Dumb, and Dumber, Online

image_for_dumb_dumber_onlineI’m continually perplexed by the way lawyers interact online. In a profession where the ability to argue opposing positions without tossing off juvenile put-downs should be the norm, the vitriol just keeps flowing.

It’a bit like driving vs. walking on the sidewalk. On the sidewalk, we make room for people. When we drive, often we don’t. Hidden by nothing more than glass, we seem to think we are in  a fortress. We’ll chase fellow drivers down, cut them off, slam on our brakes in front of them, flip them the bird, and generally act like monsters. All  in a much, much more dangerous environment than a sidewalk.

Online, we do the same thing. Even those who don’t hide behind anonymity when responding to something find it too much trouble to comment in a fashion that adds to the conversation or points out an important flaw in another’s argument, writing style, or whatever.

Bad idea, poorly executed

Last week, I wrote a post that attempted to analogize shoveling snow with lawyering. Let’s just say it wasn’t my best work. Brian Tannebaum tweeted after reading it. His tweet was as straightforward as could be:

“I am now dumber.”
(This was followed by a link to my post.)

I am not suggesting that Brian’s tweet was particularly nasty, personal, or insulting. In fact, I read it and laughed, for two reasons:

1) Brian pointed out what I already knew: the post wasn’t great. It was a pretty lame analogy used in a navel-gazing attempt at professional empathy.
2) He tweeted his comment and a link to the post to his 4200+ followers. This made me wonder, does he want all his Twitter followers to be dumber, too? Is this a misery-loves-company thing? Or, more likely just another example of the ongoing “look at how stupid these legal bloggers are” campaign.

It’s not you, it’s me

I’m sure there are lots of examples out there of me being snarky for snark’s sake (that I’ve forgotten). I love sarcasm as much as anybody, and intensely dislike phony “nice” people. But can we get out of our cars and get on the sidewalk? Are we just too busy to criticize constructively? Or do we just not feel like it?

So, for no other reason than the human desire to feel I’m doing something positive for the lawyering community, or, just to make me feel better, from now on I pledge to:

1) Comment substantively on more on posts.
2) Link to stuff via Twitter or Facebook only if I add some specific reason why I recommend that people read what I’m linking to (or why I think it’s lousy).
3) Pretend the person I’m “speaking to” is on the sidewalk with me and can see and hear me.
4) Write better stuff myself.

Now, who’s with me?

(photo: businessman wearng dunce cap from Shutterstock)

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  • Noah

    That’s a very good point you make about driving vs. walking on the sidewalk Andy. It’s interesting how speed and one’s hand behind the wheel can affect behavior so quickly and adversely. Definitely something to think about!

    -Noah

  • static

    I feel misled by the title of this post. I thought it would be the year in review for the Lawyerist. Very disappointed.

    As for your list of New Year’s resolutions, have you considered adding one more: thinking? It often helps to prevent making people dumber.

    • Andy Mergendahl

      Okay, I’ve got you marked down in the “Not With Me” column. Thanks for playing.

  • KPA

    I usually don’t comment to blogs, but this particular post is so on point. I always wonder when I see some certain comments whether the individual posting would do the same facce-to-face. I’m sure some still would, but the “glass shield” analogy you used is great.

    I regularly view this website, and if it wasn’t for commentators like yourself I would not be here. So that, my fellow comrade, is more than enough “positivity” for me.

    Happy Holidays

    • Andy Mergendahl

      Thank you, and Happy Holidays to you.

  • I agree – great point about what someone would say face to face.

    Andy, if you’re ever in Miami, please let me buy you lunch and I will tell you, probably right after I order, how incredibly dumb I thought your post was.

    Promise.

    • Andy Mergendahl

      I accept your offer.

      • Jonathan Blecher

        Andy,

        Expect to be taken somewhere that accepts coupons.

        JB.

    • Miguel de la O

      I guarantee you Brian talks like he drives. You may not like what he writes, but he doesn’t hide behind pseudonyms (except for the fact he intentionally misspells Tannenbaum), and tells you exactly what he thinks. No pretense.

  • Turk

    We’ll chase fellow drivers down, cut them off, slam on our brakes in front of them,

    What’s this “we” stuff?

  • How could you use this title and not include this link?

    • Andy Mergendahl

      Darn it, you’re right. Thanks for helping out.

  • Tannebaum exposed you to 4200+ new people. Who was that politician that said something like… I don’t care what they write about me, just make sure they spell my name right? Next time you’re in Miami, have lunch with Tannebaum. Trust me. I did.

  • As a solo, I appreciated the snow shoveling analogy. Not your best work, but I get it.

  • Stephen Stanfield

    You did exactly what you complained of people doing in your post.

    How’s that for dumb?

  • I’m with you Andy, but I’m not sure it will make a difference. I think the problem is inherent in our profession where we often write briefs and letters containing things that many would never say face to face. I always make an effort not to do that and actually proof what I have written with the the question “would I say this in the courtroom to the Judge in the presence of the lawyer or opposing client.” In mind. I doubt a lot of trial lawyers engage in that exercise. There is also the problem that lawyers, especially litigators, are generally egomaniacs that always think they are smarter than everyone else. Not sure we can resolve away that character defect.

    Finally, having been rendered dumber by reading you other post, I’m not sure I have the IQ to resolve to do anything. Seriously though, keep up the good work and remember that lack of civility is the norm is the legal community right now and there are always going to be lawyers with inferiority complexes that feel that negative comments make them appear smarter than the rest of us. Happy Holidays

    • static

      I see what you did there. While holding yourself out as sincerely smart and civil, you simultaneously denigrated others by saying they have an inferiority complex and are just trying to make themselves look smarter than they are. You are awesome.

      • Rob didn’t hold himself out as civil. He wrote that he tries to be civil, but believes that many lawyers don’t. He did not hold himself out as smarter than others; he suggested that egomaniacs do. And he did not write that an inferiority complex makes one think one needs to appear smarter than one actually is; he wrote that it makes one need to be seen as smarter than others.

  • I couldn’t have said it better myself Andy.

    • static

      No. You probably couldn’t.

  • Harleys R. Toofuknloud

    Andy Mergendahl the self-absorbed condescending dweeb has thus wrought.