Web week 24/07/06

The Lawyer‘s Web Week is a weekly commentary on legal activity on the web. This includes an overview of the best of the week’s blogs. If you want to direct us to useful links, email webweek@thelawyer. com.

Legendary blogger fired

The big news in the blogosphere this week was Reed Smith sacking top blogger and IP partner Denise Howells.

Howells invented the term ‘blawg’ a couple of years ago to describe law blogs and has been a leading commentator on work-life balance in law firms.

In her own blog, bag and baggage, (bgbg.blog spot.com), Howells explained: “I do want to be clear about one thing: I’m leaving Reed Smith now because I was fired last week. Apparently it’s not uncommon for folks who find themselves in this situation to resign notwithstanding the fact they’ve been fired, in order to be able to hold themselves out as the ‘break-upper’ and not the ‘break-uppee’ during their search for other employment. This kind of fiction seems unnatural to me, not to mention a study in futility.”

Howells went on to explain that her separation agreement stopped her from talking about her departure, but she launched into a lengthy treatise on balancing parenting and a career. “Reed Smith’s managing partner Greg Jordan, a phenomenal and visionary individual, will readily tell you: ‘There’s no question that firms need to be flexible and creative to recruit and retain top talent.’ But firms still have a long way to go before being ‘flexible and creative’ transcends the realm of sound bite and recruiting/retention pitch, and enters that of core value.”

The Reed Smith reaction

Reed Smith commented that Howells was not fired for her blogging or her motherhood and then launched a working women’s initiative that seemed terribly close to being a cynical PR exercise. See http://www.thelawyer.com/lawyernews (20 July).

But we’re willing to give the firm the benefit of the doubt. As one source said: “I personally suspect the firm, sadly, does not have the first inkling that there’s been a good deal of online discussion concerning it lately on this subject.”[Calling it cynical] might be giving it too much credit. It routinely has these sorts of programs and publi- cises them, and I think there’s at least a modicum of genuine good faith behind doing so.”

Bloggers rally to defend their own

Robert Ambrogi wrote on legaline.com/lawsites.html: “Until I read Denise’s post this weekend, my sense of Reed Smith was similar to my impression of Denise – of a smart firm somewhere on or ahead of the curve… Now I no longer know what to think. I’ve been around long enough to know there are always at least two sides to every story. From immediate appearances, however, Reed Smith handled this situation in a way that demonstrates a startling lack of PR savvy.”

Lexblog (kevin.lexblog.com/) noted: “Denise Howell, in a nice post about the firing, labelled Greg Jordan, the firm’s managing partner, as a visionary. I’d be scared as hell if I was working at Reed Smith and this guy was the visionary.”

Workplace Prof Blog (lawprofessors.typepad.com/laborprof_blog/) concluded: “All this seems to suggest to me that even though employees do lose their jobs as a result of blogging, many, many more (women, mostly) continue to lose their jobs because their employers are unable to put together sensible workplace flexibility policies.”

The truth will out

The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) attempted to enforce a ridiculous embargo after it told the new QCs of their success. Obviously, after three years of not dealing with QC appointments, the DCA had forgotten about the rampant gossips at the bar.

http://www.thelawyer.com/lawyernews got a mild telling off for breaking an embargo that did not exist when it was broken (18 July) and had already received a tip-off that there would be 180 new silks a whole week ago (see Grapevine, 12 July). Anyway, webweek raises a glass to all those with newly acquired silk status.