Pink Tape is part of the Guardian Legal Network. In October 2012 Lucy won the Jordan’s Family Law Readers’ Commentary Award for her “entertaining and informative” blog, having been shortlisted for the Family Law Most Innovative Family Lawyer award two years running. I caught up with her, and quizzed her about the development of her legal blog and her motivation behind blogging.
Lucy explained that she embarked upon Pink Tape in earnest while was on maternity leave, having started the blog the year before. Blogging has the obvious advantage that with a few exceptions, it is a martini activity – it can be done any time, any place, anywhere. For her, she says, “it was simply a way of encouraging self-discipline, to review cases in my area of practice and to record this”; it was, in effect, intended to be no more than avant garde CPD (continuing professional development).
The result of a spur of the moment thought, Lucy had no clear ideas as to either style or content when she started out, but it was the feedback that her blog received that inspired her to carry on and develop it. Energised by exchanges with readers on the comments threads, her blog became important as a tool to communicate with others and she is proud of her broad readership, which includes family lawyers, judges, social workers, campaigners and parents – and of the regular debate and conversation that is generated by the blog (the blog welcomes “constructive co-ranting”).
Lucy is thought to be the first legal blogger to have been referred to in a High Court judgment: P (A Child)  EWHC 4048 (Fam) – when the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, said: “Dare I suggest that the media should remember the great C P Scott’s famous aphorism that “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” I recently gave a judgment that received coverage in the media. A legal commentator suggested that readers might wish to compare and contrast what I had actually said with how it was reported: “Compare. And contrast … And weep.””
She describes herself as “a bit evangelical” about encouraging the use of legal blogs as a tool for public legal education. Like many professionals today, she is a regular user of social media and is always on the lookout for good blogs. She cites Suesspicious Minds with its excellent summaries of judgments as particularly useful for the busy practitioner.
While she is clear that one has to be discerning about material on the internet, she says blogs by practising lawyers tend to be well written and thorough, drawing on the best journalistic practices, and providing concise analysis while using and citing source materials such as judgments or statistics.
Lucy accepted that blogs have their necessary limitations, and says that one learns that accuracy is paramount. As comments can be re-tweeted and attract followers, the impact a single sentence can have can easily “snowball”, making precision and balance key. She considers that balanced and clear information is crucial to public understanding of the family justice system and it was this that led to the launch of The Transparency Project last year (www.transparencyproject.org.uk @seethrujustice).
The Transparency Project is a charitable venture with an educational aim. Lucy is joined by a group of family lawyers, academics and legal publishers who are exploring a range of ways to help the public better understand family law and family courts and how they work in practice. Through blog posts on the Transparency Project website, media reporting is linked to judgments so that the public can understand what has happened and why, and can form their own views about it. Given that family law hearings are mainly heard in private, many reports of family proceedings require contextualising and explaining to be properly accessible to the non-lawyer .
As a family practitioner, Lucy is particularly keen to de-mystify what happens in family courts, believing that privacy constraints must not lead to abandonment of the need for greater transparency and accessibility. With the intention of writing a booklet to assist those without lawyers, she found that once she began writing there was so much to say, it grew until she ended up with a book.
Lucy successfully applied for a scholarship to write The Family Court Without a Lawyer in 2009, (currently on its second edition), and found that Pink Tape had been invaluable in honing her skills to explain complex issues simply. Writing clear sentences that non-lawyers can grasp when explaining the complexities of statute, regulation or precedent is an art, she concedes, as is writing a popular blog. But then, a good advocate can make her point without big words, she says.
Her blog is known for its often colloquial style. She balances the technical with robust opinions and makes no apology for this. “It needs to be enjoyable; you won’t encourage people to keep reading if they fall asleep before you cover important points.” Accordingly, it is important to be entertaining as well as informative.
For would-be-bloggers, her message is clear. Blogging is not an opinion-free zone and time is of the essence to keep material topical. Making mental lists of what catches your attention is helpful, even if it is, “simply something that you need to get off your chest”. “Being measured is also key, as today you represent a parent, but tomorrow it could be a child or a Local Authority.” Nothing on the web is ever lost…
Contributor Melissa Coutinho