Zero to 140 with Josh Block of Bloomberg Law
We’re here for a conversation with non-lawyer producer Josh Block (@JoshBlockNYC), New York resident and producer for Bloomberg Law (@BloombergLaw). Josh began his career as producer for the Charlie Rose Show, later for David Letterman and then in the early 2000s in radio. Come 2005 Josh jumped into Law School and emerged 3 years later with a JD. Now Josh works for Bloomberg Law at the intersection – like so many other legal creatives – between law, reporting, commentary, television and audio production.
Brian John Spencer: Hey Josh, so thanks for taking the time to be with us today. Lets take it back: how was it working for Charlie Rose and that industry specifically?
Josh Block: I went from unpaid intern to producer. The gig was both preparing @CharlieRose for interviews (with memos and questions) and booking guests.
BJS: I take it you had no interest in law or legal practice back then?
JB: I always had an interest. When Charlie offered me a paid job I said I was glad it worked out because I could have finished #lawschool by now.
BJS: What were your passions growing up and what skills did you bring to TV production? What have you taken away skill-wise from this industry?
JB: I have always loved a good story. What Charlie liked was my ability to turn research into interesting questions. There’s an art to it. It isn’t about showing how much research you’ve done, or how smart you are, it has to elicit a great response from the person being interviewed.
BJS: Before moving on: is there a highlight or best moment from your time in television production?
BJS: So it’s 2004/2005: when, how and why did Law School walk into your life?
JB: A job at ESPN’s Cold Pizza ended I wanted to do something different, challenging, and intellectually stimulating. It was law school #NowOrNever
BJS: How was studying law in New York? How did you find the curriculum? Where you able to tie in or incorporate your creative, television production skills?
JB: Law school was a #ShockToTheSystem after being out so long, but after my #SkullFullOfMush was trained to think like a lawyer, I really loved it. As stressful as final exams can be, it’s so satisfying to get and answer a really good law school essay exam question. #IsItMe?
I did tie-in my experience once creating video interviews w/ alumni for a “capstone” (see here).
BJS: So you left law school: was it always legal television production and reporting that you wanted to get into? Or was legal practice on the table?
JB: The opportunities that I had to practice weren’t the right ones for me, but I finished law school in 2008, so that should probably say it all. I thought I might have better opportunities if I could combine my TV experience with my JD, but it wasn’t clear how that would work.
After joining Bloomberg Law and it became clear they wanted to commit to creating multimedia content. I raised my hand and said, ‘if you guys want to do this I think I can help.’
BJS: As an insider with an outsiders viewpoint, how do you see contemporary, mainstream law practice in the US?
JB: The media focuses on Big Law (#FollowTheMoney?) failures BUT here’s the thing, all the focus and obsession on Big Law is somewhat misplaced. Most lawyers in the US aren’t in Big Law. It’s a different story for most established lawyers who are running solo shops or small firms.
BJS: Have any viewpoint on what is happening in the UK including the deregulation of the industry?
JB: The idea of non-lawyers or corporate involvement in running a legal practice is interesting, but I do think it needs to be regulated. Legal services are by nature a sophisticated industry and I fear the likelihood of consumer fraud in an unregulated legal industry is high.
BJS: What did you make of the recent New Republic cover article by Noam Scheiber on the demise of Big Law?
JB: It was a well done case study on one particular #BigLaw firm. I think it was a fair, accurate, and interesting portrayal of that firm. But none of it was a surprise. The title and predictions #RuffledFeathers, but he told us he’d like to get the latter back: http://youtu.be/lbEhpYJuEY8?t=9m
Michael Trotter’s “Declining Prospects” had more perspective. We made “The Rise (and Fall?) of Big Law Firms” with him 16 months ago (see here and above).
BJS: You had Noam on the show responding to criticism and he’s since responded on The New Republic here. What do you think: is Big Law really dying?
JB: The opportunities and the trappings certainly aren’t what they were, but it isn’t dying in the sense that readers expect when they see that headline.
BJS: And since you’re talking to people like Noam you’re pretty much at the front of what’s happening. From that vantage point, what part of the industry is really hot? Any really dark points?
JB: It’s darkest for new lawyers and while law schools are admitting smaller classes and there are less applicants…there are still more applicants than there are spots in entering first year classes, so I don’t know when this is going to get right.
Here’s a video we made based on the most recent data released by the Law School Admission Council (for #BackToSchool season here).
BJS: favourite subject area of law?
JB: I spent a summer at the FCC. Regulation of the Internet, and broadcast and cable television is really interesting to me. It’s a topic I like to cover (see here). I love talking about copyright and IP. I did an audio piece w/ Chris Sprigman of UVA Law School about IP norms in stand-up comedy that remains popular (see here). And Con Law. We came up with this 4 page document in 1787 and it is the basis of our greatest, most dramatic, most interesting (and most boring) legal battles.
BJS: Any law firms or lawyer really doing something different and making good things happen?
JB: Mark Harris of @Axiom_Law is doing something different. I won’t try to paraphrase it. He chose his words carefully (see here).
BJS: Can we talk law firms getting online: What’s your view of it all (social media, blogs etc.)?
JB: What I don’t like is that many firms think they need to be on social media, they create the account, then they just let it sit and don’t do anything with it. I think that’s a bad idea.
BJS: You’re a legal television producer. Television is nothing new. But Bloomberg Law has brought a new twist by going online and asking the questions that others don’t ask. So what do you make of traditional media for law firms, as per the series I’ve written here?
JB: Traditional media is still where it’s at if you want to reach the most people, and there is more access to the gatekeepers than ever.
BJS: Our other series has been on lawyers embracing their passions and interests: Mix the social and the professional on social media. The message is that lawyers should incorporate their skills and interests into their “brand” and their approach to legal problems. More rounded individuals, less legal technocrats – we’re all polymaths now.
You typify this perfectly. Can you give an opinion on how you think the modern lawyer should approach this concept.
JB: Find the cross section of your area of interest and your expertise. Some examples here.
BJS: Before wrapping things up, let’s talk more Bloomberg Law. We love the range of topics and manner in which they are addressed. Do you have much say editorially?
JB: I spend part of everyday looking at what the legal media is writing about and thinking about whether I have something to add for a video. If I think it will work, I put it on a list. At the end of the week I pare it down to my top ideas and decide with my manager. I’m responsible for one “Trending In Law” video a week, that video doesn’t have an on-camera host, and can be in a variety of styles.
BJS: You don’t just do heavy, turgid legal stuff. You guys can be light hearted too. The best example would probably be the episode on ‘loyer versus law-yer.’
I’d say this suggests you guys get the be mix up the social and the professional on new media. Would that be right?
JB: We started to produce, but never released, a series called, “Lawyers Telling Lawyer Jokes,” perhaps it was a bit too lighthearted. I think there is room for lighter, even silly, stuff. Have you seen Lawyer Dog? Courtroom movie supercut? Greatest Lawyer Mustaches?
BJS: let’s tie things up, so what are the coming plans and any big ambitions for the show?
JB: I’d like to make or documentary, or possibly a series, about attorneys who specialize in arguing before the Supreme Court.
BJS: Finally, any suggestions for the lawyer or law firm looking to break out of the old mould?
JB: When they made the lawyer and law firm mold it was cast with particularly strong raw materials that are tough to break. It’s not easy to come up with a new way of doing the business of law altogether. I’d suggest lawyers find a way to make what they love part of their practice.
BJS: Josh, again thanks for taking the time to be with us. We wish you all the best for the future and we hope to keep in contact and have you with us again.
JB: Thanks for the interest in what we’ve been doing, and thank you for having me.
Plans for Bloomberg Law are changing and here’s some information