As much as Microsoft, the legal profession has an equal need to turn a more human face toward the public. Of the many eloquent, articulate and informative blogging lawyers, Ernest Svenson, a New Orleans-based corporate lawyer, who blogs as ‘Ernie the Attorney,’ is generally perceived as the most human. While others pontificate on lofty issues or warn of dangers lurking everywhere, Ernie often speaks of simpler things in a wry, self-effacing style that is often downright funny. Ernie engages you and he notices details that add fine brush strokes to many of his posts.
This was all clear around Christmas, when he posted from a snow-closed airport with his kids in tow, shortly after his marriage dissolved. They end up not flying to see family in Panama as planned but chowing down a holiday dinner at an all-you-can-eat buffet. But, as he shares all this, he’s far from morose. He points to nice ironic touches. He’s a Macintosh champion and he posts photos of airport monitors displaying the legendary Microsoft Fatal Error warning. “You feel for him and you smile with him. “I’ve always been disinclined to take myself too seriously,” he told us, “even in serious situations.”
While Svenson writes about anything that interests him, his general focus is on the impact of technology on society. “I don’t always love tech. Sometimes it’s like spam trying to get into our lives. Because there are so many champions of technology, people who don’t use it end up feeling stressed. They’re worried that they’ll be left out. He’s concerned with what “principles people should use when they adopt technology. How do you move through life with technology in the right place?” Recently, he announced a new blog, Tech Feng Shui, addressing this issue and saying it was a blog he would like to turn into a book. It seems to us, everybody’s getting into the act.
“Mostly I observe how technology affects people and it just adds a lot if stress to our lives even as it promises to make people’s lives easier. It isn’t doing that because many people don’t know how to use it.
His father was a psychoanalyst, and as a child he was fixated on figuring out what exactly his father did. Other kids’ parents had jobs that were easily understood, even by young children. The grown-ups who surrounded him, discussed comfortable matters, like the weather. But he sensed that his father’s profession dealt with things that no one wanted to discuss, certainly not in casual conversation. One day, at about the age of 11 Ernie snuck a peek at his father’s notes—case studies that were two-page summaries of a patient’s history, without the names of the patients identified and was stunned by the sorts of personal things people were willing to tell his father. “I learned then that what most people talk about as being ‘personal’ in ordinary conversation is a far cry from the really serious personal stuff that we all like to keep concealed. “So what seems highly personal to some who read my blog is not really the kind of stuff that I am wary of revealing.”
Of the people we interviewed for this book, Svenson was the most reluctant to participate, particularly for a section called, ‘consultants who get it.’ “I don’t blog to market myself. It isn’t about self-promotion. I write because I’m not sure what I’m thinking. I discover insight about myself by writing and growing up with a shrink for a dad seems to have made me comfortable sharing a lot of personal stuff with others. I just hate the thought of being seen as Mr. Marketing Guy. I think that sort of stuff fails on blogs. People just want a story: What’s the deal? Just tell me how it works. That’s the best thing you can do if you want to market on a blog is don’t. Just talk.”
In fact, when Svenson started in May of 2002, he wrote about sports, life, angst over the untalented New Orleans sports teams—almost anything but the law. But, an increasing number of site visitors had that expectation, considering the Ernie the Attorney handle. “Eventually, I started talking about the law, but I’m not motivated to talk about it, per se. I’m interested in how the law changes society. He exudes admiration for Federal Judge Richard Posner, who delivers opinions about law with objectivity and clarity. “He looks at the world with an open mind. He looks at why a law was created and thinks about whether its original intent is still valid today.” This plays into Svenson’s passion points, such as the current and future impact of technology on the law. He never writes about his cases or talks of personal success.
While blogging has indeed landed him a few referrals, he says, “there has been no tsunami of business coming in. It may be way too early to see that sort of thing in the legal field. It may attract individuals who just want to find a lawyer they trust and hire him, but it’s certainly not true for Fortune 500 corporations, or other large companies, today, which is the central point of his practice.” As blogging becomes routine, Svenson feels that will evolve as more people start using blogs to know someone before they actually meeting him or her.
Still, with all the anti-marketing talk, Svenson concedes that blogging has helped his standing in the legal community. He has more than 1000 visitors to his site daily. He practices in courtroom in front of judges who read his blog and know him better than they otherwise would. They’ve invited him to help determine the best WiFi solution to the local Federal courthouse. He recently joined four other well-known blogging attorneys on Corante, a high-traffic site to participate in Between Lawyers—an ambiguously named ongoing public discussion about the law and society. He speaks at blogging at conferences a few times annually.
It also gives him some strange moments. Because he writes of some very personal moments, he meets people who read his blog but don’t blog themselves. They feel they know a great amount about him, while he knows very little about them because they don’t blog. “It creates awkward moments in real-world encounters.” He also meets fellow bloggers. Because the two read each other, they often feel like old friends even though they’ve just met.
His passion for blogging is not as a lawyer but as an individual and he feels blogging has helped evolve him. His circle of friends has expanded to include global blog-based friendships. Above all it has taught Svenson to listen closer and more respectfully to people with opposing views. When he first started blogging, he tried to argue with dissenting comments. Now, he’s learned to listen to difficult people and find out where they’re coming. Yes, that helps him in his profession. More important, it helps him in life.