Legal Pad felt like quite the endangered species at the Ninth Circuit’s annual conference in Monterey this morning, listening to a panel about the vanishing newspaper and how it affects the courts. After former New York Times SCOTUS reporter Linda Greenhouse, now a Yale hotshot, rattled off the familiar statistics about our dwindling profession, she noted that the National Press Club’s dining room in Washington is now open to the public.
“You used to have to be a member,” Greenhouse remarked, to which NPR’s Nina Totenberg rejoined, to great laughter: “You used to have to be a man!”
Above the Law founder David Lat delivered a slightly more positive message, wrapped inside his Underneath Their Robes schtick (“This is like my Oscars!” he cooed at the judges). Law firms are engaging ATL because they want to shape their image, Lat said, and the site draws readers because it breaks accurate news. Under questioning from Totenberg, Lat confirmed that he made six figures and said his online operation was breaking even, “not bad” for three years of operation.
According to several panelists, if a court wants its story told, the changing media environment means judges should make greater strides to engage with reporters, instead of hiding (Legal Pad’s mind now turns to that handful of lifetime appointees who don’t return our calls...you know who you are). Chief District Judge Robert Lasnik of Seattle told the crowd he engages with reporters with whom he feels comfortable. Added former Copley Press COO Harold Fuson, Jr.: “You need to game the system. You can’t game the system by locking yourself away.”
The relative information trickle from the court is made up by federal law enforcement agencies, Lasnik said, which innundate newspapers with press releases. “It always seems to be glowing information about the U.S. Attorney,” he said.
And when reporters get it wrong? Well, Totenberg noted, judges must deal with sleazy, crooked lawyers all the time, and they seem to handle it. The advantages for judges in engagement still outweigh the negatives, she said.
“You’ll have to deal with it if you want people to understand what you do, and if you want a pay raise!”