Toward a “Flawging Quotient”: Justifications of a Self-Professed Flawger

by Jamison Koehler on January 15, 2012

There was an extended discussion over at Simple Justice recently about “flawging,” a phrase used, as I understand it, to describe blogs that are intended primarily as marketing tools for their authors.

Antonin Pribetic, the blogger who coined the term, suggested a rather narrow definition.  A flawg, according to Pribetic, is a “legal blog without any substantive legal content that is created, monetized and promoted exclusively for profit.”  Other people seem to have extended the definition to encompass a broader range of blogs.   In this case, blogs would fall along a flawging spectrum in which the blog’s designation – its “flawg quotient” — would depend on the degree to which the lawyer’s desire to peddle his services motivates him in writing the blog.

On one end of the flawging spectrum would be the legal blogs that, for example, simply repeat the headlines of a newspaper story or item found on the Internet, say a word or two about the legal principles involved, and then urge the reader to “CALL AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY NOW!”  On the other end of the spectrum would be the anonymous bloggers with free-standing sites, who, writing out of pure love for the law and a desire to engage with other bloggers, could not benefit from any marketing benefits of the blog even if they wanted to.  Most blogs, including mine, would fall somewhere in between.

One concern about flawgs is that we “dumb down” and pollute the Internet.  Such handwringing, as I see it, is uncalled for.  The Internet is a big place.  If you don’t like the large amount of pornography that can be found on the Internet, steer clear of those sites. And if you don’t like what I or another flawger are doing, go somewhere else.  While we – the pornographers and the flawgers — will miss your readership, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that there are billions of other people on this earth who might be interested in something we have to offer.  You should also take comfort in knowing that simple marketing principles will take care of most of us flawgers.  When people stop coming to visit, we will gradually fade away.

Another, more valid concern is that flawgers disseminate substantive misformation about the law. There is, in fact, nothing inherently dishonest or inaccurate about a substantive blog post that is intended to market the lawyer’s services.  If anything, unlike the anonymous blogger who can post anything he pleases with impunity, the flawger has a greater incentive (based on pure economic self-interest because, after all, that is all we care about) to post accurate information in order to protect reputation and business.  While the vast majority of flawger posts — entries which simply regurgitate a local news story — may not further legal thought, they are harmless from a substantive information point of view.  And bloggers who do post substantive misinformation can always be called to task.

Another and potentially more valid concern has to do with the mischaracterization of a flawger’s qualifications or experience.  But if this is a problem afflicting the entire legal profession, there is nothing specific to flawgers that makes them more dishonest or unethical than any other lawyer who has to earn a living.  A lawyer meeting face-to-face with a potential client can make all sorts of misrepresentations that will never see the light of day. After all, as Max Kennerly has pointed out, it wasn’t Joseph Rakofsky’s lies on the Internet that landed him his first murder trial, it was his misrepresentations in a court hallway.  By contrast, what a flawger puts on his website is not only forever preserved on the Internet for all to see, it is also subject to the scrutiny of state bar officials and other lawyers.

Although I like Pribetic’s term, a blog’s flawg quotient is completely irrelevant to my own decision about which blogs to follow. Whenever I look at a piece of art that I admire, it does not matter to me what was going through the artist’s mind when he created it.  I don’t care, for example, if his sole purpose in creating it was to put food on the table for his family or if the artist really had an axe to grind against his mother or if the piece of art was created as part of ongoing vendetta against an enemy.

A good work of art stands on its own, and for us to try to discern the artist’s motivation in creating it is an exercise in futility. You either get something out of the piece of art or you don’t. And while I am not suggesting that a blog entry is anything close to a piece of art, I do say that the same general principle applies to my decision on which blogs to read. If the blogger offers beautiful prose, original insights into the state of the law and persuasive arguments, or if the blogger provides nothing more than an interesting or funny distraction during the day, it matters not a wit to me that the author’s real motive in posting the entry was to peddle his services.

11 Comments on “Toward a “Flawging Quotient”: Justifications of a Self-Professed Flawger

  1. Thank God. Finally someone with the guts to tell it like it is.

  2. It has been interesting to follow the reaction to this blog post on Twitter. Always waiting to see which way the wind will blow, Antonin Pribetic initially expresses a cautious response of “interesting.” As soon as Brian Tannenbaum begins the inevitable name-calling, Pribetic quickly changes his tune (why didn’t you tell me I wasn’t supposed to like the post?) and claims that that you contradict yourself on your blogroll.I find it somewhat ironic that Tannenbaum accuses you of being a member of Happysphere (whatever that is). From where I sit, I have never seen the self-congratulatory back-slapping you see from the likes of Brian and his pals. Maybe it is because you choose to disagree with the group’s standard dogma and have the courage to say so. Maybe it is because you always sound so polite and respectful when you do it. Congratulations on a fine blog entry. You express very well what many other people are thinking.

  3. Anonymous:

    Thank you. I am not sure what Pribetic means when he says I contradict myself on my blogroll. He may be referring to the fact that, of the 26 blogs listed on my blogroll, there is one true “flawg” according to the narrowest definition of the term. Although he is absolutely right, I have no apologies there. I include that blog as a favor to a friend.

  4. Anonymous:

    I don’t think you understand what the word “interesting” means. It does not mean agreement or approval. It simply means “arousing or holding attention”. To suggest that I await for the approval of Brian Tannebaum or the “others” is also interesting, as is the fact that you are commenting anonymously.

    Jamison,

    I believe you got my point. You are clearly responding to Scott Greenfield’s post, rather than to any of mine. Your readers will not have the benefit of the back story of why it is so vitally important for you to take a contrarian position and to be the outlier. That said, I enjoy reading your blog and have never considered you to be a flawger. If you wish to self-identify as a flawger, that’s your business.

  5. Antonin:

    I am not an outlier by choice. But once thrust into that role, I decided I might as well make the most of it.

    I am by nature a contrarian and when I first joined the blawgosphere over two years ago, I took people at their word that reasoned disagreement was valued and welcome. I took my lumps when told I shouldn’t immediately jump into the debate. And I tried to figure out and play by the informal rules established by people who had been doing this a whole lot longer than I.

    Scott Greenfield has expressed concern about the current lack of vitality within the blawgosphere. He has his views with respect to the cause of the malaise. In my view, the biggest reason for such malaise – if it exists – is that people can only seem to agree with each other on a number of pre-approved topics. And people who disagreed with the company line were ridiculed. A moment of revelation for me was when Dan Hull was called to task after he had the temerity to question the standard orthodoxy with respect to Joseph Rakofsky. Although I may not have agreed with Hull, I thought what he said was interesting and provocative and contributed to the very discussion I thought we should be having.

    I appreciate your kind words on this blog and, no, I do not actually see myself as a flawger. Nor do I view myself as the self-promoting and disingenuous dimwit with no integrity I am often painted out to be. Rather, I was using my designation as a flawger as a rhetorical device to point out the fallacy of the argument that any marketing benefits of a blog – even if completely unintentional – automatically disqualify a blogger from contributing to the ongoing discussion.

  6. Dan Hull’s opinion about the Rakofsky v. The Internet litigation was unorthodox, to say the least. When you say: “Although I may not have agreed with Hull, I thought what he said was interesting and provocative and contributed to the very discussion I thought we should be having”, I remain skeptical about the benefits of announcing to the defendants that they should self-censor their own opinions about the relative merits of Rakofsky’s defamation claim. I have often said: “if you say it, then you own it.” Whether Hull has mortgaged his blawging reputation by expressing his opinions will undoubtedly be judged after disposition of the litigation.

    As far as your rhetorical exercise is concerned, I subscribe to the Aristotelian philosophy of the elements of persuasion: ethos, pathos and logos. I also add mythos, insofar as the pursuit of truth and justice are intangible concepts like beauty and art, which remain in the eye of the beholder; much like the concept of flawging, it would seem.

  7. IMHO lawyers on the internet are a lot more honest than lawyers in person. I routinely hear clients say, for example, that so-and-so lawyer promised them in person $X in a case that hasn’t even been filed. The client then demands I explain to them why I can’t give them a solid number, to which I say: (1) because it would be a lie and (2) it would also be unethical.

    On the internet, lawyers routinely exaggerate their roles in prior work and omit negative details, like referral details. But they rarely affirmatively lie. Pick your poison.

  8. Have to agree with the notion of a continuum. Or put another way, flawging might be a tad like pornography.

    I write in part because I like writing. I also realized that the blawg provided a sweet means of working on pro-civil justice system issues that occupy much of my time. But there was admittedly a commercial purpose, too. When I started, it was with the naive notion that content attracts traffic, and traffic matters. Thankfully, I’ve been schooled in reality. So does this make me a flawger? Doubtful. Regardless, it comes down to content. Or as one of my favorite authors Ken Kesey once said to a group of spellbound listeners, “If it ain’t art, piss on it.” Not to confuse what I do with art, but I think the Kesey test works here.

  9. Just noticed your comment, Jamison, after all these months. Thanks. Blogging or not blogging, people need to feel like they can speak out/write/act and even do that strongly about an opinion they have. Even if they know they will come under attack and face some smallness here and there. There are lots of fuck-ups out there practicing law. Coming after such a glaring/pathetic/young example as JR did, in my view, did more harm than good. No matter how unpopular your views (in this case mine), it’s important to never let people tell you “what you must Think/Write/Say”. It’s the same as telling people telling you “what you must NOT Think/Write/Say”. Again, thanks.

  10. Dan: Thank you. And it is an honor to have you commenting on this site, however belatedly.

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