate.
    I missed this particular train wreck to which you refer, even after checking the usual suspects, although I've seen plenty of the like in the past. There's a lot to be said for simply standing aside from the negative energy in the peculiar corner of the "blawgosphere" we habitually haunt and doing one's own thing. It's a big world wide web out there. We find our own, and our own find us.
    In the course of a certain love fest that occurred recently in the blawgosphere, I made a point of singling out a second person for love. But the point wasn't so much that second person. It was that there are a whole lot of us that make this whole "blawgosphere" thing worthwhile.
    Posted on June 8, 2010 at 4:15 pm by John Kindley
  • Ok, I'll take the bait. "everyone is engaged in so...
    Ok, I'll take the bait. "everyone is engaged in social media networking here. Beware the ones who say they scorn it, but have perfected its arts." That's me.
    I don't know why people can't talk about me and just mention my name. See, the problem is Norm, you just got here (to twitter). You stepped into a conversation that started a long time ago.
    So I'll make this short.
    What started me on the slackoisie was not their age, or inexperience, or the fact that they work in starbucks and fawn over their iPads and iPhones by the hour.
    See Norm, I do a lot of ethics work. And like finding out that your girl is cheating on you, I started realizing, time and time again, that several of these youngins were blatantly lying about their backgrounds. I found a disbarred lawyer saying he chose to leave the law to teach lawyers blogging. He didn't. I found a lawyer/twitter teacher with so many lies on his biography, that after a couple blog posts, he changed all of it. Well, most of it. He's still lying about stuff, all in the name of getting business. I found a real estate lawyer tweeting solicitations for her firm, while under indictment for real estate fraud and suspended by the Bar.
    I don't care if a lawyer works in Starbucks. I don't care if a lawyer thinks an iPad is the key to practice. I don't care if a lawyer lives with Mommy and Daddy.
    But I don't like liars my friend.
    So yeah, I'm engaged in social networking. But as you well know, I could be saying a lot more if my goal was to get business.
    Posted on June 8, 2010 at 3:14 pm by Brian Tannebaum
  • Norm:
    I also have never been able to understand w...
    I also have never been able to understand why so much time and effort is spent attacking the younger members of the bar. I am closing in on my 60th birthday and wonder how the person I was long ago on those muddy summer days and nights at Yasgur's Farm would think of me if I attacked the newest generation of attorneys simply because they didn't agree with people decades older than they were. From your blog I found the Darrow site and read one of his speeches, given at a birthday celebration, I think it was his 61st and he related an incident of being brushed aside as a new attorney by what he described as an "old pettifogger". The insult and disdain obviously stuck with him throughout his career. Here's hoping neither you nor I are ever thought of as an old pettifogger by this generation's Darrow or any young attorney.
    I enjoy reading your blog and wish you all the best.
    Posted on June 8, 2010 at 2:07 pm by Glenn

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