Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Above the law, but not above scrutiny
A few minutes ago Dave Lat sent word that he's launching his new post-Wonkette website, a legal tabloid called Above the Law. The site is essentially a souped-up version of his other site, Underneath Their Robes, meaning that it bears the snark of UTR and the aesthetic sense of Wonkette. A few quick reactions. What makes the site particularly gruesome to the eyes is the obstreperous banner ads that change graphics every second or so. Great that cfo.com and Kayak.com are advertising; I only recently discovered kayak and sidestep for travel planning purposes. And Lat's gotta make a buck now that he's not at Wachtell or on the federal dole. But if the ads aren't tuned down a notch, it will drive readers away, or at least this one. (I find Slate's advertising also is going graphically overboard, fwiw.) Second, I noticed that UTR is not part of the ATL blogroll, which makes me wonder whether Lat will wind down operations at UTR. Third, as to the content of ATL, it's very similar to UTR: high-end salaciousness that will likely make you feel a bit dirty for reading it but will also trigger a few smiles. Especially outre are the rankings and descriptions of the "legal eagle" couples in the NYT weddings section. As Lat notes elsewhere, it's one thing to dis judges who are public figures. So I'm not sure the same rancorous treatment is called for regarding these listings, especially since what gets put in the published version is not necessarily what the couples asked for or submitted. Anyway, I have no doubt I'll be reading it regularly. Good luck with the new venture, Dave!
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That site is so revolting, sad, and utterly fascinating -- kind of like watching the remains of a car wreck.
Posted by: Don Anon | Aug 30, 2006 5:09:04 PM
ATL's design is the same as the publisher's primary site, DealBreaker. Direct your criticism not to Lat, but to DB founder Elizabeth Spiers.
Posted by: Adam White | Aug 30, 2006 5:55:34 PM
If you use Firefox as your browser, and you download the Adblock add-on, you can block the ads on the site.
Posted by: Random Lawyer | Aug 30, 2006 6:05:52 PM
Dan, isn't the NYT wedding page itself a bit more alarming than satire of those on it?
Here's a quote from the Noah article I linked to:
"The Times wedding pages are clearly more meritocratic than they were in the bad old days of what Nicholas Lemann has termed the Episcopacy, but there's a limit to how meritocratic they can be because most people, even today, are too young when they get married to have acquired much wealth or power on their own. Although the Times wedding pages no longer give much preference to Mayflower descendents, it's still true that the best way to get your wedding written up by the Times is to be the daughter (or, increasingly, the son) of the chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company. There's little reason to believe that a female telephone receptionist's civil union with a female dental assistant stands any greater chance of getting a Times write-up under the new, more "inclusive" policy than it ever did under the old."
Not that I don't know of a few folks who more than merited their inclusion! :)
Posted by: Frank | Aug 30, 2006 8:18:00 PM
I've been in correspondence with Dave Lat about the site, and he gave me permission to reprint his justification for the Legal Eagle watch:
I did feel a little guilty at first. But I assuaged my doubts with two thoughts. First, the couples volunteered themselves up to be featured in our nation's newspaper of record (even if they didn't control the ultimate content). In fact, so many more couples get rejected than get included. People are vying for this! (Don't get me wrong -- I would totally want to make it into them myself! Indeed, I see my life as incomplete until I'm featured in the Times wedding pages. It's one of my goals in life.) Second, and perhaps more persuasively, I'm only doing -- in a blog, which is nothing more than a journal of my individual thoughts and ramblings -- what pretty much every overachieving lawyer is doing every Sunday, with coffee and croissant in hand. When we read the Times wedding announcements, we do so to compare ourselves to the happy couples. We ask ourselves: How do I stack up? Is that person smarter than I am? Is that person more attractive? Is that person from a wealthier family? So I'm just bringing out into the open what's going on inside thousands of little heads every week...
Posted by: Dan Markel | Aug 31, 2006 10:10:26 AM
I second Adblock. I rarely see ads. When I have to use explorer or another computer with firefox, I am like wtf? Where did all these ads come from. What's great about adblock is that you can zap on the fly. Satisfaction!
Posted by: Bart Motes | Aug 31, 2006 10:56:07 AM
I think, in the interests of full disclosure, it might befit us to point out that no fewer than three of us on this blog have had our weddings in the New York Times. I don't know which way this cuts, but we might as well be up front about it. My own view on whether David can or should include them on his site: mock away! Just make sure you get the name spelled right.
Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 31, 2006 11:30:00 AM
I'm only doing -- in a blog, which is nothing more than a journal of my individual thoughts and ramblings -- what pretty much every overachieving lawyer is doing every Sunday, with coffee and croissant in hand.
Well, this is interesting, and an issue for Dan Solove and Lior Stahilevitz and others to think about, but there is an important social difference between thinking something to yourself, discussing it with friends, and making a speech about it at a news conference. Blogs weirdly vacillate between the latter two categories, but it's certainly different than thinking such thoughts by yourself.
Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Aug 31, 2006 12:25:39 PM
You rang, Bruce? I find Dave's first defense (waiver) persuasive, but not his second. Dave is a supernode, a very successful and gifted blogger with a large readership, so he's a lot closer to a newspaper reporter than a coffee-toting lawyer. If a lawyer snarks in his dining room, and no one is around to hear it, he may as well never have snarked at all.
For whatever it's worth: Veiled Conceit has been dissecting the Times wedding pages for quite some time now. The blog has been inactive this summer, but beforehand, the venom really flowed. http://nytimesweddings.blogspot.com/
Posted by: Lior | Aug 31, 2006 10:14:50 PM
Lior, thanks for coming to my defense! Even though you rejected my second defense, I'll take rejection like that any time. ;-) And yes, some of the stuff on Veiled Conceit makes my remarks look tame by comparison.
At the end of the day, though, it's all just commentary -- nothing more. When people put themselves out there, in the pages of what's arguably the nation's "newspaper of record," they know they're opening themselves up to scrutiny (the waiver point you identify). So when observers comment on what's in the newspaper, it's hard to see what the cause for complaint is.
As a blogger, I put myself out there too. So when people say mean things about me, on message boards or in nasty emails, I don't let it bother me (or try not to let it bother me). If I can dish it, I have to take it.
My new credo, courtesy of Samuel Johnson: "I would rather be attacked than unnoticed."
Posted by: David Lat | Sep 1, 2006 12:02:53 AM
Hey, cool, I say his name and Lior appears! It's sort of like "Hello sailor."
Anyway, I'm not persuaded by the waiver theory, at least not until the Internet finishes seeping into ordinary culture. But I hasten to point out I don't know that there's anything wrong with David's site either. I think it's fair to assume that by posting a wedding announcement in the NYT, you are risking some amount of snickering behind your back. But are you risking snickering by, say, Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News? My sense is that most people -- even tech-savvy teenagers -- still see some sort of line there. Unless you're a celebrity, until recently you could safely presume immunity from public snickering, and I think there's some amount of cultural inertia at work that continues to move that presumption forward, despite the fact that things have changed. The iceberg's been spotted, but the Titanic hasn't started turning yet.
Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 1, 2006 1:33:11 AM
In response to Bruce Boyden's comment, in which he said
"Unless you're a celebrity, until recently you could safely presume immunity from public snickering, and I think there's some amount of cultural inertia at work that continues to move that presumption forward, despite the fact that things have changed."
I agree that the line has moved, so that non-celebs may be noticed and mocked more than before.
BUT, I think the more important trend is that the people David Lat is highlighting HAVE BECOME CELEBRITIES. If you seek the highest legal circles -- BigLaw, PrawfWorld, The Elect Clerks, etc. -- then you are seeking celebrity status. There have always been athletes or actors who wanted to practice their craft but then blend into the anonymous crowd as soon as the game or movie was over. But society has essentially told them "tough luck. You want to be in the big leagues; you accept the microscope." Now it's hitting a broader circle of lawyers than was once the case.
This is a form of Lat's waiver argument, but I'd give it more teeth. Even if you don't apply for the NYT wedding page, you are stepping into the spotlight by taking one of the brass-ring positions in Law, and you are fair game for Wonkette and all the rest.
Is this "fair" ? That's another question. But is it happening? Yup. You've been warned.
Posted by: just me | Sep 1, 2006 6:23:18 PM
"I think it's fair to assume that by posting a wedding announcement in the NYT, you are risking some amount of snickering behind your back. But are you risking snickering by, say, Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News?"
Well, an acquaintance of mine got married, put a wedding announcement in the NYT, and had Jay Leno make fun of his and his bride's last names. Leno isn't Dan Rather, but Lat isn't the National Legal Journal, either.
Lat's satire of the NYT wedding pages is quite gentle, as compared to, say, xoxohth's analysis of the looks of females in law-school facebooks and law firm associate biography web-pages. I'm inclined to give it a pass. If one finds it offensive, it's easy enough to avoid.
Posted by: Ted | Sep 1, 2006 8:49:15 PM