The Woman Who Wouldn’t Shut Up

I’ve been reflecting lately on my approach to blogging and social media. How I blog, and in particular what I share with and present to the world are all important questions. And I don’t answer them in the way that every blogger does. I’m very self conscious about what is and isn’t appropriate, continually checking whether or not I’m adhering to my own unwritten rules, but a couple of things have led me to confront and analyse my blogging boundaries a little more closely. On a day to day level it’s mostly intuition but it’s time to codify.

I gave a seminar recently (on the new Family Procedure Rules 2010) and afterwards was approached by three different solicitors about Pink Tape. That’s gratifying on one level, but on another I find it excruciatingly embarrassing when ever it’s mentioned. Although I go by the handle Familoo (it seemed like a good idea at the time) I decided early on that I would not blog with a secret identity: The anxiety of having to constantly keep such a secret seemed was something I didn’t have the energy for, and I was clear in my own mind that if I was blogging about things I wasn’t prepared to put my name to I would have serious professional issues were I ever to be “found out”. So I was out and proud from the start. But whilst I may have no fear on screen I am full of self doubt and embarrassment whenever someone mentions that Lucy has a blog you know.

Legal Bizzle’s recent post on blogging anonymity was what finally spurred me to write this. He operates on the basis that he is anonymous but that his identity may become known. But for me to have blogged anonymously would have been to subject myself to the constant temptation to blog about things I ought to keep to myself. It helps me to maintain a modicum of self discipline – think before you click publish. Most of the time that keeps me out of trouble.

There are an increasing number of other barristers who are interested in what I do (in the same way that they are interested in swine flu), but in truth most still regard the idea of a barrister communicating with the great unwashed in this unregulated way with disdain and horror. Second only to “How do you find the time?” is “Why do you want to run a blog?”. They cannot contemplate how such an activity could possibly be beneficial, purposeful, dignified and view all innovative technogeekery with the profoundest of suspicion. I feel a bit like the local freak show when fixed with a Paddington stare by one of these people. But I put that to one side, because I think (hope) that the vast majority of those who do read Pink Tape do “get it”.

Ashley Connick asks in his post on the topic of anonymity “is it dangerous to put your head above the parapet?”, and Charon QC comments that the legal powers that be  ‘roll their eyes heavenwards’ when he writes his blog, but he says “I do know they read it… if only to check that they are not in it”. It doesn’t bear thinking about, so I don’t.

Legal Bizzle rightly identifies it’s not about building a brand, but as a self employed barrister in an increasingly competitive marketplace it would be foolish to deny the potential benefits in terms of profile raising. Of course notoriety and acclaim are not one and the same. I don’t really know whether Pink Tape will be a help or a hindrance to my career in the long run. I know it makes me interesting, makes me stand out (for the time being) from other barristers. Does it get me more work? Not noticeably. Perhaps my willingness to say what I think in my personal style of delivery rather than in my “addressing the court” style will not do me any favours. I fret every time someone new from the legal community subscribes to the site – will they laugh, disapprove, read with interest but make a mental note never to instruct me? No evidence of that so far but who knows? As my own boss I’m not constrained about what or how I write in the same way that employed lawyers are, but I am still acutely conscious that what I do can have serious professional ramifications.

I’m one of a very few blogging barristers and I do feel exposed. I’m the only one I can think of that combines the mundane, the emotional and the newsy with legally serious and accurate all in one place. I don’t separate my personal identity from my professional – for me it feels disingenuous. I keep some things private of course, but whether it’s gaining subscriber’s to the blog or a new instruction in a case, I prefer it to be because of who I am rather than in spite of it. I’m not just a brain on a stick – good lawyers and good bloggers need a foot in real life, normality.

One of the questions I was asked by a solicitor at the seminar the other night was “How do you decide how much of yourself to reveal?”. It’s a constant process of assessment really, but I wouldn’t expect people to trust or rate my opinion unless they know who I am and where I’m coming from. I operate on the assumption that what I have to say will be more accessible, more genuine, more understandable and more interesting if it is demonstrably written by a real human bean. Which, if you were wondering, I actually am.

All practising legal bloggers have to make decisions about what they will write about their own practice. We all have duties of confidentiality to our clients. But the privacy of family proceedings is a particular problem that most legal bloggers don’t have to tackle. On occasion I blog about my experience of court process but I don’t blog information about the substance of cases, and don’t blog information about the facts of cases that my clients, opponents or other parties in a case would be able to identify (and I use a combination of techniques to ensure that is so). I don’t blog anything that I think may breach the rules of court or the administration of justice act. If in doubt I don’t post it and I take the same approach to comments – which very often are edited because they contain far more private information than the rules of court or common sense allow.

But regular readers of Pink Tape probably know quite a lot about me. They know I have young kids and a domestic god for a husband, they know I am in practice and that I moan about it, and that I sometimes get a bit ratty or a bit snarky. They know I tweet a mixture of law, gobbledigook, swearwords and utterly boring drivel. There are limits of course (my Facebook privacy settings are on lockdown and I use it for family and friends only), but as far as blogging is concerned I don’t see the point in erasing my personality, or in sanitising my opinions to the point where they don’t add anything to the debate. Because fundamentally what’s important to me is stimulating a debate, increasing the amount of information out there. There is too much secrecy in family law – let me refine that: not too much privacy but too little transparency. I somehow feel as if my credibility as a commentator on the family justice system would be damaged by too much secrecy about my own life. I know that isn’t strictly logical, but it’s an important part of my own sense of authenticity.

I’m insightful enough to realise that the process of “getting it all out” is cathartic – it’s a way to release pressure. If I didn’t blog, my other half might be subjected to information dumps, emotional downloads and grievance airing sessions of far greater frequency and intensity than even he could imagine (he got 20 mins without a breath tonight). Might as well channel my pent up rantiness into something useful: be it to inform or stimulate, to amuse or to lull to sleep.

Blawger Michael Scutt says in a comment on Ashley Connick’s post:

“If you view writing as an escape valve to vent frustration and say “what it’s really like” then you have to be an anonymous blawger. If, on the other hand, you want to raise your profile and showcase your writing skills, legal knowledge, passion for the job etc, particularly if you’re trying to land a training contract or a new job, then you’ve got to stick your head over the parapet.”

Oh dear. I’m such a bloody misfit. Definitely not a purist blogger. Not really a purist anything in point of fact.

15 thoughts on “The Woman Who Wouldn’t Shut Up

  1. It’s always hard to put your head above parapet, especially given the tall poppy syndrome in the UK. Well done he or she says from an anonymous comment.

  2. I wouldn’t worry too much about other people’s rules or reasons. I think you have found your muse. 🙂

  3. I know precisely what you mean about thinking 2/3/4 times what you should and shouldn’t say- I think you have found the happy medium. I look forward to your comments and blogs and actually stop myself from commenting back as I always have something to say! You seem down to earth, approachable & interesting hence the number of followers you have. I worry about replying/commenting to others in case I offend or they think I am some weirdo following them. Its because I am still very fastinated by famiy law – it took me 10 yrs to qualify as a solc as I had kids/earning & learning etc so its all still quite exciting for me. My 16yr old is horrified that I enjoy Twitter. My reply to that is that “Facebook is oohh soo last season dahling!” Anyway, just want to say, keep on doing what you doing, coz you know your onions and write very well.

  4. For what it’s worth, it always seems to me that you not only get the balance right (the site is always spot on about the law and often first to the punch, but the fact that you have something to say in addition to just providing the raw information means it is substantially more digestible) but I can never read Pink Tape without feeling a pang of guilt that I don’t get out there and blog myself.

    I don’t think its a bad thing that lawyers can be human and have lives and opinions and thoughts – the tricky thing, as I think Jack of Kent found, is when you’ve blogged about a case that’s in the public eye and then get professionally involved in it (in which case, he just ceased blogging about that particular case, which is the only thing to do)

  5. Just adding to comments already made, you have managed to find a balance with your comments.

    Your blog is a valuable resource and it’s nice to see that you, and others, also need some sort of escape valve!

  6. I would say nice, encouraging things about your blog to your face, but then, you would be excruciatingly embarrassed…

    It’s a helpful, informative read and also adds an interesting insight into life as counsel, from a guardian’s point of view, as we often work closely with barristers but are very seperate and distinct professions.

  7. I’m sorry, it was not my intent to cause intrigue as to my identity. Rather, it is that although you choose to blog openly,and take whatever consequences that may have for your career, not all of us are self employed, and as such, sadly feel the need to remain anonymous where we are employees of an organisation that does not open allow debate.

  8. Whilst it isn’t exactly a state secret, I am prevented from giving significant details about myself on my blog by my employer. Whilst it is often frustrating not being able to talk about issues specific to where I work, I completely understand that this is because the sector I work in is extremely small, and anything I may write could have unintended consequences for them.
    Actually it does not feel that much of a leap from keeping back client information, which for anyone in the legal sector should be an automatic reflex. Must be nice to have the freedom of the self-employed bar though. And with respect to the balance you have found on your own blog, for what it’s worth, I think you do an outstanding job.

    • It’s funny because I don’t feel particularly liberated by being self employed. I am very conscious (perhaps paranoid) that whatever I write could upset clients (lay and professional), judges and other professionals, colleagues in chambers, other opponents and professional bodies.

  9. […] contempt of court arising from the privacy of proceedings). It’s been dealt with before (e.g. here) and I won’t rehearse it here but it’s pretty fundamental and it one that a surprising […]

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