Re-Connecting with Corp Law Blog and Mike O’Sullivan

Mike O'Sullivan

In 2003, when even the word “blog” was unknown to most people, a lawyer named Mike O’Sullivan of Munger, Tolles & Olson began writing a blog he called “Corp Law Blog.”  For those who practiced law in 2003 and were Internet-savvy, no further introduction to O’Sullivan and Corp Law Blog is necessary because you are already asking yourself, “Wow, whatever happened to Corp Law Blog anyway?”

For those of you unfamiliar with Corp Law Blog, let me draw a sports comparison and say that Corp Law Blog was the Gayle Sayers of law blogs: it was extremely well-written, prolific, timely, and offered thoughtful analysis on corporate legal issues every single day for about a year.  It was the greatest influence on my decision to launch my own law blog, Securities Litigation Watch, back in 2003 because O’Sullivan made it look so easy and interesting.  And then suddenly in 2004 it was gone.

I was reminded of O’Sullivan and Corp Law Blog recently when I commented on a great article Kevin LaCroix wrote called “On Blogging.”  I wrote:

Great post that really sums up the pros/cons of blogging as well as I’ve seen it anywhere. In my mind, you have officially filled the shoes of Mike O’Sullivan (author of the formerly prolific and now defunct CorpLawBlog) as the one blogger who I constantly ask myself: How does he possibly have time to write all this great stuff?

Later that day I decided to try to track down Mike O’Sullivan, who I had not spoken to in years.  We had an interesting discussion about Corp Law Blog and what he’s been up to since dropping out of the blog scene, which follows below:

Securities Docket: Corp Law Blog was prolific in 2003-04, and inspired a lot of lawyers including myself to try their own hand at a blog. What prompted you to start it?

O’Sullivan: I blame it on SOX. Before SOX, I would send short emails to my colleagues and clients when I ran across interesting stuff in new rule releases. Then SOX hit, and the SEC started carpet-bombing us with new regulations, and my occasional emails became much more frequent, so much so that I felt like a spammer. It occurred to me that there must be a better way to do this, something less formal than a client memo and less noxious than an unsolicited email. That’s when I heard about this new “weblog” thing, a technology so simple even I could do it, but so powerful it promised instantaneous worldwide access to everyone. I decided to give it a try. The rest, as they say, is history. Albeit an obscure and heretofore forgotten footnote to history.

Securities Docket: How long did you keep Corp Law Blog going? What benefits did you get out of it? What did you enjoy the most about it?

O’Sullivan: I kept it going for about a year. To this day I am not sure why I did it. It started as an experiment. I was curious to see how it would develop, figured I’d have lots of time to tinker with it down in the basement, but soon it acquired a large audience and dragged me and my ego along for the ride. It was gratifying to write for so many people, but all the while I kept having these existential doubts: Why am I doing this? What do I really know? Why are you reading this? Why don’t my hats fit anymore?

Securities Docket: How often were you posting in your heyday at CLB?

O’Sullivan: Every weekday.

Securities Docket: CLB seemed to disappear suddenly in 2004. What prompted you to give it up?

O’Sullivan: I am not sure. I was busy, but I’d been busy during the blog’s heyday, so that alone can’t explain it. At the time I drifted away I was working on some fascinating matters, and I remember thinking that the stuff I couldn’t write about was much more interesting than the stuff I could write about (my policy was to never write about anything I was working on). That was a good situation for me, but not so good for the blog.

Securities Docket: What is your impression of the current crop of corporate and securities blogs? What are some of your favorites? What do you think of how the blogosphere has grown up since 2004?

O’Sullivan: I slavishly follow Broc Romanek’s (and now Dave Lynn’s) Corporate Counsel blog. It is the Urblog and still is the gold standard. Even when Corp Law Blog was in its heyday, I tried to do what Broc didn’t do, figuring there was no point duplicating in my blog what Broc was already doing so well. It’s amazing that he still does it so well.

Securities Docket:  Are you interested in any of the other “Web 2.0” types of publishing or networks that are now becoming popular such as Twitter and LinkedIn?

O’Sullivan: I don’t know Twitter or LinkedIn. I actually know very little about technology. At the time I started Corp Law Blog, blogs were the new new thing, so people assumed that because I had a blog I must be tech-savvy. But my interest was really in the words, not in the technology that conveyed them. I can tell you as much about the technology behind web publishing as a book writer can tell you about the technology behind paper manufacturing.

Securities Docket: Have you ever been tempted to restart CLB? What do you do now with all of the creative energy that fueled CLB back in 2003-4?

O’Sullivan: I am often tempted to restart Corp Law Blog, but I’ve vowed to myself not to do so unless and until I figure out what exactly I want to do with it. And I’ve yet to figure that out. I always have a few projects going. For extracurricular legal projects, I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to improve the quality of the sources I use in my day-to-day practice. Most of the primary and secondary sources we use in our practice are not useful to me. Primary sources are too raw and difficult to use, secondary sources are alternatively too basic or too voluminous (or sometimes both). Neither helps me find answers or understanding quickly. So for years I’ve been preparing my own sources – annotated copies of the securities laws and forms I use most often – to help organize my thinking and find answers quickly. It’s like having my own custom version of the Red Book pamphlets, but it takes a fair amount of time to keep it all current.

That project bred another, one that is perhaps the most extreme expression of my mania for source improvement: my securities law dictionary. The securities laws are riddled with defined terms, but when reading the laws it’s hard to tell which words are defined and then to find the definitions. When we draft contracts we put all the definitions in one place and use initial caps to indicate which words are defined. And still people complain our contracts are hard to read. Congress and the SEC do none of this, making it so much more difficult to read their laws than it needs to be. A few years ago I got fed up with this and proceeded to read my way through the entire federal securities law, culling each defined term I encountered along the way. I recently finished reading through it all again to be sure I didn’t miss any, and am in the process of finishing the final edits on what I expect will be the testament to my raging case of OCD. If nothing else, it satisfies Brian Eno’s definition of originality: it’s so time-consuming and difficult no one else would ever bother to do it.