Blogging might not be a cutting-edge business development tool, but its flexibility across practice areas and adaptability to a broader social media strategy make it a workhorse like no other. When other lawyers ask how I built my firm, my standard response is: “going out to lunch and blogging.” I’m only half-kidding. My business development is two concentric circles: the inside circle is direct contact with clients and referral sources (lunches), and the outside circle is establishing content authority in my practice area (blogging).
When I left Big Law to found a solo firm about eight years ago, I started a blog called Grand Jury Target (https://grandjurytarget.com), focused on white-collar criminal defense issues. It was not exactly an immediate success. From April 2013 to December 2013, only 1,269 people visited it, or about five people a day. One of them was probably me, and one might have been my mom. But I stuck with it, posting about once a week, year after year. In 2020 (now sharing blogging duties with my law partner), the site had about 65,000 page views. These numbers are small potatoes compared to sites like SCOTUSblog, but it is a vast increase from when I started.
This article will describe the benefits of blogging, whether blogging is the right tool for you, ten best practices to make it an effective business development tool, how to publicize your blog, and how to use your blogging content on other social media platforms to expand your reach. What I’ve learned over the years is that the real advantage of blogging is not the blog itself but how you leverage that content.
The Benefits of Blogging
Blogging positions you as an expert in your field. When you write knowledgeably about a subject—whether it is family law or immigration law or eminent domain—other people will treat you as an expert in it.
For some practice areas, blogging leads directly to clients. If you write your blog for nonlawyers, then their Internet searches can lead directly to your firm. If you write blog posts that answer the common questions your potential clients ask you, potential clients will find those blog posts. And if you speak to their problems and concerns, potential clients will want to hire you.
Our clients rarely find us through Internet searches; most come through referrals from other lawyers. But our blog is still a key factor in their decision to hire us over another firm with similar experience and credentials. Many potential clients have explained that one major factor in their decision to hire our firm was our blog—seeing firsthand our knowledge and understanding our fearless approach to defending our clients.
Blogging also has indirect benefits for business development. Journalists contact us about our posts to get quotes for their articles. We also regularly provide background information to them to educate their readers about federal grand jury investigations. I have been invited to speak to various groups based on my blogging presence, which also raises our firm’s profile.
Regular blogging improves search engine results. We don’t write posts with search engine optimization in mind—that only leads to stilted posts filled with awkward phrases. But if you search for “what is a grand jury target” or “what is grand jury secrecy,” our blog is among the very first native results on Google.
One of the more challenging elements of small firm practice is keeping up with billable client demands, running a firm, and staying up-to-date on developments in your field. Blogging in your niche area forces you to follow your practice area. To blog well, you need a constant flow of topic ideas. Following legal news, court decisions, and new legislation “feeds the beast,” so to speak.
Should You Start a Blog?
There are three big-picture questions to ask yourself before you start a blog.
First, does blogging play to your business development strengths? If you don’t love to write, then don’t blog, for goodness’ sake. Do something else: start a podcast, record videos for YouTube, develop online webinars, go to lunches and dinners and happy hours every week—but do not torture yourself blogging.
Second, what is the topic you love? To maintain a blog year after year, you need a topic that fascinates you. You can pick a narrow topic and become the thought leader in that niche. Or you can pick a broader topic to give yourself some breathing room on blog post subjects. Either way, blogging will quickly turn into a slog if you pick a topic for which you have no passion.
Third, what is your voice? This can take a little time, but you should let your voice emerge. Our writing as lawyers is formal and constrained. Your blog is an opportunity to let loose. Anyone who reads our posts knows that we defend our clients zealously and push back against prosecutorial overreach. Of course, avoid offensive humor or unprofessional slang, but if you like bad puns, then by all means include a few of them in your posts. Let your readers know who you are.
Along the same lines, do not be afraid to express your opinions. A blog is an information source for clients and other lawyers, but that does not mean that you have to excise your opinions. I love it when someone follows up with a post to tell me they disagree with it.
Ten Tips to Start—and Maintain—a Successful Blog
If you’ve decided that blogging is for you and picked a topic you love, then here are a few more practical tips:
- It’s okay to have short posts. Guidance on length varies. Older guidance said that 800 words is plenty. More recent guidance says longer pieces (above 2,450 words) perform better in Google search results. If you are writing for nonlawyers, a long, substantive piece may be overwhelming, so a shorter piece is more effective. However, if you are writing to show referral sources you know your subject, then extremely short pieces may look lightweight.
- Write regularly. There is nothing sadder than visiting a firm’s blog and seeing a few posts from 2018 and nothing since then. There is a lot of guidance about how often to write. We have found that writing a weekly 1,000- to 1,500-word post is our limit. It is infinitely better to maintain a weekly writing schedule than to write three posts one week and then not write again for two months. It is infinitely better to publish 800-word posts consistently than to publish a 3,000-word opus every three months.
- Consider blocking time to draft several posts. This is great advice that we don’t follow ourselves—but it’s still great advice! You may find it more efficient to set aside a half or full day to write your blog posts for the month. Blogging platforms (we use WordPress; https://wordpress.com) will allow you to schedule them over the course of the month.
- Make your posts useful to your reader. Include citations to statutes and quote key language from them. You can link to other articles and posts, but be sure your settings open a new browser window when readers click on that link or they will never make their way back to your post.
- Think about your audience when you write. This can be a challenge, and, candidly, we struggle with this advice ourselves because we write for both nonlawyers and lawyers, depending on the subject matter of the post. Your language will differ if you write for nonlawyers. If you love to get into the weeds, then write for other lawyers and dig deep.
- Keep a running list of ideas for blog posts. Blogging means developing new ideas all the time. I use the tracking app Todoist (https://todoist.com) for my to-do lists and keep one list of possible blog post ideas. That way, if I read a newspaper article or simply think of a topic while waiting in line at the grocery store, I can jot it down in one place to come back to later. I also save interesting articles or court decisions in a folder on my computer. Writing a blog post can be challenging enough. Trying to do so if you do not even have an idea to start from will be exhausting.
- Analyze what posts are popular. You can use your blogging platform to track what types of posts are most popular. For Grand Jury Target, we have found that (1) current events and (2) “explainer” posts are the most popular. My partner has been writing about CARES Act/Paycheck Protection Program prosecutions. This is a topic that hits home for a lot of small business owners and generates traffic. Our posts that explain the basics of being under federal criminal investigation also get a lot of hits. We use these analytics to inform future post ideas.
- Outsource the logistics. We draft our posts and then outsource them to our virtual assistant to post them. She formats the post on WordPress, picks a photograph, tags the right subject categories, and so on. Sure, this likely takes only 15 to 20 minutes, but it makes the process less onerous.
- Plagiarism is bad. If you use someone else’s content, give them credit. Some blogs do a great job of collecting other sources of information. Howard J. Bashman’s How Appealing blog is a great example of this genre, and you’ll see that he links to and credits every source.
- Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We are lawyers. We love to take pride in our writing. But blog posts are not law review articles. You should avoid typos and think about grammar and word choice. Other than that, don’t feel as though a post has to be perfect before you hit “publish.” Most of our blog posts are really interesting. A few are . . . meh. We still post them. You never know when someone may find a “boring” blog post helpful.
Finally, a word about ethics: Each state and the District of Columbia have ethics rules. You have to be careful about client confidences. Posting about specific cases runs a very real risk of violating those rules. Some states even have strict rules about revealing a public representation. So, be sure to check your state’s rules about what you can and cannot disclose on your blog.
How to Make Sure People Read Your Blog
During the first few years of Grand Jury Target, readership grew but not as much as I expected. I had great content but few readers. I finally realized that I needed to publicize it. Even people who were interested in theory would not think to take time out of their busy schedule to check my blog.
The easiest method to let people know about your blog is to send a newsletter via e-mail to your contacts. A newsletter can be weekly or monthly or quarterly, but it should be sent consistently. We use Mailchimp (https://mailchimp.com) to send our monthly newsletter, which includes three blog posts, to hundreds of contacts. We can tell from the analytics the number of people who click on the e-mail, click on a link in the e-mail, and so forth. These numbers matter less to us than the fact that our contacts see our firm name associated with our practice area every month. Staying top of mind is key for referrals, and our newsletter helps on this front.
People can subscribe to your newsletter, of course, or you can add them to the list if they give you permission. Mailchimp and similar websites have rules against adding people without their permission. If a lot of people unsubscribe, saying that they did not sign up for your newsletter, you may get flagged or your account suspended.
Your blog posts should be posted on your basic firm and individual social media pages—Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. WordPress will allow you to link these accounts to your blog so posts are automatically pushed out to them via a link. That said, it is worthwhile to take a little time to draft your social media posts to kindle interest in the link.
Using Blogging Content for Wider Development Efforts
The amazing thing about blogging is that it creates evergreen content you can use for many other business development purposes. Here are a few ideas about how to use your posts to expand your content authority reach:
Shorten blog posts to create LinkedIn posts. LinkedIn is the primary professional networking site. Posts there are shorter: currently 1,300 characters, with only 200 characters visible before the reader has to click “read more.” However, you can write a pithy summary of your post and then link to it. LinkedIn does allow you to post “articles,” which have an 11,000-character limit—a little shorter than the length of this article. Keep in mind that most LinkedIn users are scrolling, and posts will get more views than articles. Building followers on LinkedIn will broaden your reach.
If you have written several posts about a single topic, then combine them into a white paper to promote on your website. For example, if you have written five posts about the steps in an uncontested divorce, then you can combine them into a “Guide to Uncontested Divorces” to make available as a PDF on your website. You can also create a link promoting your white paper and providing it in return for a reader’s e-mail address. This e-mail list can be used for other business development purposes down the road.
If you think really big, you can turn posts into an e-book to showcase your authority in a practice area. For example, I took several posts about Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigations and wrote an 85-page e-book for federal employees and contractors. This e-book is available on our website and helps with other business development strategies in the OIG space.
Use blog posts as a “pitch” for longer articles for bigger publications that have a massive readership. For example, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers publishes an amazing magazine called The Champion. I used a short blog post to develop an idea for a longer article to publish there—an article that then reached thousands more readers than our blog ever would. This lends even more credibility to our firm as a thought leader in white-collar criminal defense issues.
You can even use blog content to develop content for other platforms. For example, you can use blog posts as fodder for YouTube videos or Facebook Live events.
As you can see, the ultimate goal in having a blog is not to write posts and hope that people will read them and hire you. The goal is to leverage your blogging efforts to publicize your knowledge and credibility in your practice area. Done the right way, writing a few blog posts a month can lead to exponential benefits in your business development strategy.