A Polite Word About the Popehat Signal

Law Practice

First, a disclaimer: since I started offering pro-bono legal help to threatened bloggers, either directly or by seeking local pro-bono counsel in other jurisdictions, the vast majority of people writing to me seeking help have been pleasant and polite. If you've written me, this post most likely isn't about you. (Or, more accurately, if you have the self-awareness to wonder if this post is about you, it almost certainly isn't.)

However, a few people have asked for the Popehat Signal, or more generally for my help, for matters on which I'm not able to help them. I write today to offer a clarification, in hopes of avoiding disappointment and hurt feelings.

I do other sorts of pro bono work at work. But here at Popehat, the core of my pro bono work is helping people respond to legal threats they receive based on things they have written on the internet. The heartland is bloggers threatened with defamation, but it extends to other writings as well. In addition, I've occasionally helped people threatened with bizarre harassment campaigns based on their online activities. At the very least, the matters have had strong First Amendment connections. These are areas relevant to my interests and abilities.

But if your problem is, say, an unjust traffic ticket, or a relative's immigration dispute, or a straightforward trademark lawsuit without censorship elements, I'm probably not going to be able to help you, and I'm probably not going to put up the Popehat Signal for you. That's not because your situation is just — perhaps you're facing grave injustice. But, frankly, I have a job and a family, and I have a limited amount of time to devote to this enterprise. Moreover, though I've always been very pleased at the response I get from the Popehat Signal — there are a lot of stand-up lawyers out there — it works because of its narrow scope. If we start throwing it up there every time someone has a landlord-tenant dispute, nobody's going to read it. Also, I suspect that when people respond, it's because I've build up a certain amount of trust with readers on core free speech issues — in other words, people think that if I care enough to throw up the signal, there must be some there there. But I can't offer that sort of assurance in areas in which I am not personally familiar. Sorry.

Now, I have only very rarely run into Freakish Entitlement Syndrome, which is always a hazard of offering something for free. But it happens. And it irks the living shit out of me, and sometimes puts me off the whole enterprise for a day or two.

All that said, I want my core message to be this: thank you for sending me tips about threatened bloggers and writers. Thank you for responding to, or retweeting or blogging, the Popehat Signal. Y'all rock.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Barron Barnett  •  Jun 4, 2012 @1:08 pm

    Thank you for doing it. It does provide a little bit of extra comfort knowing someone has my back if the SHTF regarding my blog.

    I try to make sure stuff is cut and dry, but you never know when someone might be upset by something you write. Doubly so when the majority of those you talk about are in law enforcement or otherwise employed by the state.

    So again, thank you. Coming to you if crap went down is by no means my first plan of action, but it's on the list for when all else has failed. It helps provide some extra peace of mind.

  2. David  •  Jun 4, 2012 @5:07 pm

    And if you have any urgent art historical needs, I'm here for you. ;)

  3. Ken  •  Jun 4, 2012 @5:08 pm

    It's no "AND MY AXE!" But it will serve.

  4. JRM  •  Jun 4, 2012 @10:04 pm

    This is the excuse you give for not repairing my fence, or at least putting up the Popehat signal to get someone to repair it? It's broken. I don't know how to fix it. And here you are, all famous and shit, and you just leave my broken fence there.

    (Reminding me of the Jonathan Coulton song:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6qKASEpUjo )

    –JRM, fence still broken and it's only a six-hour drive here from KenHQ.

  5. Ken  •  Jun 4, 2012 @10:06 pm

    To be perfectly frank, I don't think we're known for fence-mending around here.

  6. Dustin  •  Jun 6, 2012 @10:13 am

    "Now, I have only very rarely run into Freakish Entitlement Syndrome, which is always a hazard of offering something for free. But it happens. And it irks the living shit out of me, and sometimes puts me off the whole enterprise for a day or two."

    That's a shame. But understandable.

    Thanks for the great things you've done for a lot of people. You really are a champion for free speech, and deserve a great deal of respect.

    I'm sorry someone I endorsed turned out to behave in a way that predictably put a damper on the cause.