GPSolo Magazine - June 2005
Get Your Blog Rolling
Blogs, short for “web logs,” are basically conventional websites with frequently updated content. They can provide many benefits to solos and small firm practitioners—that is, to those who visit and/or maintain them. With blogs, lawyers can increase their web visibility and use their experience to create a forum for high-quality information on substantive areas of law and new legal developments. What many of my solo and small firm colleagues may not realize, however, is that you don’t need tons of time or cash to capture these benefits. This article presents shortcuts and suggestions to help you get involved with blogging, whether as a beginning reader or a seasoned potential contributor.
Read the feed. The best way to start reaping the benefits of web logs is simply to start reading them. They provide tons of information on various topics and may also give you an idea of whether you want to start your own.
As of this writing, www.blawg.org links 812 law-related blogs (also called “blawgs”) on topics as diverse as law marketing, ERISA, health care law, and state laws, to name just a few. With so many sites, you could easily spend the entire day tracking blogs—a thought that deters many lawyers from even getting started. The solution here is to set up a newsreader that enables you to scan headlines, or sometimes the first few paragraphs of blog posts, at one location. So to begin you’ll need familiarity with at least a few blogs you’d like to follow regularly. (Almost all web logs are equipped with “RSS feed,” which streams information from the website out onto the Internet; a newsreader captures the feed and converts it into readable format.)
One of the simplest newsreaders to use is Daily Whirl (www.dailywhirl.com) (although it may be out of business by the time you read this). Simply register at the site and customize the page by checking the blogs you want to follow. Thereafter, when you sign on to the site, the screen will list each blog with its ten most recent headlines.
Daily Whirl is easy to use, but it limits users to only its listed blogs. Other aggregators (as these “indexing” sites are known) provide some or even all of the posting in full. More robust aggregator choices include Bloglines ( www.bloglines.com), which is free, and FeedDemon ( www.bradsoft.com/feeddemon), which you can download for a nominal fee. Follow the sites’ easy directions to subscribe.
You may want to start by tracking ten or 20 of your favorite blogs and add or delete as you go. Blawg.org offers the most comprehensive lists of law-related blogs, arranged by topic. Or, once you’re familiar with a site, check which sites your favorite bloggers read by reviewing their “blog rolls,” the list of blogs in the sidebar at most blog sites.
Search. Perusing a blog through newsreader feeds can be time consuming, but you can take advantage of information at blogs more quickly with tools designed specifically to search web logs. One of the best I’ve found is Technorati.com ( www.technorati.com), which has a simple interface and the capacity to search more than 8 million blogs. Use this search engine as you would any other non-blog provider—type in the item and the site will list relevant links.
Technorati is particularly useful if you’re looking for postings on recent developments—for example, how a new Supreme Court ruling will impact your clients. It may take months before law-review articles on the case go to press, or even several weeks before a legal publication addresses the topic. At the same time, if the ruling doesn’t hold enough public interest, it’s not likely to garner much attention from regular media outlets. But you can be sure that at least a handful of bloggers will have addressed the issue, given an analysis, and likely posted a link to the case. And you won’t find that kind of in-depth and up-to-date information unless you look to blogs.
Any requests? Increasingly, bloggers offer “all-request days” when they’ll respond to questions from readers. Law tech blogger Dennis Kennedy offers an all-request day every so often at www.denniskennedy.com/blog, as does Kansas family law attorney Grant Griffiths ( http://gdgrifflaw.typepad.com/kansas_family_law_/2005/03/open_blog_frida.html). And even bloggers who don’t offer formal request days are always looking for new material and welcome reader questions because responding will often produce an interesting blog post.
Listen to your favorite blogs. Even if you don’t have the patience to sit at your computer and peruse RSS feed or search postings, there’s still a place for you in the world of blogs.The most recent blog development is the “podcast,” which enables bloggers to post audio clips for download to an iPod or other MP3 player. Lawyers have just started podcasting, so many of the clips are short and non-substantive. But Denise Howell of www.Bagandbaggage.com offers a fairly regular and substantive podcast on IP matters, as does Craig Williams of www.mayitpleasethecourt.com. You can find a list of law-related podcasts at www.blawgcast.com.
Perhaps reaping the benefits of blogs through passive tracking or searching isn’t enough for you. Or maybe, after reading up on blogs, you believe that there’s an untapped niche you can fill, a viewpoint you haven’t seen voiced. Here are some ways to get started with a decent blog that won’t eat up all of your time.
Don’t go all out. Much of the advice on starting a blog can be intimidating. I’ve seen articles that stress the need for daily postings as integral to a successful blog. That may be true if you’re aiming for a high-exposure blog to establish your credentials as a national expert on a particular topic. But for many attorneys, a blog can be set up to function as a law firm website that also has the capability to upload work samples or post announcements to current and potential clients (such as notice of a free clinic on wills or a speaking engagement).
Free or inexpensive blog software can help you get started on your own log in a matter of minutes. Blogger ( www.blogger.com) is free; it offers your choice of professional-looking templates and will even easily upload photos to the site. Registering at Typepad ( www.typepad.net) costs less than $100 per year and offers online storage, which means that you can upload work samples such as briefs or articles and photos right to the site. If you want to get really fancy, you can create a password-protected area for clients so they can access some information online (though you should check the security features first).
Both Blogger and Typepad are designed with non-technical users in mind, so the simple setup can be done in under an hour. (I know this from personal experience.) If you’re nervous about doing it yourself, hire a student or ask a tech-savvy staffer to do it—and train you on its use. In addition, a company called lexBlog ( www.lexblog.com) specializes in setting up web logs for lawyers. ( A product review of lexBlog can be found on page 64 of this issue of GPSolo magazine .)
Blog during downtime. Obviously, you’re not going to blog when you’re on deadline to complete a brief or prepping to meet with a new client. But blogging isn’t an activity like brief writing that requires a solid period of intense concentration. Blogging can be done in snippets throughout the day, and solo practice offers such periods of downtime: after a contentious deposition or while waiting for a client call—times you probably don’t get much done beyond reading the newspaper or chatting with an office mate. Use that time to blog. Alternatively, many of us arrive at the office half an hour early and find that’s a good time for blogging.
Be a blog parasite. Even if you don’t operate your own blog, you can get plenty of online visibility by riffing off others’ blogging efforts. Evan Schaeffer’s Notes from the Legal Underground ( www.legalunderground.com) invites guests to post once a week, and many other bloggers will offer space if you ask. The advantage of posting on a well-trafficked blog instead of, for example, a bar publication is that the blog will dynamically increase your visibility in search engines such as Google.
Many blogs also offer space for comments, and even a short comment with your name can increase your search-engine ranking. Reader input makes the blog look popular and provides new material for a blog, thus giving its author a reprieve from daily postings.
Delegate blogging. Some blogs are popular because they reflect the unique and dynamic voice of the author. Others serve as excellent information sources, like the popular SCOTUS blog sponsored by Supreme Court boutique Goldstein and Howe ( www.scotusblog.com/movabletype). You can delegate a basic blog that simply updates legal news or case development to a law clerk or paralegal, in exchange for responsibility over selecting news stories or providing commentary. Using the blog tools, your support staff might also send out e-mail alerts about special postings. This can keep clients more informed on a more regular basis than a firm newsletter. With staff handling the basics of running the blog and keeping it current, you would have the time to post detailed commentary, schedule permitting.
Group blogging. One of the most successful academic blogs, Volokh Conspiracy ( www.volokh.com) is actually a group blog done by 14 academics and attorneys. (No wonder it’s so prolific.) But practicing attorneys also can make use of the group model. Understandably, attorneys who practice in competing areas might be reluctant to join, but attorneys with complementary or overlapping practices (for example, personal injury and workers’ comp) could join forces. By doing so, you could offer a wealth of material and perhaps attract more readers (not to mention having backup when one of you is swamped or on vacation).
Plenty of blog topics remain untapped. Many areas of state-specific law are not yet covered—for example, Maryland family law or Texas personal injury law. And even if they were, don’t be deterred. Areas such as ethics or corporate law lend themselves to state-specific interpretations, political spin, or target audiences; and many bloggers use material from other sites as their starting point.
So even if lack of time is your excuse for not investigating blogs, it’s not a particularly valid one. If you’ve just arrived at the office and it’s only 8:35 a.m., forgo the walk next door for that latte and fire up your web browser. You’ve got 25 minutes to start blogging.
Carolyn Elefant is a sole practitioner in the Washington, D.C., area. She can be reached at email@example.com. For additional blog info, visit her blog at www.myshingle.com or her website at www.his.com/israel/loce.