A Little Girl-Talk
Pride and Prejudice

Smart Man Online: Dennis Kennedy

This week's interview is with someone I admire more than he knows. My travels about the blogosphere have introduced me to some truly amazing people, male and female alike, and Dennis Kennedy is right at the top of the list. Dennis is a techno-lawyer, by his own description, and a creative writer whose words pack power - IMHO - but more than that, he's open and friendly and truly caring. More so than many people I know.

From the extensive bio he provided for this interview, I learned that he was named the TechnoLawyer of the Year and 2003 Contributor of the Year by TechnoLawyer.com for his role in promoting the use of technology in the practice of law. He is a member of the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Council and is an editor and board member of the Law Practice Today webzine."

I hope you'll learn from this interview why I admire Dennis so much: because he's creative, thoughtful, and approachable. The epitome of what the blogosphere is all about.

Yvonne: I have to admit that I don't read your blog as much as I would like to. I'm a great admirer of your writing but...there just isn't enough time in the day to do justice to the entire blogosphere. How do you manage your blog reading - and, for that matter, your blog writing? 

Dennis: You have to make some hard choices because you can't read everything. The idea of "management," for better or worse, is part of the equation.

I rarely visit blogs anymore. I read posts my subscribing to the RSS feeds so that the posts get "delivered" to me. I subscribe to way too many RSS feeds, but many of them are like old friends to me.

Lately, I've found I do a lot more scanning of posts and use "saved searches" in my newsreader to find posts on topics that interest me. I'll sometimes scroll through feeds I get during the day using Dave Winer's "river of news" approach to let information flow by as I see what grabs my attention. 

It's also OK not to read everything you subscribe to. I'm big on reading things that interest me, challenge me or bring me new viewpoints – I don't like the idea of subscribing only to blogs that agree with my worldview. [good advice for us all]

For blog writing, I've always had the approach that I want to post 3 – 5 times a week. Lately, I do tend to post on a daily basis. I rarely post on weekends. I seldom post more than one or two posts a day. 

I like to find something to post about that makes people think and lets me draw some new connections between ideas that people don't otherwise see as connected. I also love to point out great work being done by others and send them over to see what other bloggers are doing. I often use the idea of the "money quote" in which I pull the most interesting quote I can from an article or post with the idea of both capturing a key point and enticing my reader to go check out the post I'm discussing.

Like many bloggers, I would say that the actual writing of posts takes less time than most non-bloggers would think. I recently passed the 1,000 post mark on my blog – after a while, you start to feel that you are getting the hang of writing posts.

Yvonne: You and I go way back...well, in the blogosphere way back is two years or so, right? You knew me when I was 'Jane'. Did you have any issues around my writing Lip-sticking as 'Jane'? I guess the real question is: what do you think of character blogs? 

Dennis: There are days when I wonder if my blog is a "character blog."  ;-)  [hmmm...I see what you mean.]

Every blogger presents a writing "persona" to the world, whether intended or unintended, so we all take on some kind of writer's "mask." With bloggers, in large part because of the everydayness of blogging, that mask tends to be closer to who we are than perhaps in other forms of writing, at least based on my experience. It's very rare to meet a blogger in person who is really different than what you expect from their blogging.

It's fascinating to me to see how blogging developed with all of the clever names for blogs, almost like the early days of email when everyone had a clever email name, instead of using their real names. I don't know anything I've ever done with my blog (other than perhaps posting about Metallica) that generates more conversation than the fact that I use my name as my blog name.

I did that explicitly because I did not want to be limited in what I wrote about on my blog. Even on the Between Lawyers group blog I do, I feel that my posts need some at least minimal connection to the world of law. On my own blog, I'll write about anything that interests me. That was the goal from the beginning.

To get back to your question, though, my point of view is to let a thousand flowers bloom when it comes to blogging. If it's compelling reading, I'll follow any blog. I don't usually like anonymous blogs where the blogger is critical and seems to be hiding behind the mask of anonymity to attack others, but there's a place for everything, even if not on my list.

Character blogs strike me as being very difficult to do well. How do you keep the character interesting to yourself? 

I've been expecting the retirement of Jane and Yvonne's appearance on your blog for a while. Yvonne is much more interesting and gives you far more options than Jane does.

One problem with character blogs is what happens when you meet someone in person. Are you the character or are you the author? Then, you have people like me who will insist on talking to Yvonne, not Jane. The real person is always more interesting than the character. Ultimately, I would expect that most bloggers who use characters as the primary voices will outgrow the characters, or else start a separate blog in their own names. 

Yvonne: Lawyers who blog...when I first discovered that you and some other lawyers were blogging, I was surprised. It seemed - surreal. But, I've come to appreciate the writings from a number of legal blawgers...and I am a firm believer in LexThink. How did you overcome your legal training to be such a nice guy, one that can write straight from the heart - and mean it? 

Dennis: The hardest thing for me about being a lawyer these days is the shock people express when they say to me that I'm not like other lawyers – when they say that I'm a nice, generous, helpful or a real person. I know many lawyers who are like me, but the ones that gave the legal profession a bad name really have done a number on the rest of us.

Shortly before I started blogging, I tallied up all the publications I had (including reprinted articles) and the total came to more than 300 articles. I decided that, objectively, I could call myself a writer and not be laughed at for doing so. I also realized that I had become a writer who also practiced law and was no longer a lawyer who sometimes writes articles. There's a big difference. [ah!]

I don't know that it's so much "overcoming" my legal training. I had a great legal education at Georgetown and benefited enormously over the years from working with excellent lawyers who were and are great teachers. I tend to use my legal training in some different, maybe unexpected, ways. There's a genuinely creative element in what the best lawyers do, and often that goes unappreciated. I've always been fortunate to work with lawyers who find that creative spot of the practice.

As for writing straight from the heart, there's a whole cast of teachers, mentors, family, friends and other responsible for that. Like other writers, I'll sometimes catch a flow where it feels that I just have to write down something that is coming directly to me. Those are often the posts and articles that people will come up to me and tell me that they meant a lot to them or even changed the way they do things. 

I'll never grow tired of people telling me that what I've written made a big impact on their life. I've gotten a great response to some of the most direct material I've written and that encourages me to try more. Ultimately, I'm trying to write more and more like me and who I am. 

Yvonne: I know you're familiar with Creative Commons. Do you, as a member of the legal community, think Creative Commons is a good thing, a bad thing, or - are you indifferent? (of course you're not indifferent!) Can you offer a prediction about where blogging and social computing will take us relevant to copyright issues and such? 

Dennis: I have mixed opinions on the Creative Commons licenses. There seems to be a disconnect between concept and execution.

First, I love the idea of having a limited number of standard licenses where you can pick and choose the one that makes the most sense to you. That's the first step to something like "open source law." The standardization helps eliminate the "friction" in transactions and makes it easier for people to use the creative works of others.

The devil, of course, is in the details. I'd like to see the Creative Commons group take more of a leadership role in helping us interpret what the implications of the licenses are and how we interpret them. I sometimes feel that when a hot discussion is going on about the practical effects of the CC licenses, what you hear from the CC folks is applause for hitting some milestone in the acceptance of the licenses. Increased popularity of the licenses is a good thing, of course, but I'm more interested in what they think the CC licenses do to protect you against splogs.

It also concerns me, as a lawyer who reviews software licenses, that people routinely apply the CC licenses without reading them, as if it's important to be in the CC club. I've said many times that the CC licenses are designed to be friendlier to publishers than to creators and it's a good idea to read them carefully, not just to rely on the summaries.

I don't use a CC license on my own blog. We had a public discussion of the CC licenses and why we chose to apply one to the Between Lawyers group blog. I encourage people to read that discussion.

I don't think anybody can predict with any certainty where blogging will take copyright and other intellectual property laws. Blogging will certainly accelerate the pace of change. Blogging also forces you to look at the root issues in these laws. If you made me predict, I'd say that blogging will move us toward broader definitions of what is acceptable fair use and personal use. The biggest change agent for copyright law, over time, will be RSS and XML and how they allow anyone to easily "repurpose" and "repackage" content. 

Yvonne: I've been reviewing your recent blog post on "Five Things I would do differently if I started blogging today" and I was surprised to see that you're still having trouble with comments, especially comment spam. It's annoying, yes...but, manageable, surely. I was always disappointed in those early days when I wanted to leave a comment, but couldn't. Some folks actually think blogs without comments open - aren't really blogs. To that end, can you think of the BEST comment you've ever received, and the WORST - not including comment spam? 

Dennis: Do you mean the best comment by someone other than you? [blush, blush] The best comments all come from people who I respect who I learn are reading and appreciating my blog and I never had any idea that they might be reading it. I've also received quite touching comments from family members of people I posted about when they died. 

Comment spam are the WORST. I also don't like "comments" that are thinly-veiled advertisements for someone's blog or website or comments that treat what should be private conversations best handled by email or a phone call as public theatrical performances. 

I'm actually quite content to email bloggers privately rather than use the comments feature. My general inclination is always to keep discussions private.

Part of my feeling about comments comes from the fact that they are not really a medium I prefer. On the other hand, I would NEVER make some pronouncement that someone didn't have a real blog because they did or didn't enable comments or did or didn't do other things that some people feel are required to be a "true blog."

It's interesting that almost all of the feedback and discussion I got on that post relates to my remarks on comments. I actually thought the most interesting thing I said in that post was that I wanted to have my own RSS feed from the beginning and the fact that it took the form of a blog was a secondary thought.

Yvonne: One interesting thing about your blog is its personality. Albeit, it's buried under your 'dry' humor...yet, a regular reader is treated to posts such as "Is It True That My Blog Has Its Own Amazon Wishlist?" where you note that your blog has taken on a life of its own. I think writing a book is the same...after a certain point, the book writes itself. That said, what do you think of the idea of turning blog posts into a book? Would your blog approve? 

Dennis: I like the idea of turning blog posts into books. My blog would approve and often it is the blog, rather than me, that pushes me to try new things and try new experiments. 

However, I'm not convinced that a collection of blog posts really works as a book. I am quite intrigued by the way a series of pre-planned posts might be done in a way so that your blog essentially creates a book. In other words, a blog offers a vehicle for serializing the material for your book, much as authors like Dickens would have done in the 19th century. Serializing your book content would allow you to get feedback, test new ideas and even "shop" your project to publishers, all while providing great content for your audience. 

In many blogs, I'll see posts that contain an idea that might be developed into a book, if the blogger had the time to pursue it. For example, I think that the idea of Law 2.0 that I've touched on recently has potential that might be best explored in a book context. Dave Pollard has several posts a week that I'd love to see turned into books.

It's a question of finding the writing vehicle for your writing. Blogs tend to be best for shorter pieces and the blog world does move on so quickly. I'm known among the law-related bloggers for writing very long posts and many people have told me to write shorter posts and create books and booklets. Perhaps the best approach may be to turn collections of blog posts into booklets or ebooklets. That's why what you are doing with print-on-demand is so fascinating. [let's talk]

Yvonne: What's your favorite memory from summer vacation, when you were a kid? Is it a story you tell your own kids? (so...how many kids do you have?)

Dennis: Fascinating question. This is something I haven't thought about in a long time and it's brought back some good memories. We have a daughter who will soon turn 13 (and who is the only person I've ever let guest post on my blog) and I find that, lately, I will mention some of these stories to my daughter.

She now probably knows that when she has a camping trip, she may hear a story of me at Boy Scout camp.

When we were growing up, my Dad worked seven days a week and working through vacation was all but required by his employer. When we had vacations it was for a few days at most and at places within driving distance from our home in Indiana – Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.

Recently, I was talking with someone in Ohio about getting together when I was back visiting my parents in Indiana. We mentioned Cedar Point as a halfway point. That brought back a lot of memories for me – leaving early in the morning, driving down a highway (231, as I recall) that was known for how straight it was and spending the day at the Cedar Point amusement park. In particular, I remember a big blue slide they had that you got an old burlap bag that you sat on to slide down. It was fun and a memory of a simpler time. I'll be looking for the big roller coasters if I go now.

Also, my summer memories involve lots of time spent on my grandparents' farm, where my brother now lives.

Yvonne: Without thinking long and hard, complete these three thoughts:

     a. I would never want my kids to grow up and become...

     b. If I had time, I'd...... more often

     c. If I could write a fairytale, it would be about....

Dennis: a. I wrote a blog post on this here I really don't want Grace to do something where she can't use and develop her great creativity, especially in music.

b. That's easy. Ride my bike, ideally with my wife and daughter and other friends.

c. How the Web makes the world a better place. 

Yvonne: Do you think the blogosphere is getting out of hand...I mean, you talk about your blogiversary, we talk about bloggersations, other people invent blog this and blog that...where will it end?  Dennis_kennedy_headshot_1

Dennis: As long as people have a sense of humor about the way they use these terms, it's all good. Once people start taking the "blogjargon" too seriously, then we have problems. I used the term blogiversary for fun and you should imagine that I'm using it with quote marks around it and a touch of irony. I'd say the same thing about the use of "blawg." It can be a bit of shorthand, a bit of fun and, in some cases, a bit more precise. It can also be the opposite. 

This stuff usually works itself over time. I'm not fond of language police. Some words will stick; others will disappear. As I say, let's let a thousand flowers bloom, rather than kill off the ones that don't fit our preconceived notions of "blogcorrectness."

Yvonne: I almost forgot: if you won the lottery tomorrow, what's the most expensive thing you would buy online, if anything?

Dennis: A cool vacation trip for family and friends – maybe here - Maybe even turn it into a big free LexThink event. [whoohoo, I'm there!]


Sorry for misspelling Dennis's name earlier today! It's Kennedy, not Kenneedy. Oops!


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INteresting interview as always Yvonne.
Never thought the day would come when i'd be thinking of checking out a lawyer's blog! As an Aussie, an American lawyer's blog will need to be more than covering law. So now i'll go visit.
Nice to hear about you Dennis.

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