On Norm Pattis and “The Happysphere”

by Jamison Koehler on June 26, 2010


Norm Pattis was in town this weekend, and Mirriam Seddiq and I joined him last night for dinner at Oyamel restaurant.  Seddiq’s brother works as the head bartender there, and he made sure we were treated like royalty. Pattis and Seddiq were in the bar area waiting for our table when I arrived.  Pattis commented on how much smaller Seddiq is in person than he expected.

Pattis has written about the odd experience of finally meeting someone you have previously only known through a blog (the person is often not what you expected), but the Pattis in person is very much like the Pattis on his blog.  There was, of course, the sandals, the rumpled shirt, and the long, graying hair pulled back into a ponytail from his photograph. Though not particularly tall and still trim, he has a large physical presence.

Pattis has been criticized recently for not being the Pattis of old, but now, having met him in person, it is hard to imagine there was ever any one Pattis.  The man in person seems to be someone of many contradictions and shades of gray.  He is self-confident, almost arrogant.  He is also humble.   He knows what he wants and he knows who he is.  He also seems capable of tremendous self-reflection and doubt.

There is not one speed with him – full steam ahead, certainty, attack — but many speeds.  He is warm and calm in person.  At the same time, you get a sense of a certain unease, even anger, lurking just below the surface, and it is not hard to imagine him bottling up this anger to unleash at trial in a spasm of controlled violence.  To try to categorize him would seem to diminish him.

There has been some fun poked recently at the so-called Happysphere.  I don’t know exactly what the Happysphere is supposed to look like but I suspect that, if there is a Happysphere, Pattis is already there.  He plays the game according to his own rules, and he directs his anger, his venom, not at his fellow bloggers – there are no ad hominem attacks, no pettiness masquerading as some high-minded purpose — but at opposing counsel, the police, the courts, in fact at anyone threatening the interests of one of his clients.  You get a sense that it is only in defending a client that he ever feels fully at peace. Let’s hope that the rest of us can eventually join him there.

12 Comments on “On Norm Pattis and “The Happysphere”

  1. Mr. Koehler:

    Thank you for a thoughtful and interesting piece on Norm Pattis. He sounds like an adult in a world of children, a giant in a land of pygmies.

  2. Damn. Such a kind post.

    I did have a headache when I woke up this morning, however. But Mirriam did match me drink for drink.

    Thanks again,


  3. I’m confused. You don’t know what the Happysphere is supposed to look like but “Let’s hope that the rest of us can eventually join him there?”

    Who’s us?

    And how does “us” join this place that you’re not sure what it is supposed to look like?

    I’m always interested in bloggers trying to define what the criminal law blogosphere should look like. I’ve been here 5 years and am interested to hear

  4. Brian:

    Since I didn’t come up with the term “Happysphere,” it is difficult for me to define what it is supposed to look like. But if you were to ask me what I THINK the term would mean, I imagine it would be a blogosphere in which there is quality writing, in-depth legal analysis, and civil and honest debate.

    As for “us,” I think that, with respect to each of the three criteria described above, Norm Pattis is currently in a class of his own. “Us” would thus equal every criminal law blogger minus Norm Pattis.

    I don’t know how long you have to blog before you can have an opinion on the blogosphere. You have been here five years. Maybe you can tell me.

  5. Great. Another puff piece. I have seen other things yuo have also written about other bloggers and I was wondering if you ever met a blogger you didn’t think was fabulous. A slightly more critical piece might be more interesting and also more honest, at least for this reader.

  6. J and BT:

    I love the puff, of course. But shouldn’t we all be writing about something other that blogging? It is more interesting that way.

    Let’s leave the struggle for social network hegemony to those who crave it. Besides, we’re boring poor Boom-Rang, who needs a little snark in his coffee.


  7. Boom-Rang:

    A couple of years ago, I saw an interview with Jay Leno in which he talked about his comedy. Because the purpose of his jokes was to make people laugh, he deliberately kept the tone of his comedy from ever being offensive. If there was a fat guy sitting in the audience, Leno would poke fun at the guy’s tie. If the guy was wearing an ugly tie, Leno would have some fun at the expense of the guy’s hairdo. If people found this brand of humor dull and wanted something with a little bit more edge to it, Leno said, there were plenty of other comedians for people to follow. But Leno was unapologetic about the choices he made with his comedy.

    I was thinking about Jay Leno in connection with your comment. Yes, the entry on Pattis was complimentary. So were all the other profiles I have done, including entries I did on Mark Bennett and Mirriam Seddiq after first meeting them in person.

    But the sentiments I expressed were genuine. If I met any of those people and hadn’t been impressed, I simply wouldn’t have posted about them. After all, what would be the point?

  8. Jamison,

    I set no rules for the blogosphere. I asked some questions about your opinion. In today’s happysphere, it occurs to me that this “civil and honest debate,” is not really what’s wanted, it’s no debate at all. I find more and more that when I question those who want to be in the “happysphere,” they consider that inappropriate. I just hope they don’t practice law in front of judges or against opposing counsel.

    I came to the blogosphere before it was the darling of marketers and then the place for lawyers with no offline reputation or practice, to create one online. This was when debate was real and welcome, and not seen as anti-marketing.

    Anyone is free to express their opinion, but those that don’t want to debate their opinion, should just say so.

  9. Brian:

    While I read a number of blogs (including both of yours) written by lawyers who are at different stages of their careers, I find that for the most part people are pretty upfront about who they are, what kind of experience they have, and what their practice areas are. I also think other lawyers and potential clients visiting the suspect sites are a little bit more sophisticated than we might give them credit for.

    I imagine that most bloggers welcome challenges to the views they express on their sites. I myself am always flattered when someone visits my blog and takes the time to comment. What bothers me are the personal, ad hominem attacks couched in high-minded and altruistic terms when you know very well that there is really something else going on that is motivating the attacks.

    You, Bennett and others have mocked the so-called Happysphere but even here I think we agree. For me, this has less to do with standing tough in court or having a thick skin and more to do with getting rid of the pettiness that demeans and undermines public confidence in our noble profession.

    Incidentally, congratulations on your recent election as President of the FACDL. It’s an honor to have you visiting this site.

  10. Jamison,

    Unfortunately, you’re wrong. You have the same perspective as Norm, and I understand from where it comes – you’re relatively new to the blogosphere and have some incorrect perceptions. I discussed this with Norm.

    That you think “for the most part people are pretty upfront about who they are, what kind of experience they have, and what their practice areas are,” is part of the problem. It’s simply not true. I trust you’ve seen the cartoon of the dog using the internet with the caption, “on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” The point being you can create any persona you want on the internet. I can say I’ve won every case I’ve had. I can say I am the mostest bestest lawyer in the whole wide world. I can say that I worked on a $450 million dollar merger, even though all I did was read some documents.

    Before you got here, there were plenty of lawyers parading as experienced, when they weren’t. There still are. I wrote about several of them, they got angry, but eventually admitted their lies.

    Most bloggers do not welcome challenges to the views they express on their sites. Most old time bloggers do, but the newer ones, who see this as a marketing tool, see debate as negative, and don’t see the monetary benefit in being told they are wrong.

    The happysphere is nothing but an attempt to have the marketers left alone to market, to lie, to puff. That’s all it is.

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