Yesterday marked the first anniversary of Bench Conference. My how time flies when you are publishing blog posts at the rate of 1.03 per day, including weekends and holidays! I won't pretend it has been easy, and we've certainly had our ups and downs, you and I. But I wouldn't have traded the experience of blogging for washingtonpost.com for anything else in journalism. (OK, a few things, but you know what I mean.)
For this post, I will share some of my impressions on my anniversary. Since some of my most favorite columns have come in the form of Top Ten lists, I will indulge myself one more time.
10. This blog has worked best when it has closely tracked big legal news or particularly controversial legal news. My consistent criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has scratched an itch for many of you, while my writing on the Duke lacrosse case generated a lot of scorn (I was labeled a pro-prosecution sap by supporters of the three accused students). When I wrote about quirky cases, or little known legal decisions that I thought warranted greater attention, hardly anyone noticed.
9. Having never before paid much attention to blogs or blog comments, I was struck by how often you guys would simply begin to discuss issues among yourselves in your comments, often going well beyond anything I had written. Sometimes I would read 15 or 20 comments in a row without any mention of my original piece before someone would circle back to my points. I am not complaining -- not at all. I think it's great that I could foster such a discussion.
8. I also was struck by how vehemently angry so many of you are with the Bush administration. Yes, I know the blogosphere allows a level of anonymity that probably encourages sweaty rhetoric. And, yes, I have been quite strident with some of the things I have written about the Justice Department and its current leader. But through the course of the year I really was surprised by how many of you took the time to write with such passion and at such length about your disdain for the president.
7. And what's up with the prank comments or the obviously silly ones? I mean, why would anyone spend time here, at Bench Conference, and then decide to waste a few minutes of his or her life writing a comment that doesn't add anything meaningful to the debate, much less to the grand historical record of our time.
6. I used to worry about what other online legal bloggers had to say about Bench Conference. But I have long since gotten over that. There are many great legal blogs out there, many of them manned (or womanned) by earnest and intelligent people. Then there are a great many silly legal blogs, which read like parody. Unfortunately, the great equalizer that is the Internet often does not help online consumers determine which are the good ones and which are the bad ones. Bench Conference? If you are reading this, you've already decided -- and I thank you.
5. OK, now on to mention some things I am going to try to do differently. I am going to try to ask you more often which legal stories you want me to help analyze. I also intend to interject myself in the debates within the comment section more often, and to note in the blog some of the better comments. There should be more interaction between us than I have managed so far.
4. Since clearly one of the more successful endeavors of the year was the "Rough Justice" series about Alberto Gonzales, I plan this coming year to do more original reporting and then include the results in my entries. Sure, sometimes law happens, and I have to cover it. But sometimes important themes and undercurrents get lost in the press of day-to-day events. I want to look at the former without sacrificing the quality of the latter.
3. I also will try harder to better explain the stories I do cover. Based upon many of your comments, and saying this in a completely neutral way, I should not assume that most of you are lawyers, or have gone to law school, or otherwise understand some of the legal principles that often are the focus of Bench Conference. So I will try harder not to make assumptions about your knowledge of prior legal events or foundational legal issues and in so doing I hope I can answer some of your questions before you even ask them.
2. I will continue to write about horses and legislative and judicial efforts to ban horse slaughter in this country. As a horseman, I feel it it my duty to write about this niche issue whenever a development about it warrants coverage. I know that my "horse" posts annoy some of you, but you know what? In the end our legal and political leaders will be judged not just how they dealt with the front-page issues like war and peace, but upon how they dealt with the back-page issues like the treatment of horses. So I hope you will forgive the indulgence and perhaps even read those pieces with a different lens than you normally use.
1. Finally, I truly value your comments when you offer something of value in them. And I can easily say that I have learned a lot about the law (and myself) from having read through them. So to all of you who have taken the time over the past year to write in with a smart comment, or a fair critique, or even a suggestion for a different angle: Thank you. I will try harder in my second year to use your views to improve this blog in both style and substance. And I feel fairly confident that you will let me know how I am doing.
Have a great weekend.
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