PRACTICE MANAGEMENT: Building a Better Blog

Vol. 29 No. 4

By

Ernest Svenson is known for his “Ernie the Attorney” website (ernietheattorney.net), which was twice chosen by the ABA Journal as a top 100 law weblog.


Blogs have been around for more than ten years, but lawyers didn’t really start using them heavily until about six years ago. I started my first two law blogs in 2002 and 2003, respectively. If you are interested in starting a law-related blog (sometimes called a “blawg”), here are some thoughts based on my experience as a creator and observer of law blogs.

Creating a blog. There are three basic questions you need to address when creating a blog:

  1. Where will you host your blog?
  2. What blogging software will you use?
  3. Will you have your own domain?

Let’s focus on the first two for the moment. If you use a service like TypePad, which is where I host my PDF for Lawyers blog, you have the benefit of getting the blogging software and the hosting all in one place. These days, most people seem to use WordPress for their blogging software, probably because there are many customization options. They then choose to host their blog with a separate vendor, such as DreamHost.

If you have any kind of web experience, you should find that setting up a WordPress blog is fairly easy. However, my recommendation is to find someone to set it up for you. The cheapest way to get a decent-looking WordPress blog is to contract with a web designer through a site like oDesk. On this site, people from all over the world compete for design work. The end result will be something far more professional than you could likely create. Don’t spend more than $500 on a web designer. If you use oDesk, try not to pay more than $300, which shouldn’t be a problem if you have the hosting site and the domain established separately. For hosting, go to DreamHost, and you can probably do most of the initial setup yourself.

You absolutely need your own domain name, which should cost $15 per year or less. I get my domains at Hover. Hover is a little more expensive than other domain providers, but its site is easier to navigate and it has actual human beings to answer their phones and help you.

Blogging for fun and profit. Here are my quick suggestions on how to blog:

Decide on a niche topic, if possible.

Plan to post regularly (once a week, once a day, three times a day, whatever makes sense for you).

Link to other bloggers, even if they write about areas similar to yours. I can’t say this emphatically enough. If you want people to link to your blog—and, trust me, you do—then you need to link to other sites.

Writing regular blog posts takes time, but after a while you get quick at cranking out the posts.

Have you heard of RSS or RSS Readers? If not, search Google for these terms to find out how these tools can make relevant information come to you. All prolific bloggers use RSS feeds.

Another thing that most prolific bloggers use is Twitter. They use it in two ways: to gather ideas quickly and to announce when they have posted something on their blog. Twitter is my best source of news and blog post ideas because the ideas are neatly compacted into 140 characters, and the good ones are easy to spot. You should follow as many people as you can on Twitter and build up a following of people who are interested in your niche topic.

What about using LinkedIn? I don’t use LinkedIn for my blogs. I do use it for my law firm’s website, where I have a link to my “online résumé.” This is a link to my profile page on LinkedIn. It’s more than an online résumé because it also has recommendations of my legal work and my speaking engagements from people who have hired me or who have worked with me.

Another place where you can spread your blog posts is Facebook. I was disdainful of Facebook initially, but a social media coach convinced me to use it for my various blogs. What you want to do is set up a page that has the same name as your blog, or at least close.

Air traffic control for social media. I’ll bet you’re probably wondering how I manage to stream content to three different blogs, three different Twitter accounts, and four different Facebook pages. Before I explain how to do this, let’s focus on why I want to have lots of content flowing through several parallel sites. Basically, the more places your content appears, the more people will view it. If I can blast my content once and have it appear in several places, that’s a huge benefit. Another benefit is to be able to sprinkle a bevy of short Twitter posts into a queue that releases them, say, once an hour during peak viewing times.

The tool I use to accomplish all this is called Buffer, which allows me to manage my Twitter feeds, LinkedIn posts, and Facebook page.

The easiest thing is to set your blog to auto-notify Twitter and Facebook. You can use a tool like TweetDeck, which is free, to auto-update Twitter on a scheduled basis.

Dangers of blogging. What about ethical issues for lawyers who blog?

The world is changing quickly, and it’s hard to predict how ethics rules might change or evolve, but my rules of thumb for avoiding trouble are:

  1. I don’t use my blog to advertise a law practice
  2. I don’t talk about any aspect of any of my cases at all.

Some lawyers use their blogs as an advertising tool, and that’s fine, as long as they comply with whatever rules their state has regarding lawyer advertising.

I don’t believe that advertising, or shameless promoting, works very well on the Internet. It doesn’t work as well as steadily acquiring readers by writing about interesting topics in an interesting way. I’ve gotten a lot of business as a result of my blog, even though I don’t use it to advertise or overtly promote my law practice.

People use the Internet to search for things. People are more savvy (at least while they’re searching) about evaluating claims. Hokey lawyer advertising only works when people’s minds are functioning at a low level. A blog will attract people who can reason well and who know what they want. These kinds of clients have been my favorite to work for, so I plan to never advertise and continue blogging about general topics.

My best tip. If you want to stand out on the Internet, you have to do something that few people are doing. Here’s my recommendation: Be radically honest and down-to-earth about who you are and what you hope to see happen in the world. Don’t preach, and don’t be dogmatic. Just let your curiosity guide you, and then report on what you find in your explorations.

 

ABA Law Practice Management Section

This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 44 of Law Practice, January/February 2012 (38:1).
For more information or to obtain a copy of the periodical in which the full article appears, please call the ABA Service Center at 800/285-2221.
Website: www.lawpractice.org.
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