Sixty-two percent of Americans who use the Internet did not know what the term “blog” meant at the end of 2004, according to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. So if you have no idea what a blog is, you are in good company. However, that same study reported that blog readership increased by 58 percent in 2004 and that more than eight-million Americans had created a blog of their own. Current estimates are that from thirty thousand to forty thousand new blogs are placed online each day.
Do you know what the word “blog” means? Have you ever visited a blog? Are blogs even significant for family law practitioners?

“Blog” is a contraction of the phrase “Web log.” Web logs are chronologically arranged Web sites that are updated frequently by one or more authors. The reason that literally millions of them are appearing online is that blog design packages allow people to publish these Web pages with little financial commitment or technical expertise. The ability to publish easily to a world-wide audience has generated this explosion of new Web sites. People blog about everything from their political views to their unrequited love to their mundane daily activities.

Blogs are important to family lawyers for several reasons. They may provide quick access to specialized legal information, particularly recent developments or the laws of unfamiliar jurisdictions. For marketing purposes, a blog can give any lawyer an inexpensive Web presence.

How do I use a blog?

You can visit family law blogs in the same manner you visit any other Web site, by using your favorite browser. Click on a link or type the Web address into your browser. But blogs also incorporate another new and powerful communications tool—RSS newsfeeds. “RSS” stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” Essentially this means that posts from all of your favorite blogs can be retrieved to one location, either online or on your computer. To do that, you need something called a newsreader. For the beginner, let me suggest a free online Web-based newsreader service available at www.bloglines.com.

Let’s examine a few family law blogs.

An excellent family law blog is Advokids at www.advokidsblog.com. This attractive site leaves no question about its focus from the site’s name to the child’s image incorporated into its design to the phrase, “Helping Kids is our Top Priority.” Blog author Saundra M. Gumerove provides news about special needs children. The story of her own special needs child personalizes her page. One can imagine her clients with an interest in this subject returning to this site frequently, even after a particular representation is concluded.

One of the reasons this particular blog has so much potential is that it is both attractive and narrowly focused. With few exceptions for truly great writers, a blog that discusses a family law case one day, a favorite theme parks the next, and cute things a child said the following day will soon have a very small audience—those who know you personally. On the other hand, a blog that briefly summarizes the holdings of every family law-related appellate opinion in your state will gain a growing audience, even if it includes primarily your opposing counsel.

Thirty thousand to forty thousand new blogs are placed online each day

An exceptional resource is the Family Law Prof Blog. This blog is at http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_ law/ and is a member of the expanding Law Professor Blogs Network. With multiple law professor authors submitting family law news and other items, this is a blog that merits your serious attention.

Most authors view family law blogs as a marketing tool. They often have a limited geographical area of focus. This trend will likely increase in the near term. So after one lawyer initiates the Oklahoma Family Law Blog, the next may create the Oklahoma City Family Law Blog, followed in turn by the South Oklahoma City Family Law Blog and so forth.

Let’s look at a few of these blogs.

The Arizona family law blog is online at www.azfamilylawblog.com/. It is published by the Scottsdale, Arizona, firm of Nirenstein, Ruotolo & González, P.L.C. This blog was designed by a professional blog design company and has a very polished appearance.

Kansas Family Law and Divorce Law Blog is the product of Clay Center, Kansas, attorney Grant D. Griffiths. This blog demonstrates that even a solo can produce a significant blog resource with numerous informative posts each month. He also publishes the Home Office Lawyer blog.

Of particular note is Family Law News and Views, where Dallas attorney Jimmy Verner does his family law posts in audio format. This is what is known as podcasting because these audio files can be downloaded easily to be played on an iPod music player, but they also can be played online by any computer with a sound card and speakers.

A creative lawyer may wish to employ a more colorful blog name, but there is something to be said for a name that spells out exactly what the reader should expect. That is why I decided to call my blog Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog. The name is a bit long, but there is no confusion as to what the blog will cover.

A review of the various family-law-related blogs reveals some exceptional content and some amateurish mistakes. Among the most common mistakes are misspellings, grammatical errors, posting of copyrighted material (sometimes even including the original author’s copyright notice, as if that makes it acceptable), posting links to material that is accessible by subscription only, or material the poster should know will be removed from the Web within a few days.

As with any Web site or other communication tool, people will make judgments about you based on the perceived professionalism of the effort.

Blawg directories

Many new family law blogs will appear between the deadline for this article and the publication date of this magazine. The appended list of family law blogs, though certainly not inclusive, offers a flavor of what’s out there.

Law-related blogs often are referred to online as blawgs. It is a good search term to use when trying to locate law-related blogs. However, Web directories generally are more helpful in locating specialized blogs than are general Internet search engines.

A list of family law blogs can be found at the directory Blawg.org. A direct link to the list is www.tinyurl.com/dbtjk.

Blawg Republic is another directory of law-related blogs. Those family law blog listings are online at www.blawgrepublic.com/cat/Family_Law.

Blog search tools such as Technorati allow searches of blog content. Because blogs allow instant posting of information, you can get news more quickly about legal issues than through traditional Web sites or mainstream media. There are no editorial controls for most blogs, and many bloggers support or articulate a particular point of
view. Thus, incorrect or biased information also is quite possible.

Should your firm start a blog?

Before you rush out and start a blog, consider the potential downside. Most lawyers are simply too busy to blog. You may begin with the best of intentions and a series of interesting posts in relatively short order, but when the newness wears off and the press of business is at hand, will you be able to keep it up? More importantly, will you want to? Are you a good writer? Stilted legal language will not be attractive online. Do you often need help with spelling and grammar? You will not attract clients or improve your credibility with a poorly written blog or one that is abandoned after a few months but remains online for a year.

If you are a frustrated journalist or pundit “wannabe,” if you draft long e-mails of your opinions and share them with the world, or if you have been searching for years for your own soapbox, blogging may be for you. If you decide to begin blogging, think through your presence and your purpose. Will you integrate your blogging into the firm Web site or maintain a separate presence elsewhere on the Web?

Your firm Web site should be the base of operations for anything the firm wants to have online. Lawyer bios, practice areas, a map to the office, recent publications. Maybe, if you are really slick, an extranet for clients. Think brochure, letterhead, little changing information combined with firm news.

Many successful blogs, on the other hand, reflect today’s culture of instant gratification. “Heard about X software? Oh, that’s so last week; I blogged about it long ago.” If you are a pundit in search of a podium or you have a narrow specialized practice and can post what’s au courant, blogging may be for you.

Whatever decision you and your firm make, blogging clearly has given voice to many individuals online. It has resulted in many specialized Web sites, some of which offer interesting tidbits on the practice of family law. But in the end, if reading this article has done nothing more, the next time a frustrated client exclaims, “and now he’s blogging about me!” you’ll know what it means. FA

Jim Calloway is the director of the Oklahoma Bar Association's Management Assistance Program. He served as chair of ABA Techshow® 2005, and is issue co-editor for this edition of Family Advocate.

Published in Family Advocate, Volume 28, No. 3, Winter 2006. © 2006 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

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