Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

“Radical Transparency”

Posted by Ron Coleman on September 3, 2007

Erik Schmidt of the Tech LawForum frets about online anonymity in a thoughtful undated article that has just come to my attention, but questions the conclusions in the piece published here where I posit the end of the world due to “assymetric personal warfare.” He writes:

Do the anonymous defamers really hold all the cards online? Sure, like guerrilla fighters, they can blend into the background at will, popping up again later to stir up trouble. But even the most cursory glance at AutoAdmit discussions reveals an abundance of name-calling, random stupidity (”LOL YALE IS TEH GAY!!!”), and insecurity. In examining online defamation, wouldn’t it be useful to inquire as to the reasonableness of giving any credibility to the statements being made?

Assuming the sixteen law firms that didn’t give the Yale grad callbacks actually believed these anonymous statements, I refer them to the words my father told me when I was just a wee lad: “Don’t believe everything you read.” To that I’d add, “especially online.”

A good moral lesson, but what does that do for the non-admitted student?

Schmidt wants to answer as follows, I think: The rational, utility-maximizing 17th law firm follows Old Man Schmidt’s good advice and doesn’t believe what’s written online… does hire the applicant… and does benefit from that decision. In the long run, the other 16 do what they did after generations of not hiring Jewish applicants, and realize other firms are stealing a march on them because of their irrational hiring practices, and start hiring qualified Jews, or in this case qualified victims of anonymous defamation, because it is in their economic interest to do so. A good, invisible-hand, who-needs-the-state answer to irrational discrimination.

Could be. That’s a good answer, Eric. Meanwhile, though, the long run often feels like a place in an economist’s dream. By the time the white-shoe firms started hiring Jews, the Jews had found homes in their “own” law firms, many of which are the most powerful firms in the world today. In New York terms, it was ultimately competitive pressure from the Weil Gotshals and Wachtell Liptons that opened the door for my fellow one-time pariahs at places such as Cravath Swaine & Moore and Davis Polk & Wardwell. That process took nearly a century from the time that Jews started graduating from law schools in numbers.

Now, what’s the analogy for victims of online defamation? Colonies of other fellow Internet fallout victims? Perhaps an answer will reveal itself faster than a 100 years; perhaps not only disease, but remedy, spreads faster in Internet time. Perhaps.

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2 Responses to ““Radical Transparency””

  1. Ron,

    Point taken. History shows that irrational behavior doesn’t just melt away in the face of rational alternatives.

    Still, I do find it baffling that a sophisticated law firm with so many resources and so many talented people working for it could be swayed by nitwit postings on AutoAdmit and other sites. I’d like to think that law firms will learn to separate the chaff from the wheat online. Perhaps they need more education in that regard, and quickly.

  2. They should be ashamed of themselves, Erik, and sometimes law firms are. Sometimes! Perhaps there will be change on this sooner rather than later, ironically, if the problem gets so bad that these postings become, essentially, white noise.

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