Notes on a Blawg: An Interview with Garry Wise
In early 2005, a legal battle was raging over the fate of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years following a mysterious collapse. The fight between her spouse and her parents over whether to take her off life support dominated the mainstream news headlines, and spilled over into numerous blogs, in particular those with political and religious agendas. It was during this maelstrom of opinions that Garry Wise,1 a Toronto employment and family law lawyer with a keen interest in politics, decided it was time for a Canadian voice to join the blogsphere, and thus the Wise Law Blog was born.
Residing at http://wiselaw.blogspot.com, Garry Wise's blawg touches on timely stories in the areas of law and politics. All of his legal information is written for the layman, and therefore practical and easy to understand. This kind of commentary, he felt, filled a void, as most blawgs that existed when he started writing were academic and the audience was limited to other academically-minded practitioners. With an active interest in politics (and in particular American politics2), Wise also noticed that a lot of political blogs were simply talking to each other, and decided to use his blawg to add another perspective to the fray.
The blawger’s voice
As noted in last month’s Student eMonthly, some of the most famous blawgs to have emerged have been written by anonymous lawyers. This included, appropriately enough, the Anonymous Lawyer,3 which turned out to be a fictional account of the life of a mean-spirited hiring partner at a large Los Angeles firm. “Anonymous” is understandably the nom de plume of choice when one is opining on controversial issues, so what is interesting (and unique) about Wise’s blawg is that he hasn’t hidden his identity, and doesn’t shy away from expressing his opinion in a casual manner. Finding his "voice" was something that came easier the more he blogged, but ultimately, he felt this tone made more sense, as he doesn’t believe that informality means one is not speaking in a lawyerly manner. He states,
“Everyone comes out of law school thinking they have to starch and dry clean their personalities, but much of the good work that lawyers do is done using an informal voice in pre-trials and case conferences where formalities are dispensed with, or mediation, where guards are dropped.”
Although Wise never intended for his blog to be a vehicle to attract clients, it has, and it’s a perk he is not complaining about.4 But more interesting is that Wise has observed that his blawg, and blawgs in general, have had a positive effect on the quality of legal clients he has seen coming through his door. As an increasing number potential clients have started using the web to find a suitable lawyer, large and small firms have concentrated on increasing their web presences. This has led to a wealth of legal information written for the consumer of legal services (in the form of legal memos, client alerts, and, of course, the blawg), and a new generation of net savvy clients who will walk into a lawyer’s office with a good handle on the applicable laws. This has meant that the lawyer can focus on the specific facts and issues at hand instead of spending time going over the basics – resulting in a huge cost savings for the client. These clients are so well-informed and capable, in fact, that Wise has often said to his employment law clients, “if [I] could take all of the clients [I’ve] had over the last year or two and put them all together into one organization, they could take over the world.”
While the majority of his blawg is directed at the public, Wise has also written with his peers in mind. He has offered case updates, insights into the trials and tribulations of starting one’s own practice, and offered solutions for the problems plaguing the modern practitioner. In addition to building a readership and getting feedback from other lawyers, Wise also discovered that his blawg has given him some small measure of celebrity. He recalled one day when he appeared for a matter in court, and the opposing counsel immediately recognized him although the two had never met before.
New technology for a better legal system
The blawg is just one of many new internet technologies that are having a positive effect on the legal landscape. For instance, when he first started practising almost 21 years ago, Wise recalls that one of the biggest challenges was how to finance a law library; books were expensive, and electronic databases were extremely cost prohibitive. But now that most court judgments can be accessed online and there is so much general information offered by lawyers, the start-up costs have diminished, and Wise believes that brick and mortar publishers will have to change their business models. Wise also feels that technology could eventually be used to ease the burden on our ailing justice system, which is plagued by backlogs, paperwork, and long wait times.5
The future of the blawg?
While the issue of whether blawgs may someday be regulated by law societies has come up in the United States, Wise does not believe that blogging done by Canadian lawyers is likely to raise anyone’s hackles. Although there are rules concerning advertising, Wise is of the position that the legal culture is different in Canada (i.e., it’s not the “wild west” of America) and on the whole, Canadian lawyers have genuine respect for the system, and are unlikely to engage in distasteful advertisements via their blawgs.
Lawyers have had a long tradition of engaging in the public debate, via involvement in parliament, speaking directly to the media, and by getting into politics. The blawg is simply the newest method for a lawyer to speak to and bring thoughtful and informed perspectives to the public conscience, so there is little doubt that in the future we'll see more and more emerging.
Garry Wise’s blawg roll call:
http://blawgsearch.justia.com/category.aspx?catid=1422&sortby=popularity&popmode=day: A list of popular Canadian blawgs.
http://www.crooksandliars.com/: A well known American politics blog, which often features television clips.
http://seeingtheforest.com/: Another popular blog that has recently discussed the way the right wing has positioned itself in such a way that it is hard to respond to. The role of religion in the left is also a current issue of note.
http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/: Another American blog focused on politics.
http://cathiefromcanada.blogspot.com/: A left wing Canadian female’s blog.
http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/blogs/wolcott: James Walcott’s blog on American politics and celebrity.
1 Garry Wise's firm website can be found at www.wiselaw.net. Garry has been practising for over 21 years in the areas of Civil Litigation, Employment Law, Family Law, Personal Injury litigation, Wills and Estates, as well as Entertainment Law and Small Business Consultation.
2 Garry quipped that with Justin Trudeau’s tossing of his hat into the political ring, Garry’s interest in Canadian politics may be renewed.
4 When asked if he was worried that he might be giving away free legal advice, Garry laughed, and commented that he would always meet with any potential client for a free consultation anyway; with his blog, he attracts inquiries (including those from curious student newsletter writers), and can now get to the meat and potatoes of a matter instead of spending time on an introduction.
5 See his entry on the use of videoconferencing as a solution to the time wasted for matters to be heard: http://wiselaw.blogspot.com/2007/02/chaos-days-video-conferencing-and.html.