GPSOLO December 2007
Start a Blog to Grow Your Practice
How can writing a blog, or “blawg,” really grow your practice? Would it be ignored, lost in the morass of the Internet? Would it take more time than it is worth? In this interview, Kevin O’Keefe answers these questions and more about the value of blogs for growing your client base and what makes them work. O’Keefe should know. He is president of LexBlog (www.lexblog.com), a provider of marketing blog resources to professional firms, and is recognized as a national expert on the use of blogs for marketing, communications, and public relations. O’Keefe talked with Wells H. Anderson, a consultant to lawyers interested in making better use of software for running and marketing their practices. The interview that follows speaks to both blog skeptics and enthusiasts.
Does a Lawyer Blog Pay Off?
Anderson : Which practice areas do you think may be best for lawyer blogs?
O’Keefe: That is a good question. There is not one area or another area that is going to be better for a blog. Blogs at their essence enhance your reputation as a reliable and trusted authority and allow you to network both with prospective clients and with those people who influence prospective clients. I do not think there is any particular practice area where you could say this is not a good way to enhance your reputation or network to grow your business.
Anderson: To be specific, consider family law. Do you think a solo or small firm lawyer could increase the size of a family law practice by blogging? How might the lawyer go about that?
O’Keefe: Some lawyers in this country get all the work for their family law practices from their blogs. And their practices are growing. They have eliminated their yellow pages, they have eliminated their websites, and they do not do anything other than have a blog. Their work is coming directly from people who need a skilled, caring, compassionate family lawyer. And these people are finding that lawyer by doing searches on the Internet and finding the lawyer’s blog. On the lawyer’s blog they are also finding information that looks as nice if not nicer than what is on the lawyer’s website.
What you want to be able to say is: “I am only three years out of law school but I want to be the best-known and the most well respected family law lawyer in my community inside of three to five years.” There is no reason you cannot do that with the tools that you have at your disposal so long as you are passionate about the subject and you really want to make a difference. You will get more work than you can handle.
Anderson: Assume a solo lawyer is considering the decision to begin blogging and she wants to go into it with her eyes wide open. What are some of the biggest pitfalls for a lawyer who is just starting to write a blog?
O’Keefe: I think the biggest thing is to know what you are doing. People are going to find and read your blog. They will search for and monitor particular words and phrases and see what you are writing on that subject. So if you produce something lame, people will come to it and you will look half-baked. If you are not presenting yourself well and you do not know what you are doing, that is an issue.
Another thing you do not want to do is spend an inordinate amount of time on a blog. I see lawyers spending a lot of time on their blogs, but if they are not doing it right, they are probably not going to get any work from them.
Anderson: That leads right into my next question. Some lawyers figure that a blog will cost them too much billable time. Where is the sweet spot for time spent blogging versus competing activities?
O’Keefe: I tell lawyers if you are posting something once a week, you are doing fine. And if you are doing it the right way, you can probably post in 15 minutes to a half hour. That is not a lot of time. If you are getting work as a result of that, I cannot think of a better use of time. I also ask lawyers how they like blogging. And their response is: “I am having fun.”
Benefits of Blogging
Anderson: You are reading my mind—that is my next question. What are other benefits to blogging beyond business development? One that you put your finger on is improving the quality of the lawyer’s work life. If you are doing something you find enjoyable (and productive), that is a very nice counterpoint to the legal work that you need to do day in and day out.
O’Keefe: Exactly. And the other thing that you are getting is positive feedback from other people. I think all lawyers in this country have a letter that they keep in their top drawer and pull out on a hard day to remind them why they are lawyers. It is the letter from somebody who said, “I really appreciate what you did for me, you made a difference for me and my family, and you really helped me on this matter.” You keep that letter. But you do not get those every day. You do not get them every month. You do not even get them every year.
With blogs you get that type of feedback on an ongoing basis. That is good because we all became lawyers for a good reason. I think most of us did not become lawyers because we did not like the sight of blood or because medical school was too hard. We wanted to do something meaningful, something positive. Somewhere around the second year of law school, we got that beat out of us, and we just kind of moved on. What blogging does is allow you to say “this is the type of work that I would like to do.”
Take the example of family law. You are dealing with emotional issues all the time in an extremely high-stress environment. People can argue about the pettiest points in cases and you are right in the middle of it. It is very stressful. But you enjoy what you are doing and you think you are doing something positive. Now imagine being able to share a little bit of your passion, your take on things, and network with similarly situated people. You are getting to meet people who have similar passions. You are getting to call them friends even though you have never met them. It could be reporters, it could be other lawyers, it could be academics, or it could be a social worker. You are starting to feel good about what you do, and that new bounce in your step will allow you to be a better lawyer. You are also going to find that you are not only staying on top of the news as it relates to your practice, but also the legal issues that relate to your practice and some of the practical issues. You are having more fun practicing law. It is personally and professionally rewarding.
What to Write and How Much
Anderson: Let’s talk about what to write in a blog. Do you think a law firm blog can cover a couple of topics or should it focus on one particular topic?
O’Keefe: I think you do want to focus on one niche. People want to know what you have to say about your subject.
Anderson: If you have two practice areas, should you have two separate blogs?
O’Keefe: I do not know that that is required, but to market effectively with one blog, the two practice areas would have to be very close. So if you were blogging on criminal defense and DWI, that is okay. If you are blogging on criminal defense and estate planning, that does not fit together well.
Anderson: When doing a weekly blog entry, how much writing is too much? Sometimes lawyers can be long-winded. How much writing is too short?
O’Keefe: There is one thing lawyers need to keep in mind: Make one point in a blog post, never two. So the minute you are ready to say “and in addition” or “one dimension of,” it is over. Stop there.
If I am following your blog, I look at the title of your post. If it is of interest to me, I open it up. If it makes one point, that is great. If there are two or three different points in it, that’s not what I wanted to see. I may not subscribe to your blog anymore. I just wanted that quick burst of news. The other thing that will cause me to not subscribe to you is if you are doing introductions that make your posts longer and turn them into paragraphs.
Going back to our example of family law, if the issue is a teenager wanting to live with one parent or another, just come out and say it: “Here is an interesting piece from Professor So-and-So on the rights of teenage children to live with one particular parent and the way the judges are treating this issue.” Put in the block quote. Add two sentences about your take on it. End of post. Fifteen minutes. That is a blog post.
How to Blog
Anderson: Let’s say I am new to blogging. We have a firm website, basically a brochure website with contact information, attorney biographies, and practice area details. I have heard about using blogging software or using an existing blog site or blog service. What is your recommendation on how to get started?
O’Keefe: Your alternatives are threefold. One is to use web-based blog software such as Blogger, which is free from Google. I would not advise using it. There are issues with design, archiving content by category, and blog links at the top. It is great that Google offers the service, but I do not think it is appropriate for a law firm.
Anderson: I would imagine that those sites are hobbyist tools.
O’Keefe: That is exactly the word, hobbyist. TypePad is another. I do see some lawyers using TypePad. It is better than Blogger. There is a nominal cost, somewhere between $5 and $15 a month. The concern is: Can I make it look good enough for my law firm? And what if it does have some problems—for instance, issues with comment spam or track spam?
Another alternative is to use blog publishing software that you download and put on either your dedicated server or on space you buy. If you investigate these websites, you will see all this talk about how easy they are to use and download. Keep reading and it says just write this little piece of script and hook it up. Asking you to write script is like saying, “Convert this to Latin.” So most people would need IT specialists to do that.
The third alternative is to contract out the design, the development of the site, and the hosting for you. To me, it is a slam dunk to go with contracting the work unless you are a tinkerer and you have time to play around with the thing.
Anderson: Lawyers new to blogging may have concerns about using a company such as LexBlog to set up their blog. They may worry how it will work with their existing website, or if they will need to pay a lot of money to make it blend well with what they already have. Do you think those concerns well founded?
O’Keefe: In my opinion, the world is too caught up in the concept of a website. Websites did not even exist ten years ago. We did not have this insecurity about what are we doing for our website. We were more concerned with what we did to get work and further enhance our reputation. Now we do not have the yellow pages anymore, so people say, okay, I have a website. That same family law lawyer who had to buy a quarter-page ad in the telephone book paid $15,000 for that before. Now the lawyer is worried about spending $500 or $600 for a website. Lawyers may have a false impression that just because they put up a website, even an attractive one, they are going to get a significant number of visitors at the site.
Anderson: Well, assume that they even get people visiting their website. What is going to cause anybody to hire them?
O’Keefe: Websites are getting diluted to the point where they look like the yellow pages. So how do people decide whom to hire? How many websites do you read where somebody says, “We are fully committed to client service”? Nobody says, “Hey, I am slightly above average” or “I am almost as good as these other people.” To some extent the website is helpful. You want to have core information there. You want to go to Google to register for local search and have your website hooked into that so you are found.
But you really want to create an effective Internet presence. An effective Internet presence is bigger than a website—it does not come from having a website that can be seen all the time. Effective Internet presence is the ability to communicate and demonstrate expertise. It is what causes people to talk about you online. We network more online now than we do offline.
Anderson: Using the web is so fast, so convenient, so efficient. There is such a wealth of available information. Going online to find anything is becoming second nature.
O’Keefe: If you do a search on Kansas divorce lawyers, you might pull up a lawyer’s website and a directory of Topeka divorce lawyers listing 116 of them. Which one do you pick?
But let’s say that the next item is a blog on Kansas family law. There is a lawyer who is blogging as I described earlier. You may not be ready to hire that lawyer today. However, you follow that lawyer because of the content he or she is putting out there.
It is just like a plumber who publishes a blog on how you can do plumbing repairs around your house. I may follow that plumber for a while if I do my own repairs and remodeling, but when the pipe bursts in the middle of the night and all heck breaks loose, I have got to get a plumber. Who do you think I am going to call? I call the person that I already read. The same thing is true for lawyers.
Steps to Success
Anderson: Let’s talk about steps to success. Assume I have decided to go ahead with my blog and I have a decent budget. The blog will be an important part of my marketing strategy. What are my next steps in working with a company like yours? What do you see me doing?
O’Keefe: We at LexBlog take you all the way from starting up to fine-tuning how your blog is actually working for business development. We begin by consulting with you. You have to start with the end in mind. The first questions we are going to ask you are, “What is the type of work you would like to be doing?” and “Who would you like to be doing it for?” With a blog you have to be careful what you wish for because you may get it.
The next thing we ask about is what type of content is already being published in your arena? Who is blogging on your subject? What is being written in the media? This content is what you may be tapping into to share and to comment on by taking a block quote and adding your response on your blog.
Then we review the type of content that you are going to share. We talk about the design issues. What is this going to look like? We want to complement the branding that you are already doing. If you have a website, we want to complement but not necessarily match the website. We want to make sure that there is linking from the blog back to the website and vice versa.
We also want to talk about the name of the blog. What is a good name for it? We do not want to pontificate more than about 15 minutes on the name because the number-one rule of Internet marketing or website development is: Don’t make me think. When people come to your blog, they should know what it is. Don’t use some glib title that you thought would be neat.
We create a tag line that people read to know what your blog is about. Then we come up with a URL that works. We come up with a URL simply to complement the name.
While we are designing your blog, we also train you to use it. We initially set up your blog in a password-protected environment that is secure so it cannot be indexed by Google or seen by anybody else. During the month before your blog goes live, we work with you so you know what you are doing. The site is laid out clearly with titles, links, content, services, and bio sections. We teach you how to use an RSS reader so you understand how to subscribe to blogs, searches, and news stories. We set up e-mails to come in on your blog publishing platform. They can be sent to folders you have designated. Let’s say you are in Peoria, Illinois, and you monitor certain topics in and about that area. The search engine optimizes the site around the type of content you want to come up.
We continue to make sure everything is set up. For instance, we hook it up so that the RSS feeds are going to work through FeedBurner, a very reliable service for the management fee. We make it easier for people to subscribe on their own newsreaders. Then we let your blog go live. At that point we do further search engine optimization of the site, and then we work with you on what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. We take it further down the pike and work with you on client development issues and business development issues, showing you to use the blog proactively as a tool for those purposes.
There are a lot of steps, so we do not want to overwhelm our clients the first day. We go from beginner to advanced beginner to intermediate to expert. Every lawyer moves at his or her own pace, but I find that lawyers do a really good job of taking control of the Internet market. That is it.
Anderson: I really appreciate your time, Kevin. You have answered the key questions about lawyer blogs. After some up-front investment in setup and learning, lawyers who decide to blog will realize excellent returns on 15 minutes of writing each week.
Kevin O’Keefe, formerly a trial lawyer for 17 years, is president and founder of LexBlog ( www.lexblog.com). He may be reached at email@example.com. Wells H. Anderson, J.D., president of Active Practice LLC, provides legal technology assistance, customization, and training to solos and firms throughout North America via remote access, teleconferences, and public webinars. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800/575-0007.