Posted Nov 24, 2006 11:37 am CST
If not, you probably have not been following the legal gossip sites online. A growing presence, they have taken regional lawyers behaving badly stories to a national audience.
Most readers are younger lawyers, says Memphis, Tenn., attorney Lucian T. Pera. Older lawyers often dismiss the sites as unbecoming, or they may be less comfortable posting comments, says Pera, who chairs the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems.
The sites are similar to what takes place at traditional lawyer meeting places, he says. “You can deride it as gossip if you want, but I can tell you that the guys and gals who sit around a table at some diner near the courthouse are gossiping just as much as some associate posting anonymously on a blog,” Pera says.
“People want to talk,” he adds. “And the Internet is the perfect place to build that community.”
If there is a doyen at the virtual diner, it would probably be David Lat, a Yale Law School graduate who in 2004 started Underneath Their Robes, a Web log focused on federal judiciary gossip. A former federal appeals clerk who also worked at a large law firm, Lat overheard lots of gossip about judges. “It reminded me in some ways of celebrity gossip,” he says. “I thought that if so many people are gossiping about these people, then maybe there’s a niche to be filled with this kind of information.”
Then a New Jersey assistant U.S. attorney, Lat wrote the page under the pseudonym of a female lawyer practicing at a large West Coast firm, hoping to keep his real identity anonymous. After much speculation, however, Lat revealed his identity in 2005 to the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin for the Talk of the Town section.
The news came as a surprise to his supervisors, and Lat says they suggested he cease blogging. For a few months, he did.
“I think some of the older, more traditional prosecutors in the office thought the thing was an absolute embarrassment and were hoping I’d leave,” says Lat, who started posting again after leaving the agency. He also went to work at Wonkette, a political gossip blog, for a few months, and is now leading Above the Law, a site launched in September that covers legal gossip.
News generally comes from tipsters, most of them younger lawyers. “Occasionally I hear from a judge, but even then the judges tend to be younger ones,” Lat says. “Part of it may be that older lawyers would regard this as indiscreet. But younger attorneys who have grown up in a world of celebrity newsweeklies don’t really see this as being as scandalous as the older lawyers.”
Lat says such blogs are the perfect distraction for “desk jockey” lawyers looking to fill time when waiting for copies or a call back from a partner.
A Washington, D.C., corporate associate who asked to remain anonymous admits to reading legal gossip blogs daily a habit he says isn’t unusual among his peers. “There’s an allure of some of these stories like the summer associate in New York who took off her clothes and jumped into the Hudson River so there’s sort of a universal appeal,” he says. “The younger lawyers definitely seem to be spending more time looking and have more fun with it.”