The Blog Corporations Click

Sarbanes-Oxley a barrel of monkeys? Well, almost, for Michael O’Sullivan

Published in 2004 Southern California Rising Stars — September 2004

People do a lot of things to help them make sense of their jobs. Some exercise to clear their minds. Others get lost in music. Lawyer Michael O’Sullivan goes another way: he writes commentaries on his Web log, www.CorpLawBlog.com.

O’Sullivan, a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson, spends his offhours sifting through the Code of Hammurabi and SEC press releases, among other source material, for tidbits that he can craft into witty swipes at his pet peeves in the field of corporate law. The garbled nature of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the grandstanding of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer are among his favorite targets.

O’Sullivan’s job entails work on financings and mergers and acquisitions, about which he has little to say. “A lot of what I do I can’t talk about,” he explains. Which is just the opposite of his sideline project, which he broadcasts for all the world to see.

Within months of its launch in the spring of 2003, O’Sullivan’s blog (as self-published online diaries are commonly called) had an avid following, drawing up to 1,000 visitors a day. TheCorporateCounsel.net proclaimed that O’Sullivan has “quickly become popular due to his unique insights and ability to ferret out information on a daily basis.” The Illinois Bar Journal added that he “does it with style and verve, regularly making topics like Sarbanes-Oxley almost fun to read about.” That remark drew a bemused retort from O’Sullivan in a recent posting. “‘Almost’ fun means not quite fun, which means the opposite of fun, which means boring,” he wrote.

Whether readers are amused or not, O’Sullivan, who earned his law degree at USC in 1992, pronounces Corp Law Blog plenty of fun to write, partly because he only posts when he feels like it. As a bi-weekly columnist for his college newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania, he learned that opining on a fixed schedule can quickly become a grind, and he is determined that Corp Law Blog will never come to that. He explains in a “frequently asked questions” section, “So I’ll just post when I’m ready and stay quiet when I’m not.”

In June 2003, he served up a manic outpouring of 73 postings totaling more than 23,000 words on everything from the SEC, FTC, ERISA and GAAP to a hapless Skadden Arps summer associate who mistakenly broadcast an e-mail to 20 partners in the firm that began, “I’m busy doing Jack [expletive].” This April he posted nothing at all before beginning to pick up the pace in May.

O’Sullivan intersperses the heavier subject matter with lighter fare. He takes occasional potshots at “ill-used amongs and betweens” and other hallmarks of senseless legalese. And in his report on his findings in the Code of Hammurabi, he observed that one clause provides such broad latitude to blame brokers for investments gone bad that it must be Eliot Spitzer’s ur-text. “I’m sure some hotshot prosecutor with political ambitions made hay out of this one in Babylonia,” he notes.

Entertaining and informative, Corp Law Blog has become a mustread for many in the small community of corporate lawyers. But in his “Ground Rules for Using this Web Site,” O’Sullivan disclaims, in nearly a dozen different ways, any notion that his unverified musings constitute legal advice or an advertisement for clients. “I never let a lack of knowledge stand in the way of a blog post,” he asserts.

O’Sullivan figures that about one-third of his readers are in-house corporate lawyers and two-thirds are corporate lawyers at other firms. But he’s not particularly concerned how many readers he has or who they happen to be.

He explains that he launched Corp Law Blog for his own benefit after an especially hectic period in his practice when he had been so consumed with the immediate issues on his plate that he had lost touch with other developments. At about the same time, as a casual reader of law blogs, he was browsing through UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh’s “The Volokh Conspiracy” when he noticed a link to that site’s free hosting service, Blogger.com. He clicked on it and was lured in by the promise that you, too, can have a blog of your own within minutes. Sure enough, five minutes later, Corp Law Blog was up and running, O’Sullivan says.

With its search tool that can take him directly to past postings on laws, regulations and litigation, and their links directly to source documents, as well as the categorized list of links to the Web sites that he frequents at the bottom of the page, Corp Law Blog is a tool that he regularly uses in his own practice, O’Sullivan says.

It has also proved to be an ideal way to keep in touch with clients. Earlier in his career, he experimented with “shot-gunning” printed pieces to clients and later hitting them with unsolicited e-mails. “I felt bad about making people look at things,” he recalls. Now, his clients and colleagues can visit his blog anytime they want and find, in the standard format of the medium, his latest musings at the top of the page.

“They can look at it if they want to,” he says, adding that it wouldn’t bother him if they don’t. “If no one ever used it but me, it would be a useful tool,” O’Sullivan says.

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