The back alley of the Internet known as the blogosphere has a reputation for being home mostly to conspiracy-driven cranks and self-indulgent diarists. But a few blogs try to perform a public service, and Fort Washington–based appellate attorney Howard Bashman is working hard to put his blog into that category.
Bashman started his blog, “How Appealing” (www.legalaffairs.org/howappealing), in May 2002 as a way to consolidate news items relevant to appellate attorneys. Since then, it has grown into a small phenomenon, garnering about 10,000 hits per day and simultaneously raising the profile of the 40-year-old Bashman’s private practice. It now contains standing links to dozens of relevant blogs and news sources, along with about 30 news links provided daily by Bashman.
“I think it’s one of the top law-related blogs, though there’s no true way of measuring it,” Bashman says.
“How Appealing” covers appellate law primarily but not exclusively. A typical day of postings from Bashman might contain links to a U.S. News and World Report article on eminent domain, a story on Sen. Arlen Specter’s fight with cancer or a Newsday editorial about President Bush’s prospective Supreme Court nominees.
What it usually doesn’t contain is editorializing from Bashman.
“When I do comment, it’s on matters that are important to appellate lawyers,” he says. “My site is hosted by Legal Affairs magazine [for which Bashman is a contributing editor]. That doesn’t take away any editorial control, but it does make me remember that it’s important to maintain credibility with my readers and not take positions that might affect my efficacy as a lawyer. I try not to make my posts partisan.”
That evenhandedness doesn’t keep Bashman from having a little fun with the eccentricities of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In one entry, he pointed out the irony that the Ninth Circuit, which ruled that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional in the public school setting, was sued by a California attorney who charged that the official seal of the court violates the Constitution. (The seal contains two tablets with 10 squiggly lines that the attorney claims represents the Ten Commandments.)
“I try not to take controversial positions, but one recurring theme is that the Ninth Circuit from time to time can be a little wacky, and I think that’s something people recognize,” he says. “I try to have posts that are in good humor. It breaks up otherwise dry subject matter.”
“How Appealing” also serves as a forum for other voices within the appellate law community. One of its regular features was the “20 Questions for the Appellate Judge,” in which 20 judges from all over the United States were quizzed by Bashman via e-mail on legal issues each month for 20 months.
Occasionally Bashman even finds himself with something of a scoop. When Second Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi compared the rise to power of George W. Bush to that of Mussolini at the national convention of the American Constitution Society in June 2004, Bashman posted a “tester link” to a New York Sun story about the incident, provided to him by the reporter covering the speech, the day it appeared in print.
“That story would otherwise have been available only online via subscription,” he says, “so I think I did help get the story more exposure.”
Glancing at the volume of information posted on “How Appealing,” it would be easy to presume that maintaining the site is a full-time job, but Bashman insists it takes no appreciable time away from his practice, or from his wife, Janice, and their 10-year-old son, Sam.
“It takes two hours a day at the most,” he says. “The nice thing about appellate law is that brief writing takes solid chunks of time, and so I do that during the evening. The blogging nicely fills in the spaces during the day when the phone’s not ringing.”