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TECHNOLOGY COSTS SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL?

Tech Experts' Tips for Cutting Back
(and What No Lawyer Should Do Without)

April/May 2006 Issue | Volume 32 Number 3 | Page 42
Features

Blog 2.0

In the midst of all this hubbub, a good number of blogs are providing valuable, meaningful content for Web users. And lawyers (and their blogs) are a big part of this content revolution. What’s the current state of lawyer blogging on the Internet? What’s on the horizon for legal professionals who blog, or want to start a blog? Hang on, and get ready for Blog 2.0.

 

The State of the Legal Blogosphere

First, some statistics. Law-related blogs began to hit the scene around 2002. In that year, about 100 legal blogs debuted. In contrast, 2005 saw the creation of more than 500 law-related blogs, from all corners of the legal space: lawyers from big, small and solo firms, law professors, law students, librarians, legal technologists, paralegals. If it involves the law, chances are someone is blogging about it. I have been tracking blogs since I first began publishing Inter Alia (an lnternet legal research blog) nearly four years ago. By my count, more than 1,500 law-related blogs have been created since 2002. Even more amazing, more than 80 percent of those sites are still in business, publishing daily, weekly and monthly commentary on virtually every legal topic imaginable.

Why are all these legal types blogging? I asked a few friends that same question.

The reasons why lawyers publish blogs have evolved over the past few years. For the most part, the early adopters blogged out of a passion for writing. Ernest Svenson (of the self-titled Ernie the Attorney) started blogging “as a way of presenting thoughts to a wider audience.” Dennis Kennedy (of The Dennis Kennedy Blog) prefers blogging’s “immediacy and the direct communication it gives me with my audience.”

As blogging became more accepted in the legal community, it was seen as a promising vehicle for marketing a law firm or a particular practice. Evan Schaeffer (of The Legal Underground) says, “As a promotional tool, the Weblog has been a huge success. I’ve had a lot of press attention about my legal work that I wouldn’t have had without it.”

In 2006, it appears to be no different. Lawyers who decide to start publishing a blog will do so out of a desire to communicate their expertise and services more effectively.

 

What’s Working—and What’s Not

Almost unanimously, my blogging friends indicated that the number one benefit of lawyer blogging has been the ease with which larger professional networks are developed. As Kevin O’Keefe ( Real Lawyers Have Blogs) states, “Instead of networking via seminars and offline functions, I am networking via the ’Net and reaching more people by doing so.” Blogging definitely makes it easier to communicate with large numbers of the legal community, and these relationships can be mutually beneficial.

Oklahoma lawyer Jim Calloway ( Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips) says, “It is a real kick to go to some small town in rural Oklahoma and have someone say ‘I read your blog all of the time.’ But I’ve also gotten e-mail from as far away as the Attorney General’s Office of Guam thanking me for a post.” And Matt Buchanan ( Promote the Progress, and Rethink(IP)) sees exposure as the big advantage to blogging. “People, including the media, come to me as an expert on various areas of law because of the blog,” he says.

And he’s not alone. Many lawyers who publish blogs are becoming known as “go-to” authorities in their areas of law. This can lead to all sorts of benefits—new clients, speaking engagements and job offers, among others. Several lawyer bloggers have reported generating significant business from their blogs. Anecdotal reports have some receiving 30 to 40 percent of their work from their blogs, and others reportedly have generated six-figure revenues from blog referrals.

From the lawyer bloggers I surveyed for this article, the overwhelming downside to blogging seems to be the time commitment. “If you like to write, then that commitment hardly seems onerous. But if you labor to write, then it can be overwhelming,” says Ernie Svenson. Indeed, to gain credibility with a blog, a lawyer should be prepared to post at least two to three times a week, at a minimum. Jim Calloway notes he has already seen “lots of blogs that had many posts during the first month or so and then fizzled out. A blog with only one post every month or so (or poorly written posts) can actually make you look bad.”

The larger the firm, the easier it is to maintain a steady stream of blog posts—some firms have groups of lawyers contributing posts, with marketing departments editing and formatting the posts for publication. But solo and small firm lawyers may not enjoy that luxury.

A tip: Begin your blog posts “in secret.” Set up a blog and begin posting simply to see if you can handle the time commitment. If you can handle it, go public. If it feels like too much, perhaps blogging is not for you.

And then there’s the issue of lawyers giving away their thoughts and opinions “for free.” Both Evan Schaeffer and Jim Calloway see this as one reason why lawyers have been hesitant to dive into blogs. It’s obviously against a lawyer’s nature to give out information for free, but law firm Web sites in general have gotten past this obstacle, offering free articles and newsletters to site visitors. Schaeffer believes the cure for a lawyer’s reluctance is “to provide new content that’s not available anywhere else,” so the public will see that the lawyer is providing something different and distinguishable from other lawyers.

 

Should You Blog?

As big a splash as Weblogs have made in the legal community, they just aren’t for everyone. They may not, for example, fit into your particular marketing plan, or you might not have the time available for the writing commitment. But the advantages to lawyer blogging are many, and very important. Although, in response to the question,

“Why should lawyers be blogging?” one answer seems clearest: exposure. Weblogs expose lawyers to a wider audience in a number of ways. Jim Calloway believes that blogs “can establish your expertise in an area of practice not only among the community but among your peers. And it can be a great public service, providing a one-stop shop for news and commentary in an area of the law.”

Which leads to one of the questions you should answer before you start a blog: Who is your target audience? There are four possibilities:

  • Current clients. You can use your blog to keep them updated on news and cases in their areas of interest. A blog is a great (and inexpensive) way to keep continuing contact with your clients and provide them with practical information they can use.
  • Prospective clients. Your blog can establish you as the go-to person in your area of law.
  • Lawyers in your practice area. You can provide timely information to other lawyers in your field. This may also generate business if lawyers outside your jurisdiction need to refer a client in your area.
  • The general lawyer population. Although lawyers in other practice areas might not regularly read your blog, having a blog will make them more likely to find you via search engines if they are looking for information or referral sources in your particular area of law.

My advice? Target all four of these important groups on your blog. This approach would certainly cast the widest net for exposure and referrals.

Weblogs can boost your presence on the Web as well. Search engines love blogs (mostly because they are full of links), so it’s easy to rise quickly in search engine rankings with a blog. And there’s also the cost factor. As Kevin O’Keefe points out, “Blogs are much less expensive, and usually more effective, than other marketing such as e-mail newsletters and search engine optimization of Web sites.”

Ultimately, the question of whether you should start a blog depends on whether you are willing to take your writing and marketing efforts to a new level. “A lawyer should blog if he or she likes to write and craves the opportunity to discuss legal matters in the most public forum (the Internet),” advises Ernie Svenson. “A law firm should blog if it already has a strong marketing strategy and finds that blogging is a natural extension of that strategy.”

 

What’s Looming on the Horizon for Lawyer Blogs?

So, whether you are already a blogger or want to join the blogosphere soon, what should you be watching for in the coming months and years? Here’s a sneak peek.

The numbers shake out. One thing we will certainly see in the next few years is a shakeout in the number of regularly updated blogs. Although my research currently shows that more than 80 percent of lawyer blogs are active, this cannot last for long; many lawyers eager to try out blogging as the hottest new marketing tool will discover that it’s really not for them. However, while many lawyer bloggers may drop out, the number of blogs being created “within” law firms is likely to increase. As law firms begin to understand the power that blogs have to communicate information, they will seek to offer blogs to lawyers and others within the firm as a way to convey news, legal updates and other resources.

Collaboration expands. Even more important are the collaborative opportunities that blogs provide to lawyers. Given that many lawyers find blogs facilitate the development of professional networks, it’s not hard to understand that they are also learning to collaborate online. Intellectual property lawyers Steve Nipper, Doug Sorocco and Matt Buchanan all learned about each other through their blogs: After meeting together for the first time at ABA TECHSHOW®, the three bloggers decided to combine their talents and they did so at Rethink(IP). Just as these lawyers learned new approaches to working together, their blog discusses new approaches to thinking about IP law. The relationship that started virtually has grown, with Buchanan (an Ohio lawyer) joining Sorocco’s firm (based in Oklahoma) without ever leaving his Columbus office.

Another collaborative blog that developed as a result of meeting on the Internet is Between Lawyers, of which I am a member. Other networks such as the Law Professor Blogs Network and the Law.com Blog Network evolved not so much as a collaborative effort, but as an opportunity to group blogs with great content.

Look for more collaborative opportunities to arise between bloggers, including the creation of “virtual law firms” between groups of lawyer bloggers.

RSS comes into its own. There will also be a rise in the use of RSS (Really Simple Syndication), separate and apart from blogs. The blog platform is a terrific way to communicate information, but RSS is ultimately a more powerful tool, with the capability to deliver information without need of a blog. Law firms hesitant to establish blogs are creating RSS feeds to convey information about the firm to the general public. Indeed, Kevin O’Keefe foresees that in the not-too-distant future “the majority of lawyers will have personal publishing platforms to share via RSS their intellectual capital.” Whether these publishing platforms will always be called blogs is anyone’s guess.

Which leads to a final, common thread in conversation with my blogging friends that you may find a bit surprising ….

Blogs become routine. Yes, the prediction is that someday blogs will become almost transparent, that “they will become so commonplace that no one regards them as anything remarkable,” says Ernie Svenson. Maybe we will call that Blog 3.0. Nonetheless, as Svenson opines, “blogs will always be remarkable, because they facilitate a certain kind of communication that was never easily accomplished before blogs started cropping up.”

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