This week, David Lat, who founded the blog Above the Law in 2006, and who earlier, in 2004, started the anonymous blog Underneath Their Robes, and who left blogging two years ago to take a job as a legal recruiter, is returning to writing as a full-time livelihood.
But this time, Lat will not be publishing his writing on a blog. Instead, he will be publishing a newsletter on Substack, hoping that enough subscribers ante up $5 a month to support him in his craft.
As someone who gained near-celebrity status in the legal world through blogging, Lat’s choice of Substack for his return to full-time writing may seem surprising. But, as he explains, he likes that Substack’s subscription model allows him to make a living without the need to generate millions of pageviews or clutter his writing with annoying ads.
If you are not familiar with Substack, it is, depending on what you read, either the salvation of publishing or its ruination. Its model of making it easy to publish and monetize newsletters has drawn big-name writers to its platform, many of whom have left jobs with mainstream publications in the hopes of making a living – or, even better, of making a killing – as independent authors.
Indeed, some of them are making a killing, with top authors on Substack such as conservative political commentator Andrew Sullivan, sometimes controversial journalist Matt Taibbi, and liberal historian Heather Cox Richardson earning seven-figure incomes, and Substack luring other writers to its platform with six-figure advances.
At least one lawyer is in this pantheon of top-paid publishers on Substack – Glenn Greenwald, the former litigator turned Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of four New York Times bestselling books on politics and law, including No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. Greenwald cofounded the publication The Intercept in 2013, but left in October 2020 to publish independently on Substack.
Given Lat’s move and the attention being focused these days on Substack, I decided to see what other lawyers I could find publishing there, or at least what else is there of specific interest to lawyers. While not an exhaustive list, here are some of the newsletters I found.
Let’s start with Lat, who started his Substack newsletter, Original Jurisdiction, last December, describing it as “a source of incisive, fair-minded, and occasionally entertaining commentary about law and the legal profession.” Until now, he had offered the newsletter free, but starting this week, he is charging a subscription.
“During the pandemic, I came to the realization that writing is my true calling,” wrote Lat, who last year fought a brink-of-death battle with COVID-19. “So as of today, I’m once again a full-time writer.”
Like Greenwald and Lat, Jill Filipovic is a lawyer by training, but better known for her career in journalism, in which she has worked for The Guardian and Cosmopolitan and written two books: The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness (2017), and OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind (2020). She writes in her newsletter about a variety of issues, with a primary focus on women’s issues.
Another lawyer-turned-journalist is U.K.-based Joshua Rozenberg, who publishes the newsletter A Lawyer Writes, where he covers and comments on developments in the law. He describes himself as “Britain’s most experienced full-time legal commentator,” having written and reported for the Law Society Gazette, the Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, the BBC, and elsewhere. He publishes frequently, with some issues free and selected issues requiring a subscription.
Two other Substack newsletters published by lawyers who became journalists are:
- The French Press, a thrice-weekly newsletter published by the Substack-based conservative publication The Dispatch and written by senior editor David French, a former attorney and political commentator. Also a columnist at Time and formerly a staff writer for National Review, French covers law, politics, faith and culture.
- SHERO is a newsletter published by Amee Vanderpool, a lawyer and journalist who writes about political and legal issues facing women but affecting everyone. She publishes frequently, with some of her content available only to paid subscribers and some free to all.
While not a lawyer, Eli Sanders’s coverage of trials and legal affairs has won him the Pulitzer Prize and other honors, and his reporting led the state of Washington to sue Facebook for allegedly violating campaign finance law. In his newsletter, Wild West, he chronicles how “legal shootouts” involving tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple could redefine rules for the internet.
In the category of lawyer-turned-journalist-turned-entrepreneur-turned-academic, Jason Tashea publishes The Justice Tech Download. A former legal affairs writer for the ABA Journal and now distinguished visiting technologist at The George Washington University Law School, Tashea compiles news from around the web focused on how technology and data can improve the justice system. For me, it is a weekly must-read.
Ken White is known to many as the Los Angeles attorney who formerly wrote the blog Popehat and who hosts the First Amendment podcast Make No Law. White abandoned his blog for Substack, where he publishes The Popehat Report, described as “a newsletter about law, liberty and leisure,” and where he mostly writes about criminal justice and free speech. The newsletter is free so far, but White says that he will turn on paid subscriptions at some point.
Other Substack newsletters written by lawyers include:
- Heather vs. the World. Heather McKinney is a lawyer, sure, but she is also a comedian, podcaster and writer. In her day job, she is 2020-2022 Equal Justice Works fellow in the Elder Justice Program. In her weekly newsletter, she writes “about a little something up top,” and then answers a legal question, such as, “Are death bed confessions a thing?”
- How I Lawyer. Jonah Perlin, a professor of legal practice at Georgetown Law, produces this podcast in which he interviews lawyers about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it well.
- Law of VC. As the name suggests, lawyer Chris Harvey writes his newsletter about venture capital law and technology in the law.
- Meditations of a Bipolar Attorney. Myles R. MacDonald describes himself as a biglaw attorney turned whistleblower, author and meme artist. His biography says he is currently being sued because he “blew the whistle on a massive fraud that one of my former employers happily hid away.” On his newsletter, he writes about being bipolar, his dislike of biglaw, and other subjects.
- Rule of Law Guy’s Newsletter. This newsletter is about legal issues related to investing in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds. As far as I can tell, the author is not identified other than as “Rule of Law Guy.”
- Second Stage. Author Ryan McCarl describes himself as an attorney and educator “who is committed to lifelong learning and growth.” He is a PULSE Fellow in artificial intelligence, law, and policy at UCLA School of Law for 2019-2021 and is a partner at the law firm Rushing McCarl in Los Angeles. He writes about a variety of topics.
- Startup Naps. Author Josh Ephraim, an associate at Gunderson Dettmer, describes it as, “A snoozy guide to startup law from your friendly neighborhood startup lawyer.” What most makes it snoozy is that Ephraim has not posted an update for two years.
- The Binary Lawyer. This newsletter is about “law, crypto, art, music, film, animation, video, governance, LIFE and IKIGAi,” says its author, Christopher Moyé, a lawyer and software developer in New York City. His recent posts have been about NFTs and crypto.
- The Successful Lawyer. Steven N. Peskind is a divorce lawyer in St. Charles, Ill., who believes, “To be successful, a lawyer must have insight into the whole human catastrophe and be able to effectively traverse the legal system.” He writes here about both the practice of law and the catastrophe of humanity.
- The Triangle and 2. Ali Khan is a Harvard Law graduate and lawyer in Chicago. Amit Tailor is video coordinator at Clemson University’s men’s basketball. The two share “a passion for all things basketball,” and that is what they write about in their newsletter.
- Working Scribe. This is the extremely intermittent newsletter (three issues since December) of Bruce Godfrey, a Maryland attorney who promises to deliver useful info for lawyers: “forms, tools, spreadsheets, checklists, some model pleadings, charts, even contact lists – towards making the practice of law easier for us ‘working scribes.’”
Other newsletters of relevance to legal professionals:
- Forward GC. A newsletter produced by a company called Lawtrades, which places temporary help in legal departments.
- LetsTalkLaw. This newsletter describes its purpose as simplifying the law and legal news for non-lawyers. Written by Apoorva Gupta, a law student in India, it has published only five times since November 2020.
- The Expert Witness Newsletter. Talk about a niche – this newsletter publishes only one thing, and that is expert witness opinions written for medical malpractice lawsuits.
- UK Law Weekly. This newsletter provides news and updates on the U.K. legal system. It is written by Marcus Cleaver, a former university lecturer in law who also publishes the blog UK Law Weekly and hosts the podcast UK Law Weekly.
If you would like to read more about Substack and some of the controversy around it, here are a few pieces to start with:
- Why We’re Freaking Out About Substack, by The New York Times media writer Ben Smith.
- Substack: The Future of News — Or A Media Pyramid Scheme? by Oscar Schwartz in The Guardian.
- The Substackerati, by Clio Change in Columbia Journalism Review.
- What Substack Is Really Doing to the Media, by Will Oremus in Slate.