Almost three years ago, the ABA Business Law Section launched businesslawtoday.org, the Section’s premier digital platform for timely content on business law topics. The launch culminated a two-year project, in which I was part of a task force assigned to “reimagine” the Section’s longstanding print magazine, led by indefatigable former Section chair Chris Rockers. Our project ultimately resulted in a complete overhaul of how the Section sources, distributes, features, and promotes articles and other content from across the Section’s committees, and thanks to the leadership of Chris and the hard work of the other members of the task force, we were able to launch an entirely new BLT website in the late fall of 2017. This is my look back at that project and my tenure as BLT Editor-in-Chief, along with some highlights of how BLT may develop further after I hand the job over to new Editor-in-Chief Lisa Stark this September.
REIMAGINING… CONTENT DISTRIBUTION AND ORGANIZATION
Part of the goal in shifting to a web-based format was to bring more content to members more frequently and in new formats. Based on market research and member surveys, we decided to focus on providing shorter articles and topical month-in-brief-pieces that could be edited and posted to the site quickly. And we wanted to do this with a fresh look and feel in an easily navigable format, with plenty of links to related relevant content but without too much clutter. With the help of outside designers and strategy consultants hired for the "Reimagine BLT" project, we tried to focus on members’ user experience to make sure readers would easily find what they were looking for and would have plenty of reasons to frequently revisit the site.
When the site launched in November 2017, these were the key elements of the new BLT:
- 8 Practice Areas and 36 Topics.
Rather than organizing the site around the Section's 52 substantive committees and relying on each of them to fill an allocated slot with content, we created 8 larger “Practice Areas.” These serve as general silos in which to gather written articles and other content that has some loose connection or logical relationship but not a uniform source. Each Practice Area is organized into 2 or more Topics, with a total of 36 topics across the website. With this content hierarchy, written pieces from many individual members and multiple committees might end up organized in the same section of the site, increasing the diversity of contributors and perspectives and offering an organizational scheme that is intuitive regardless of a reader's familiarity with the Section's committee structure.
- Heightened Author Recognition.
We wanted to make sure the site would highlight its authors and their contributions in a way that would encourage members to continue to write for BLT and that would invite new authors to contribute. At the end of each article, the site features an author photo and the author’s bio (of whatever desired length) with links to his or her other articles and related content.
- Month-in-Briefs—Short, Timely, Targeted.
Along with short, non-law-review-format articles on all of BLT’s topics, the site launched with its new “Month-in-Brief” pieces. These are very short and timely alerts about recent cases and legislation in each of the Practice Areas, and they are designed to make sure members always find something timely and useful on the site in each of the areas of law they follow.
- In Front of the Paywall.
Another important decision made at launch: the website is accessible to all. You don’t have to log in as a Section member in order to access nearly all its content, apart from a handful of reprinted articles from the Section's academic journal, The Business Lawyer. The purpose was to promote Section content to business law practitioners and others beyond our membership. And with nearly half of web traffic to the site coming from organic search (Google and other search engines) over the last year, it is very likely many new readers are seeing the written work of Business Law Section members through BLT.
- In Living Color.
Not only did the site launch with a new logo, it added color, images, and design elements to BLT. We wanted to make sure the site was modern, fresh, and lively, and we think the images and design elements of the site add to a lively and engaging experience.
REIMAGINING… CONTENT ELEMENTS
Right away we understood something our consultants warned us about: a good and useful website can’t be static—it will always need corrections, additions, and enhancements. BLT leadership has never been without a long and always-changing wish list of additional elements for the site, although we have realized some of our further goals for augmenting user experience and layering in more types of content. These include:
In 2018 we began posting interviews of Section authors, speakers, and members recorded from a BLT stage area within the Section lounge at each BLS Spring and Annual meeting. These video interviews picked up where we left off with the old “Member Spotlight” series, composed of written interviews included periodically in the old BLT magazine. We expanded them to include “Author Spotlight” and “Program Spotlight” interviews, highlighting the work of the Section’s prolific authors and program chairs and speakers. Expect more of these interviews and new types of interviews in the months to come.
- Business of Law
In 2019 we added a new top-level menu to the site, our new “Business of Law” practice area, with underlying topics Pro Bono, Diversity & Inclusion in the Profession, Professional Development, and Law Practice Management. Since the beginning, many Section members had asked for a place on BLT to post content in these areas, and we were happy to add a place for content that many Section committees and members have written about, and cared deeply about, for a long time.
Earlier in 2020 the Business Law Section launched its “To the Extent That…” podcast series, and we quickly made a place on BLT where all Section podcasts can be accessed. Look for more additions in the months to come.
REIMAGINING… CONTENT PROMOTION AND MARKETING
We have also expanded the ways in which BLT can be used as a resource for coordinating, promoting, and advertising the Section’s content and the many webinars and events the Section produces. The home page features promotion of upcoming webinars, which are free for Section members, and the site also now features advertisements for Section books.
Moving into the 2020–2021 bar year, our readers can expect to discover more features and more opportunities to engage with the Business Law Section through BLT. We will offer more video content on the site, more access to podcasts and other audio content through the site, and more ways for our committees, sponsors, and advertisers to connect with our members.
…EVEN MORE THAN WE IMAGINED!
By this year’s Virtual Section Annual Meeting, Businesslawtoday.org will have reached important milestones: In the 2019–2020 bar year, we will have distributed more content than ever through BLT: around 175 articles, 350 month-in-briefs, and 20 video interviews went live on BLT.
With the high volume we have been able to maintain the high quality… but only because of the incredible efforts of our full time dedicated staff and our stellar lineup of incredible volunteers. Huge thanks, kudos, and much appreciation go out to the Business Section’s Content Guru (because he is o-so-much-more than a mere “content guy”) Rick Paszkiet, aka keeper-of-the-slush-pile, aka breakfaster-in-chief. Rick juggles dozens of book projects and brings record-setting numbers of them to the finish line, while keeping his eye on incoming article proposals and managing a deep pile of unsolicited and solicited submissions, from which pieces are periodically selected, tamed, edited, and posted to the site. Meanwhile, double kudos and millions of thanks to fulltime Section BLT editor par excellence, Sarah Claypoole, who has managed the editorial process across the site from day one in a way that looks seamless to the outside and keeps all the glitches, author mishaps, and editorial challenges at bay. And meanwhile, Sarah has developed an uncanny ability to understand and stay on top of the Section’s content creation process across a multitude of committees and personalities, for which she is a tremendous asset to BLT and the Section.
Thank you very much to our Executive and Managing editors who have continued to source our regular month-in-brief pieces… and for the many times you have simply written them yourselves, and to our regular contributors and Contributing Editors. Your work to source, write, edit and simply turn over month-in-brief pieces along with a slew of stellar articles are what makes this site actually work.
As I complete my term as Editor-in-Chief of Business Law Today, I couldn’t be more confident about the coming transition. As of the Business Law Section’s Virtual Section Annual Meeting this September, my vice-editor-in-chief, Lisa Stark, takes over the Editor-in-Chief role. Lisa is an experienced M&A, corporate, and securities lawyer partner with K&L Gates in Wilmington DE, and she is a co-chair of the Jurisprudence Subcommittee of the Private Equity & Venture Capital Committee of the Business Section. Lisa has been a steadfast and indefatigable vice chair and has personally contributed much private equity, partnerships and M&A content to BLT. Thank you, Lisa, for your tremendous contributions to date, and congrats and good luck as you steer things forward.