Ivy grad blogs ‘above the law’

David Lat LAW ’99 did not always want to be a blogger. Armed with degrees from Harvard College and Yale Law School — where he was vice president of the conservative Federalist Society — Lat worked at the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz for two and a half years before moving to the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s office in 2003. While serving as a federal prosecutor, Lat founded an anonymous gossip blog about the federal judiciary called “Underneath Their Robes.” He resigned from the U.S. Attorney’s office in 2005and began editing the snarky political blog “Wonkette” in 2006. That year, Lat launched “Above the Law,” which bills itself as a “legal tabloid” that covers law schools, law firms and legal personalities. Now, he is the managing editor and in-house attorney for the company Breaking Media and its network of four blogs, which includes “Above the Law.” Lat talked to the News about blogging and “big law,” the elite circle of America’s highest paying firms.

Q: How did you come up with “Above the Law”?

David Lat LAW ’99 serves as managing editor of the Breaking Media.
David Lat
David Lat LAW ’99 serves as managing editor of the Breaking Media.

A: I was at “Wonkette” for a couple of months, enjoying blogging but missing writing about the law, which is the subject I’m most interested in, and I wondered why there was no “Wonkette” or “Gawker” for the legal profession.

Q: Why move back to covering just the legal world?

A: There are so many political blogs. You have Politico, The New York Times, The Washington Post. It’s a very crowded space. What I like about covering the law is there are not many competitors. I feel like we can be a bigger presence in this space. Also, I’ve invested all these years in my education and training. I’ve got a larger Rolodex. I still practice law. Don’t get me wrong — working at “Wonkette” was fun, but I’m even more happy doing this.

Q: Was the original concept of “Above the Law” different from what it is now?

A: In some ways it’s similar, and in some ways it’s different. I remember one sentence I used in the proposal for “Above the Law” — I wanted it to be a virtual watercooler for legal profession. I think it has become that. Whenever there’s a big or juicy story in the legal world, it certainly ends up on the blog. What I didn’t realize was there was a hunger for in-depth reporting about the legal business. People are more interested in the micro stuff. We’ll dig down really deep so people will even complain that it’s trivial. Even really small info: [if one] firm is paying [employee] bonuses, the people down the street want to know how much they are.

Q: How do you generate material?

A: Generally, sometimes we think up ideas for our own features, but a lot of the time our info is sourced from our readers because if we get half a dozen e-mails on a given topic, this is what people want to talk about. One difference between blogging and mainstream media is, I think, the traditional MSM [mainstream media] approach is, “We will decide what you will read.” Blogging is much more interactive. Sometimes you won’t think this is big news, but it is big news. Sometimes we’re educated by our readers about what is newsworthy. We look at our traffic a lot — we want to look at what works, what doesn’t.

Q: Do you consider yourself a journalist or a blogger or both?

A: Probably a little bit of both. I think my answer to that is changed. I think I used to perhaps disclaim the “journalist” label. I thought it was restricting. Now, I’m beginning to realize the line between the two is actually pretty porous. I’ve written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Washington Post, and there’s not really a huge difference in terms of the overall functions. Sure, when I do a print piece, it goes through multiple rounds of editing, but at the end of the day, you’re still trying to inform, enlighten and entertain. Blogging is much more fast-paced, but I don’t think they’re terribly different. One misconception is we’re thinly sourced. We have a vast network of sources. We also reach out to the firms for comment. We’re very candid, and we let people who don’t necessarily have voices, have voices. I think the line between blogging and journalism is really thin now. I think that certainly if you have a large, well-read blog, you should have the same privilege to keep sources confidential. I don’t know why we should have reduced privileges just because we don’t kill trees.

Q: Where do you see yourself going?

A: Blogging used to be a step to something else, but now people are realizing this is a really great job. Someone can be a reporter for 20 years. Why can’t you be a blogger for 20 years? Blogging is really grown up now. I enjoy what I do, and I’ll plan to keep doing it for the foreseeable future. My biggest advice to new bloggers is do it because you think it’s fun. It could it lead to something, sure, but do it because you enjoy it.

Correction 11.10.09

A previous version of this article misstated that David Lat LAW ’99 wrote for The New York Times Magazine, in addition to The New York Times and The Washington Post. In fact, he writes for New York Magazine.

Comments

  • Recent Alum

    Nice interview, but the YDN forgot to ask Lat how he feels about having to let his formerly good blog in the hands of a lazy, incompetent editor who is now destroying everything that he created.

  • LAW ’99

    Guys in my law school used to leave Wachtell all the time to start blogs, it was no big deal.