|How Appealing Extra|
Saturday, November 15, 2003
Readers Rave About Blog Devoted to Appellate Law
By Brent Kendall
Daily Journal Staff Writer
November 12, 2003
PHILADELPHIA - Web sites are easy to come by.
With just a few dollars, and enough time to create and maintain some content, anyone potentially can reach a world of readers.
Unfortunately for most people, that readership extends to no more than a gang of devoted friends, maybe a Mom or Dad and a few random Google surfers.
Yet for all the many sites that underwhelm the public, a few find a winning formula.
Those with a combination of timing, luck, a well-selected niche and good writing become Internet mainstays, reaching thousands of readers.
One such site belongs to 39-year-old Philadelphia lawyer Howard Bashman, the creator and sole author of How Appealing, an Internet "blog" that offers news and commentary from the world of appellate law.
Bashman's site, which, in addition to exploring appellate topics, delves into an eclectic range of subjects from across the legal spectrum, is read not only by his friends and family but also by 10,000 others on an average day.
His nationwide audience includes judges, law clerks, pre-eminent legal practitioners, elite journalists and congressional staffers. And Bashman says the site even finds its way onto a few computer screens in the White House.
Bashman, who chairs the appellate group for the firm Buchanan Ingersoll, entered Web publishing reluctantly after a colleague encouraged him repeatedly to start a blog, a no-frills type of site filled with short entries and Web links that functions as an online notebook or diary for its publisher.
Bashman did a quick Internet search and, finding no prominent appellate-law sites, decided he'd give it a try.
He launched the site in May 2002, and it was an immediate success.
"Once I started my Web log, it became clear that no one else was doing what I was doing, and it developed a rather large and enthusiastic following pretty much right away," said Bashman, sitting comfortably in his modest 13th-floor office located in a modern high-rise overlooking Philadelphia's Center City district. "The following that I've gotten has really been beyond my wildest dreams."
A year and a half later, How Appealing has topped 2 million total page hits.
Bloggers publish largely in dribs and drabs, with a paragraph here and a paragraph there. Most try to write at least a little something once a day, because an essential part of blogging is posting with enough frequency to foster a dialogue with readers.
The hyperproductive Bashman often averages more than one post an hour. Over a recent seven-day stretch, he averaged 29 entries a day.
"If you look at what Howard is doing, it's pretty unique that he can maintain such a high-volume, high-quality level of information," said Denise Howell, a Los Angeles-based appellate and intellectual property lawyer with the firm Reed Smith, and author of the legal blog Bag and Baggage.
"For most of us mere mortals, if we can post about one or two things that we find interesting during the day, we feel like we've accomplished quite a bit," Howell said.
A recent day on How Appealing included posts on the sniper trials, appellate-court nominees Janice Rogers Brown and Claude Allen, Linda Tripp's settlement with the federal government, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's Ten Commandments saga and the Supreme Court's decision to reinstate an Ohio man's death sentence.
These and other news bits come with links to a variety of stories, sometimes from widely read outlets but just as often from regional publications that are less prominent on the national public's radar screen - papers like the Tallahassee Democrat and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.
And then there are Bashman's postings about noteworthy decisions from the various appellate circuits.
Whether it's the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling in favor of the Beastie Boys against a copyright-infringement claim or the 3rd Circuit's ruling that the indefinite detention of an inadmissible alien is not a violation of due process, How Appealing has the information, quickly.
Bashman said he often gets these decisions out to the public before anyone else does.
"Part of that is simply knowing from experience what times the appellate courts issue their decisions," he said. "It's not hard to be the first one to report on that if you know what time it's going to happen and can set aside a minute or two to take a look.
"But it has gotten to the point now where at least on one federal appellate court, the clerk of court himself will send me an e-mail saying, 'This order has come down today,'" Bashman added. "And I don't know how many other people he's doing that for."
"The site is absolutely wonderful," said Roy Englert, an appellate litigator with the Washington, D.C., firm Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck & Untereiner.
"I will tell you flat out that it replaces 90 percent of the reading I used to do to keep up with legal subjects," Englert said. "I get all that information in one place from Howard's site and the things he links to."
Tom Goldstein, whose firm Goldstein & Howe specializes in Supreme Court litigation, maintains a Supreme Court blog that was inspired by How Appealing.
"There's definitely nothing comparable on the planet," Goldstein said of Bashman's site.
Goldstein said it was "freakish" how much Bashman covered with his one-man, part-time operation.
"There's no place you can go and nothing to which you can subscribe that can give you a better sense of what is going on in the law," he said.
Surprisingly, Bashman said he doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time on the site, devoting an hour or two during the day, with additional time late at night. He's a night owl, while his wife of 12 years and their 8-year-old son are not.
Bashman has no assistants or researchers that help him gather information, but, he said, he receives a good deal of assistance from How Appealing readers who e-mail him news stories, court information and all kinds of other tidbits.
"Even journalists don't hesitate to let me know of rulings they think I might be interested in, and oftentimes I'll reciprocate to them," he said.
Bashman has friendly relationships with, among others, reporters at the Associated Press, Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post.
Bashman said his blogging has Buchanan Ingersoll's blessing. His colleagues understand that he puts his work first, he said.
"The firm is very supportive of it. They realize that it's getting the firm a lot of attention," Bashman said. "As an appellate lawyer, the amount of billable hours that you can have to begin with are maybe smaller than you can have if you're a trial lawyer, and so as long as I'm carrying my own here, I think the firm is happy to have it happen."
In addition to How Appealing's daily fare, Bashman runs a monthly feature called "20 Questions for the Appellate Judge."
He launched the feature in January, thinking that it would give judges the opportunity to reach his audience "in a way that perhaps otherwise they would not be able to do."
Each Q&A session is done over e-mail, with Bashman tailoring individualized questions for each judge.
Bashman lines up his judicial participants by posting occasional calls for volunteers, a system that has worked well so far, he said.
Readers have sent Bashman suggestions on people he should invite to participate, "but I'm interested in having people do it who want to do it," he said.
His first volunteer was Judge Jerry Smith of the 5th Circuit (who had once amended a written opinion after reading a Bashman post that noted an error in it).
Up second was the 9th Circuit's Diarmuid O'Scannlain.
"I was happy to participate," said O'Scannlain, who called the "20 Questions" feature "a great idea."
"The kinds of questions I got and the questions that went to other judges were very revealing in and of themselves because they helped tell me what is of interest to appellate specialists," he said.
In addition to being a participant, O'Scannlain said he has read most of the other "20 Questions" sessions.
"I was interested in seeing how other judges in other circuits answered the same kinds of questions," he said.
Ninth Circuit Judges Andrew Kleinfeld and Michael Daly Hawkins also have participated, and Judge Stephen Reinhardt has volunteered to be Bashman's February 2004 interviewee.
How Appealing's success has bestowed on Bashman a level of fame that he had no way of predicting when he started.
And while he said he never intended the site to be a place "where Howard Bashman is being marketed," he admitted that the attention can only help his career.
A graduate of the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Bashman came to Buchanan Ingersoll in March 2001 after heading an appellate practice at Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, where he spent 10 years.
Bashman is co-chair of the Appellate Courts Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association and recently was named a "Lawyer on the Fast Track" by American Lawyer Media.
Out of law school, Bashman clerked for Judge William D. Hutchinson of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a place where, rumor has it, he could land again someday - this time as a judge.
"That would be something that I would definitely be interested in doing at some point if the offer ever arose," he said.
Asked about his judicial philosophy, Bashman, a member of the Federalist Society, said he preferred rulings "to be narrow as opposed to broad."
"But I think that you never know what type of a judge you're going to be unless you become a judge," he said.
He said that he enjoys reading the work of judges who are guided by a wide range of philosophies.
"If anyone has ever thought to consider me, it would be an honor to be asked. And if it never happens, that would be fine, too," he said. "I really love what I do."
Bashman also said he might be interested in making a larger venture into journalism, possibly as a legal analyst in his spare time.
The profession has always interested him. He was editor-in-chief of his high-school newspaper, and as an undergraduate at Columbia University, he wrote for his college paper, the Columbia Daily Spectator.
He has been a monthly columnist for Philadelphia's legal newspaper, The Legal Intelligencer, for three years - a position that pre-dates his blog work.
Bashman said he occasionally gets nibbles from media people that lead him to believe that he could blog someday for a news outlet.
"If an offer like that ever came in, I'd certainly have to consider that, but in terms of doing that full time, I just don't see that being something that was financially conceivable," he said.
But, with a smile creeping across his face, he added, "If they wanted to surprise me, I'm willing to listen."
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