Blogging Is Not Rocket Science

It isn't particle physics.  It isn't brain surgery.  To be a successful astronautic engineer, physicist, or neurosurgeon, you have to be brilliant and hard-working.  To be a successful blogger requires only work.  In that, blogging is like law.  Perhaps that's why so many lawyers blog.

Now I have no idea why an engineer, a physicist, or a neurosurgeon would blog.  But I do have a clue as to why lawyers do it.  Some, frustrated poets and comedians, do it as a creative outlet.  Some to teach.  Some for the strange sort of virtual society that one can find on the internet (and one can – I've "met" a number of worthwhile people through the web).  Some do it to raise their profiles or to bolster their practices.  Of that last sort, there are three types:  those who put as much effort and thought into it while they're blogging they do while working (these tend to be worth reading); those who don't or can't (theirs tend to vanish after a month or three); and those who view what is, for me, a hobby, as a get-rich-quick scheme, or the web equivalent of a Yellow Pages ad.  They put no work whatsoever into their blogs.  They outsource them, in fact.  The design, the message, and even the content.

Of the "professional" or "practitioner" bloggers, Mark Bennett is one of the best.  His blog, Defending People, is a model of what a legal practitioner's blog should be: it's thoughtful, insightful, and shows its author's dedication to his practice and his clients.  If I needed to refer a client to a criminal lawyer in South Texas, I wouldn't hesitate to call Bennett.  Having tried a few cases myself in other fields, I can tell the real thing even from a distance, especially when the real thing writes about the art of criminal defense litigation as passionately and well as he does.

Evidently others can too.  Then there's Melina Benninghoff, who typifies the third sort of "practitioner" legal blogger.  She doesn't take the time or trouble to write her own blog, but she has good taste. She's letting Mark Bennett write it for her.

Now I don't know Melina Benninghoff from Adam, or at least I didn't until recently.  She claims to be a good criminal defense lawyer in central California.  She may be Clarence Darrow and Gerry Spence and Mephistopheles all rolled into one for all I know, but I'd never refer a client to her now.  Because what I do know, for sure, is that she's a plagiarist.  Perhaps an outsourcing plagiarist, perhaps some web-monkey is doing it for her, but I wouldn't want to rely on that defense in court.  What I do know is that she has a blog.  She claims to be the author of its content.  But she isn't.

A clever lawyer, arguing for Benninghoff in the court of someone's opinion, might say that "scraping" (the term for what Benninghoff has done – lifting content of others whole cloth with or without attribution) is simply an extreme and sloppy form of citing authorities (which all lawyers do), or our old friend, the sincerest form of flattery.  Or, if he's smarter still, he'd just plead ignorance, that Ms. Benninghoff doesn't actually write her blog, that it's a marketing trick, that she'd never condone such a thing as theft, had she but known her web-monkeys were stealing under her name, because she had more important things to do than to actually write her blog.

But I'd not hire a lawyer who allowed web-monkeys to steal content under her name, no matter how well-reputed.  I'd worry about how well she supervised her paralegals and associates, who could also act under her name, while she was off doing more important things than worrying about my case.

Blogs are ephemera.  That's their charm.  If an ephemeral thing is worth creating at all, it's worth creating well.  Or just don't do it.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. says

    Looks like she turned off her blog, at least for now.

    Fortunately Mark preserved some screenshots.

    I agree with you completely, Patrick. I sometimes need to make referrals for lawyers in Fresno. But I would never in a million years refer to someone who either (1) deliberately thieved content (unlikely here, I think) or (2) hired some web monkey to run her blog and twitter feed and add content to it without monitoring that content. That content is sent out under her name and reflects on her. It's horrifically bad judgment. Horrifically bad judgment, in a criminal defense attorney, is Not A Good Thing.

  2. says

    Ha. I *am* an aerospace engineer (working at Johnson Space Center) and I blog. Most days I think rocket science is easier than blogging. Case in point: look at where I'm at in my career (manager of ~14 engineers in a simulation lab), and look at the piddly traffic I'm getting on my blog. Sigh.

  3. Dubbsee says

    Your posy is not as bad as others. But, I have copied it for Melina's review and any actions she takes is hers. You may want to get your facts straight. The damage has been done and I am at fault but what do you expect from a web monkey?

  4. Patrick says

    I will add Wayne, that if anyone is inclined to take "actions" against those who report and comment truthfully and fairly upon matters of record, you would likely be a third-party defendant.

    And insofar as "actions" are concerned, while you may deal with criminal lawyers, civil discovery, to which criminal lawyers generally don't have access, can be agonizing. It would be particularly agonizing in your case.

    If Ms. Benninghoff would like to discuss the matter with us, she's more than welcome to send an email and discussion will be had. You, on the other hand, had better look out.

  5. says

    Free — non-legal; IANAL — advice, Wayne: stop digging. Yeah, I know: you think you're trying to limit the damage. You're not.

  6. says

    I feel sorry for the actual lawyer involved in all this. She appears to be a solo practitioner. She does not have a disciplinary record, and I didn't see any of her clients complain about her online.

    As a fellow solo practitioner, part of me feels like we should leave her alone. It is difficult attracting new clients as a solo practitioner, so trying new advertising methods doesn’t sound completely unreasonable.

  7. says

    There's nothing wrong about "trying new advertising methods." But turning one's website over to a raving nutcase and then not watching him — which is, at present, the most gentle credible explanation for Ms. Benninghoff's actions — is "trying new advertising methods" in the same sense that playing Russian Roulette is "experimenting with a modified shooting grip."

  8. Patrick says

    Matt, if I created a blog in your name (you already have one, as a matter of fact!), wouldn't you at least try to read it so that you could see what it was about?

    That's a rhetorical question of course: I'm 99.9% sure you actually write your blog. But would you let me write it for you, in your name, without prior approval and without control?

    That's the most charitable interpretation of what's going on in this case.

  9. says

    Patrick, we're lawyers, so let's apply some evidence rules–aren't we speculating about her actual involvement? Perhaps the lawyer involved isn't making any statement because she believes that any response will fuel more attention to her (unfortunate) situation.

    Also, is it fair to assume the lawyer has continuous direct control over whomever is shadow-writing the blog? From what I've read about her on-line, she's apparently done several trials, including a capital crime defense. Perhaps she's in trial right now, and we're taking advantage of her lack of time. It just doesn't feel right to single out a solo practitioner who does not appear to have a disciplinary record or a record of ripping off clients.