A few weeks ago, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, the “Thinking Like a Lawyer” podcast produced by Above the Law. Everyone should listen to the podcast, not just because the banter between the hosts is genuinely entertaining but because the podcast is a good way to be apprised of legal news stories you might have missed during the preceding week.
During the podcast, the hosts discussed a wild legal news story I could not believe I missed and conveyed that it was thanks to the help of Above the Law tipsters that the story got attention from legal news outlets. This made me think how Above the Law can be a positive force within the legal industry with the help of solid tipsters, since tipsters can help call out bad behavior and this incentivizes the powers that be to behave themselves better.
I have been reading Above the Law for nearly a decade and a half, and the news outlet has broken a number of stories within the legal profession during that time. Even when I was in law school, there was a sense that people should not go too crazy at school or while they worked as summer associates since they might end up on Above the Law. One year, a group of law students produced a funny law review video on this topic, but for the life of me, I can’t find it now! I am not sure that any of my classmates changed their behaviors for fear of being on Above the Law, but it was definitely something that people discussed at school.
When I started working as an associate in Biglaw, people also discussed how the firm and partners might be more likely to follow good practices for fear of being featured on Above the Law. The firm at which I worked had made the pages of Above the Law for all kinds of conduct that possibly crossed lines, and I have to believe that partners were thinking about the bad publicity of an Above the Law story when they made certain decisions.
Over the years, tipsters have informed Above the Law about all kinds of bad conduct at law firms and other facets of the legal industry that might go under the radar for other news sources. For instance, many writers at Above the Law have publicized stealth layoffs at law firms, a situation in which a law firm does not expressly tell associates they are fired but convinces them they should find work elsewhere. Moreover, many articles have discussed how law firms might blame layoffs on performance issues rather than economic reasons to save face even if this makes it harder for a lawyer to find work. I have to believe that these stories, and the publicity that surrounds them, might move the needle for law firm partners and convince them that they should adopt better practices not only to treat associates better but to avoid negative publicity.
Above the Law has an amazing tipster network. Before the pandemic, I went to a bunch of Above the Law events in New York City and met tons of people who discussed how they had provided tips to Above the Law. These folks were not just lawyers. People tend to forget that the legal industry contains numerous kinds of professionals — law firm administrators, secretaries, paralegals, law librarians, and others — who are just as likely to be consumers of news about the legal industry and dish information about lawyers and law firms that might make the pages of Above the Law.
Above the Law frequently solicits tips, but I just wanted to put in my own two cents and relate that tips not only help Above the Law provide solid content to readers but also has a positive impact on the legal industry. Through each period of turmoil within the legal industry over the past decade and a half or so, Above the Law has been there, writing articles based on tips that have called people out for policies and practices that are unfair or undignified. Lawyers and law firms might hold themselves to a higher standard when interacting with employees and running their shops so that they do not end up on the pages of Above the Law.
However, Above the Law is only effective as a check on the powers that be within the legal industry if it has solid tipsters to furnish information. As a result, people should be encouraged to provide tips to Above the Law not only because it may lead to solid content for the website but since this can also impose checks on managers within the legal profession.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].