Letters Blogatory is Turning Ten!
Posted on January 4, 2021
A week from today, Letters Blogatory celebrates its tenth birthday! I confess the anniversary snuck up on me. Ten years and thousands of posts later, I look back and realize just how important writing this blog has been to me, professionally and personally. On the personal side, it’s provided me an outlet to write every day. Ten years ago I had just recently read Brian Simpson’s chapter on Politics and Law in Elizabethan England: Shelley’s Case, which electrified me by revealing the human drama behind one of the driest of leading cases. I had started making notes and outlining a plot for a novel I was going to call Shelley’s Case, which would be the story of a contemporary lawyer named Shelley who, in the course of getting to the bottom of a nasty inheritance fight would have a ringside seat as a squabble over politics within a rich family developed. The family, by the way, was to be named “Shelly,” but there was no relation. It was not fixing to be a good novel. I came pretty quickly to see that I am not a good fiction writer. I wanted to do more writing, but I knew that literary writing could only end badly.
So what to write about? I was in my tenth year of private practice and had become a pretty good commercial litigator. I had done a little of this and a little of that but had not really specialized in any one type of case. I had gotten some experience with The Hague Service and Evidence Conventions and with letters rogatory but was by no means expert in any of it. But I also had done a lot of real estate disputes, a lot of fiduciary disputes, and so on. So I sat at home one weekend thinking about what kind of legal writing I would like to do.
Can I share a secret? The first thing that came to me was the name, “Letters Blogatory.” I can’t say why the name popped into my head, except that the concept might have been subconsciously inspired by Blue Mass Group, a Massachusetts political blog run by my friend David Kravitz that I used to read, which for those not in the know was a play on “Blue Man Group,” the long-running show in Boston’s theater district. I found it funny. Like too many young lawyers, at least back then, I didn’t really have my eye on my practice as a business and didn’t give any thought to what I could write about that would result in the greatest financial return on the investment of time. Thank goodness, since otherwise you might be reading a blog about something much less interesting than international judicial assistance and private international law!
That was really the beginning of the blog. I had no idea how to start a blog, so I created an account on wordpress.com, chose a very plain look, and started writing. At first I had no real idea what I was doing and no readers. But over time, the blog began to gain a following, mostly, I think, because of the deep dive I took into two interesting cases, the Belfast Project case and the Chevron/Ecuador case. The principals in the two cases (Anthony MacIntyre in the Belfast Project case, Steven Donziger and Chevron in the Ecuador case) never did agree to come on the blog, but their proxies (Ed Moloney, Chris Bray, Aaron Page, Doug Cassell) duked it out on these pages. Letters Blogatory even became part of the story a couple of times. I remember when Irish journalist Allison Morris told a white lie in the comments and then a rumble broke out between Morris and her publisher on the one hand and MacIntyre and Moloney on the other. I remember when the Ecuadorian government liked something I had written about the Chevron case and President Correa, during his weekly Chavez-inspired multi-hour call-in show, talked about the blog with my photo in the background to his live nationwide audience. I remember just how upset the former spokeswoman for the Ecuadorians, Karen Hinton, and one of her colleagues got, when I mocked the legal effort to have elephants declared legal persons—mockery that I will continue tomorrow, as writing this post led me to check the status of the most recent case and see that, unsurprisingly to everyone except the animal rights lawyer who forces zoos and other animal owners to spend money defending these cases from his tenured seat in the academy, Happy the Elephant has once again struck out in his quest for freedom. (N.B. I love elephants, abhor animal cruelty, and … well, just read the posts).
It would have been difficult for me to believe, ten years ago, just what the blog would lead to. Mostly it has led to meeting interesting people all around the world, in the academy, in private practice, in-house, in government, and even in international organizations. And those meetings and the friendships that resulted have led to everything from a government-sponsored junket in the jungle of Ecuador to membership in the American Law Institute to speaking and writing opportunities around the world to a law practice where I get to do some of the things I only used to write about.
How will I be celebrating the Letters Blogatory anniversary? Well, as I hinted some time ago, there will be changes coming to the website as I integrate the blog into the Folkman LLC website. This project is pretty far along, so you will see this soon, though perhaps not before January 11. I will be inviting some friends of Letters Blogatory to write short and informal guest posts this month to help us celebrate. (By the way, let me add that everyone who contributes a post will get a Letters Blogatory tote bag, and if you would like to submit an anniversary post and get your tote bag, let me know!) I will soon be launching some new sister sites meant for lawyers and litigants looking for help. I suppose I shouldn’t steal my own thunder, but keep your eyes open for 1782.law, hagueevidence.com, and lettersrogatory.com. (You might ask, why not a Service Convention site? The answer is that while I litigate Service Convention issues, I don’t generally take matters where someone wants me simply to handle the service—friend of Letters Blogatory Aaron Lukken is a much better bet for that work).
Happy birthday, then, to Letters Blogatory! Stay tuned for some reflections by friends of the blog and for some changes in how the blog looks, and thank you as always for reading.