17 February 2011

The Opinion Pages

I am discovering that one of the most difficult things about practicing law full-time and blogging on the side is the lack of freedom to express an opinion in my writing.  The media are full of stories of people who have lost their day jobs because they kept a personal blog in which they expressed an opinion offensive to their employers, made statements that were later attributed to their employers, or offended the general public.

For example, a Philadelphia teacher was fired last spring from her job at a private school because she wrote a personal blog post in which she criticized a student.  (She did not name the student in her blog, but the child's identity was apparently obvious nevertheless.  The story is here.)  Similar things have reportedly happened to CIA contractors, Starbucks baristas, bus drivers, academics, and even Burger King employees who were found to have expressed political views or engaged in rants contrary to their employers' interests.  I know many, many people who express political views on Facebook and Twitter, and I often follow the discussions with interest.  Sometimes I even comment or ask questions.

But I need to be very careful about the content of my blog, and here's why.  Lawyers, like everyone else, need to be sensitive to the concerns of the firms they work for, but they are bound additionally by ethical considerations that can cast a wide web.  I not only cannot criticize my immediate employer, but I cannot make statements that might reveal the identity of or even possibly offend clients or investors.  I know that I stepped dangerously close to this line in my "Career Girl" posts, where I talked about people I once worked for, and I worry about that from time to time.  I'm pretty sure the guy who threw fruit at me is never going to hire me again, and I am never going to work for the gentleman at that antitrust firm who crumpled my resume during my "interview."  Closing doors behind me is one thing, but violating ethical standards is another.  This writing business can be tricky in that regard.

If you are having trouble understanding how hard this is, I can phrase it in another context.  My father is an Episcopal clergyman.  (He has some really, really interesting stories, which I can share another time.  He was, for example, a civil-rights crusader in the sixties.  More on that story, which I will be very proud to recount, later.)  He is also a gifted writer and a well-educated man with keen insight into the world and the people who live in it.  I am sure that he would have a lot to contribute to the blogosphere.  However, he could never, ever write anything critical about the bishop who is his boss.  Doing so would be stupid and would put his livelihood - one that he loves - at risk.  Moreover, he cannot tell tales of people's personal problems and transgressions.  To do so would be to breach the confidence that serves as the very basis of his profession.  He can't even say, "I once knew a man who came to me and told me..."  That stuff is just off limits.

It's not all that different for lawyers.  We are a less virtuous bunch than priests, but we too have our ethical limits.

So I post pictures of my new laundry machine and the socks that I knit, and I reminisce about the experiences that made me who I am today.  I would be thrilled to be able to write something weightier.  Like you, I have opinions about pending legislation in places like, oh,  South Dakota, for example.  I am interested in and have thoughts about the current Middle East crisis and people like Hosni Mubarak and the King of Bahrain.  Once, when I was a junior lawyer in my first job out of law school, I sent an e-mail around the firm urging people to sign a petition in opposition to Mayor Giuliani's proposal to do away with free criminal defense services for the indigent.  I was called into the managing parter's office and given a tongue-lashing; that partner's brother, unbeknownst to me, was a member of Giuliani's staff and the architect of the plan to abolish free legal services.  Oops.

I think we are all against bullying, and we all recognize that there are hurdles that working mothers face along the road to their own definition of success.  No one can argue with a straight face that the world isn't full of problems, on a large and small scale.  We differ, however, in our opinions about how to solve those problems.

I have some light and entertaining content to post in the near future.  I'll also write about my dad's arrest in Selma in 1965 after I have a chance to talk to him about it at length (I want to be sure I have the facts right before I start running off and telling other people's stories).  I have a nice vacation planned with my family; I am making some knitted slippers for some cold-footed members of my household; and the crockpot is brimming with late-winter roasts and stews.  I hope, for now, that all that will be enough both for you, as reader, and for me, as writer.



A Vintage Vine said...

Great post! I can see why you stick with posting about the laundry! Safer that way!

lmlynch42 said...

After reading this, it makes me almost afraid to write anything. Just last evening I read where another Teacher is in trouble for expressing her feelings and thoughts. Life just isn't fair.
So glad you posted this it really makes me stop and think alittle more.

⚜ ↁℯℬℬᴵℰ⚜ said...

Hi there Jennie...I added your blog to my roll now, so every time you post something new it will come up. I do not have buttons except my own and where I was featured...