My plan for today was to describe a fascinating movie that will be screened tomorrow night (Thursday). But then I stayed up far too late watching every possible election return (“Don’t turn it off! The Snohomish County School Board votes are being tallied!”). Democracy can be exhausting. And so, instead, the film update will come tomorrow. Today, I offer you some news from right here in the State Bar news world.

Here are two developments that could help improve your access to legal information.

Did you know:

State Bar of Arizona eLegal Technology Newsletter

Gotta go; the recount for the Artichoke, Minnesota, justice of the peace race is heating up. See you tomorrow.

ABA Journal cover preview (via former Journal editor @edadams)

Today, I send out a brief but heartfelt “Congratulations” to an Arizona lawyer who has made national headlines—in a good way!

This week, we learned that attorney Ruth Carter has been named a “Legal Rebel” by the ABA Journal. Although I strive not to spill much ink over other magazines’ competition results, I happily make an exception for Ruth.

You should go to the Journal’s Legal Rebels page (go ahead and give them the page views; they could use it!). There, the editors open by describing the kind of people they sought:

“Lawyers who are helping change the profession in ways both big and small. These are the innovators—the folks who’ve found a different path, some new way to blend the needs of their clients or their practice, or even their own needs of personal expression, into the way they practice the law.”

The editors searched high and low, and they found 11 people worthy of the Legal Rebel moniker. And how many are from Arizona? Just Ruth. And how many have ever been from Arizona, in the ranking’s history? Just Ruth.

Ruth Carter (photo by Don McPhee)

I have known Ruth for a few years, since when she was a law student. I’ve been pleased to see her grow into a confident practicing lawyer, one with her own practice and boisterous approach to the law.

Ruth has also written for us, on blogging. See the good advice she gives to bloggers here.

Well spoken as always, Ruth wrote her own reaction to the Legal Rebels announcement, posted on her firm website. I urge you to read it, and then to bookmark her page. It might come in handy to know a lawyer who has some rebel in her.

(You’ll probably also enjoy Ruth’s blog post describing her photo shoot for the ABA Journal.)

Ruth Carter (photo by Don McPhee)

Congratulations, Ruth—I continue to expect great things!

Or, as I almost called this post, “Blogs and the Organizations That Love-Hate Them.”

Scottie Pippen

Today I follow up on the Scottie Pippen lawsuit. In the suit, we discover that Pippen thinks he can draw decisive conclusions from tags in a blog post. He suggests that readers may draw an “=” sign between a tag and a blog subject.

Do you think he’s right? For my sake—and that of millions of others—I hope not. More important, I hope a federal district court doesn’t buy that argument.

I wrote last week about Pippen’s lawsuit against a raft of media outlets. He alleges that their discussion of his financial picture hurt that very picture. In fact, he says at least one of those outlets claimed he had filed bankruptcy, which he says he never did.

But his naming a blog at ASU Law School as a defendant hits closest to home for me, for a number of reasons.

The blog, as I noted before, did not call Pippen bankrupt. It simply pointed out that he, like some other pro athletes, has experienced financial trouble.

Pippen’s boggle about the blog is more specific. His lawsuit notes that the blog post includes the name “Scottie Pippen” and the word “bankrupt.”

Not surprising, you might think, for parts of the blog mentioned athletes who had declared bankruptcy.

For Pippen, that’s inflammatory. His name near the BK word is actionable.

That gives me pause—and it should do the same for any journalist who works online, or who ever has her stuff posted online. In other words, practically everyone in the field.

The reason should be clear: Post tags refer to a wide variety of the content in a post. The only certain connection between the tags is that they appeared in the same post.

Let me give an example. I wrote a brief post on December 6 that praised the work of nine lawyers who volunteered to answer consumer questions about bankruptcy. To no one’s surprise, “bankruptcy” was one of the tags. But was I suggesting that those lawyers were financially insecure because of the tag? Of course not.

This happens all the time. Again here in Arizona, a prominent county attorney recently announced the recommendations of a task force examining child protective services and child abuse. Newspaper and TV news stories online used his name and child abuse as tags. Ungainly? Perhaps? Actionable? Not so much.

Of course, Pippen’s suit may chill speech at least a bit. For example, have you glanced up at the top of this post to see what tags I chose? Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Back? So you see that I decided to tag Scottie Pippen; but my more careful side omitted “bankruptcy.”

Over-careful? Maybe. But I’ll be watching how the court treats Pippen’s claim about some tags in a law school blog. Concurring with Pippen’s view would undermine the way journalism is done online; this question will remain open as long as there are online tags.

Even more important, agreeing with Pippen’s interpretation would deconstruct a foundational way that people read and use online information, trusting the interactivity of links without believing that those links are causational or essentially related. And that would be revolutionary.

Or, more simply put, Pippen’s analysis is Chicago Bull.

In the meantime, until the court rules, organizations (like ASU, I presume) will continue to have mixed feelings about blogs. They enjoy the immediacy and reader connection they engender. But their speedy publication nature—and lawsuits like these—give their lawyers agida—physical and mental.

As a blog advocate (“blogvocate”?), I am eager to see the case’s outcome. And until then, I’ll watch my tags.

National Pro Bono Week is coming up. To help you understand more about what that means, here is some of my Editor’s Letter from the October Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Last year, we committed to telling a number of pro bono stories online in October’s National Pro Bono Week. And we did. This year, we plan to do the same—and we may be able to tell your story.

The National Celebration of Pro Bono is a nationwide effort in which bloggers participate in the conversation about pro bono legal services.

This year’s focus aims to “frame a new way of thinking about and delivering pro bono services”:

  • What has worked?
  • What are the very best practices?
  • What is the experience of those working on this issue?
  • What changes are needed and how might they be accomplished?
  • What are the most effective collaborations and partnerships?
  • How can the private and public interest bars work together most effectively to provide access to justice for all?

To add to the conversation’s vibrancy, the folks at the American Bar Association are posting new questions twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. They invite people to read and comment; questions and a schedule are posted here.

To give you a nudge, here is the question they posted today for today: “What systemic issues do you see in the delivery of legal services and equal access to justice? How does pro bono fit (or not) into the big picture?”

Organizers invite all of us to participate early and often—and to urge colleagues to join in too.

Here is the page that includes all the questions and the evolving responses (housed in WordPress).

Besides participating in the national Q&A, perhaps you, your firm or your employer have a unique pro bono story to tell. If you do, contact me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. Maybe we can get your word out.

And if you write a law blog and want to participate, see the celebration website for more information.

As the organizers describe it, “Pro Bono Week is a strategic tool that can be useful in advancing pro bono, resulting in concrete legal services and programs for many currently denied access to justice. Your participation is a vital part of promoting awareness and participation.”

See you online.

Holy cow! Was it last November that I started beating the bushes for bloggers? (And we all know how painful that can be.)

That’s right, November. The State Bar was in the throes of its website transformation, and we here at Arizona Attorney Magazine had been granted the deepest wish of our heart’s desire. No, not a raise, or profit-sharing, or a mai-tai-strewn lanai. We were going to get a News & Information page.

For a long time now, we have been champing at the bit to have a path that will us allow us to tell more and diverse stories. The days are past when a print magazine alone can carry the information load. And that’s why we have broadened our reach through social media, sharing news and opinion through Facebook, Twitter and this blog.

All of that, we agreed, was great. But we lacked a great anchor—a website that is cutting-edge and that provides flexibility and functionality.

I am told that all of our brainstorming is about to come to fruition. A mockup of the page is below, and we are very pleased. (Click to make it larger.) We can’t wait to get started. (Our magazine home page is also being redesigned, and it will continue to provide magazine-focused content.)

In the next 30 days, I am told that the entire website, including our news page, will be focus-grouped. And then we’ll be up and running.

Which gets me back to my call for bloggers. I’ve already heard from some, but more is (often) better.

As I explained, we will feature a rotating stable of bloggers. On our page, we will provide a teaser and link to four or five different bloggers every day. That way, no one is expected to write every day, and I can change the teasers when someone has posted great new content.

To launch, we will focus on those Arizona lawyers who are already blogging. So if you are already out there, on WordPress or Blogger or some other site, contact the editor (me) at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. That’s all there is to it. You may continue to market your site wherever else you’d like. Our new page will simply offer you added visibility. And it will provide our readers more good stuff.

I am also looking forward to collaborating with lawyers who want to begin blogging but have not yet done so. Putting our heads together, I think we can get you up and writing.

Contact me now, and we’ll be sharing your thoughts and analyses before you know it.

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