David Lat discusses his mission of bringing sunlight to a world covered in darkness.
Question: What tangible benefits does ATL add to the legal profession?
David Lat: I think one thing that Above the Law adds to a legal profession is transparency. Law firms and law schools can't hide the ball from people. And so if they have problems, whether it's problem in terms of how they treat their employees, problems in terms of job placement for their graduates, problems in terms of collegiality or partners who are abusive towards associates, we will try to expose those. And so, in some ways, as Justice Brandeis said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." And we are trying to bring some sunlight to a world that is often covered in darkness. So I think that that is a huge advantage to be able to know about what you're getting into and make an informed decision – should I go to law school; should I work at this law firm? Or even if you're a partner thinking of switching firms, you want to know what's going on at the firm you might switch to. So I think that it has a lot of benefits. I think transparency and greater information are the primary benefit.
The secondary benefit, which I think I mentioned earlier, is just the entertainment value. A lot of what we cover is not particularly serious. We might cover industry developments like layoffs or pay raises or, in these days, pay cuts. But we also cover funny things about some lawyer or some judge who did something really hilarious. And people want to have that something to lighten up their day. That's nothing wrong with making people laugh, especially in a profession that takes itself very, very – I would say too – seriously.
We do have an increasing amount of cooperation from law firms on layoff news. What typically happens is we will hear rumblings of it from people at the firm who might drop us a line and say, "We think layoffs are going down." We might then reach out to the law firm. And sometimes the law firm won't comment, but sometimes they will. And if they haven't notified everyone at the firm of the layoffs, what they might do is tell us, "Hey, look, we're going to be making this announcement. Would you mind holding your coverage until we can notify our people?" Essentially, an embargo which entities do with news organizations all the time – And we are generally willing to do that, provided that we can preserve our scoop, essentially. We don't want them to say, "Hold off on your coverage," and then they turn around and they let somebody else know. And generally firms are pretty good about doing that. Other times, we're covering a layoff news after it's already gone out. We've been forwarded a firm-wide email that announces the cuts. And in that case, we'll just go and publish it pretty quickly, as long as we think that the email is pretty reliable.
Recorded on November 6, 2009