Dialogs and Diatribes

This morning my mother asked me, in the way only mothers can, “Is someone being mean to you on the Internet?” 

No one is being mean to me on the Internet.

There are people that think that they are being mean to me, which when you think about it is still pretty messed up behavior from adults, but I’m going to let you in on a secret: their power to be mean to me only exists as far as I respect them and their opinions and guess what?  That ain’t a whole lot.

Still, one wonders what prompts someone over the age of twelve (and ostensibly with a busy legal career), to spend time and energy – and to even seem to get enjoyment! – out of annoying and upsetting others on the Internet.  What a happy life they must have.   Personally, I think that life is too short and the world filled with enough misery to bother dealing with the gleefully antagonistic and therefore I mute/block.  I was pondering such thoughts yesterday and tweeting them, thus my mother’s question.

But the point of this post is not to dwell on the nature and causes of internet trolls.  

I’ve need thinking a lot lately about how we discuss technology, the future, the legal world, etc. online.  As an observer of such conversations, I get the sense that some people think that this is an argument to win.  It’s “Us vs Them” and to cede a point is tantamount to giving up all together.

Damn lawyers.

Here’s the thing:  I like being told that I’m wrong and having my opinions challenged.  I like learning new things and seeing new perspectives.  I’m a professional researcher, it’s kinda what I do for a living.

But Sarah, you may be wondering, you said that you block and mute people on Twitter! You hypocrite! 

You’re goddamn right I block and mute people on Twitter. While I like being intellectually challenged, I don’t like trolls.  Or people that clog up the Twitter stream of conferences that they’re not attending for the sole purpose of mocking the attendees or presentations (that they’re not seeing.)  Or myriad other reasons that cause me to decide that someone is making my Twitter experience unpleasant.  Basically, I place upon myself a responsibility to research all sides of an issue and educate myself fully in pursuit of forming an opinion.  But that doesn’t mean I have to willingly expose myself to some jackass’s snark and attempts at being edgy or humorous.   And just because some people have lost the privilege of communicating with me via Twitter shouldn’t be taken as an indication that all people that disagree with me have.  

Go on…block or mute someone.  You’ll never feel more alive!

So anyway, back to how we talk about legal technology and the future.  I would like to see less diatribes and more dialogs, more conversations where people are willing to cede points and work towards making the best tools and services possible.  Because here’s the thing folks: change is coming.  It has to.  The status quo unsustainable, unethical and downright immoral.  Further, every industry is undergoing profound change and there’s no reason to think law will escape it.

I know I’ve written about it before, but one of my most favorite quotes is this one by Teddy Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Most of the time when I read criticism of legal tech, I am reminded of the critic here.  Rome is burning…some people are actively trying to make it better and some are just content to sit back and mock those that are trying.

Good criticism of legal technology is more important than ever.  But it needs to be informed criticism, based in an actual understanding of how the technology and industry works and not just a knee jerk reaction because you think techies are ridiculous and out of touch.   And technologists need to make sure that they are explaining the possibilities of the technology within the confines of the legal industry.   (Full disclosure: mostly I think they do, but I’m trying to be fair and balanced here. ). Basically, all sides have a duty to come to the table ready to negotiate and discuss and make the legal world of the future the best it can be.
 Photo Credit: Cassandra Leigh Gotto via Compfight cc


  1 comment for “Dialogs and Diatribes

  1. Michele
    September 30, 2015 at 5:24 am

    Before you even got to the Teddy Roosevelt quote, I thought of the quote when you wrote the trolls’ ability to be bean existed only with your respect for their opinions. If you haven’t read Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly or now Rising Strong, you must. Yes, must. 🙂

    Regarding legal technology, here’s the thing: I suspect maybe many lawyers just see the difficulties or shortcomings of adding technology to their practices or to the hurdles of access to justice for those who can’t afford attorneys. It may not be a lack of recognizing it can help but more about getting over-focused on the hurdles.

    One of the things I notice in much of the discourse about technology and access to justice and the changing practice is this: while the people in the middle (yes, a large number of people) will be helped by development of these things, there is this massive population of people who will still be left behind.

    They’re the ones who come to the office, sometimes even at the age of 25 and say, “No, I don’t have an email address you can use. I have one but only to sign up for Facebook. We just don’t use the Internet for anything else.” Or the man who doesn’t have the Internet at all. Or the woman who cannot read well enough to fill out a basic intake form. Or the man whose speech and thought processes in the office demonstrate that he just doesn’t have the intelligence to handle much of anything on his own, certainly not a basic to us legal issue but actually quite complex process to the layperson… especially ones with small vocabularies, virtually no training in critical thinking, and certainly little ability to synthesize case law, court rules, etc.

    So it just seems that the people in front of us in the offices aren’t the ones who could benefit from free and reliable legal research online. The ones who probably would must be the people that don’t even appear in most law offices. So I don’t think all the naysayers really think tech and open law are stupid; it may be that it just doesn’t seem to be the answer to meet the needs of the ones we see that can’t afford to pay us.

    I have so many more thoughts on this but will leave it here for now. As a former academic law librarian now in private practice (yeah, I know it usually goes the other way), these issues fascinate me. I love reading your posts.

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