Young Lawyers “Blawg” to Bridge the Digital Divide
by Jocelyn Gabrynowicz Hill and Alexander P. Ryan
Jocelyn Gabrynowicz Hill is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices with McCarter & English, LLP, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Alexander P. Ryan is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices with the Groom Law Group in Washington, D.C.
As bar admittees in the age of the Internet, young lawyers are certainly no strangers to technology. In fact, by embracing one of the newest viral communication tools, the Philadelphia Bar Association Young Lawyers Division has reaped substantial benefits from using a “blog” to establish dialogue with area law students, communicate more regularly with its current members, and attract new members.
Typically, blogs are websites that contain strings of commentary or descriptions of events. Entries are often displayed in reverse chronological order and appear as a form of electronic discussion thread. A “blawg” (as the legal world commonly references it) is a “web log” or blog that relates to a particular aspect of the law. “Blawgs” have become an increasingly popular way for legal communities to share information and ideas.
PhiLAWdelphia, the blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, was one of the first blogs created by a bar association division. The initial idea for reaching out to existing and potential members via the Internet came from Daniel J.T. McKenna, ABA YLD Public Service Project Coordinator and member of the Philadelphia Bar Association YLD. “Dan felt that the Philly YLD should take it to the Internet,” recalls Albertine DuFrayne, current Philadelphia YLD Treasurer and an avid blogger, who has also been involved with the blog project from the beginning. “Initially the idea was to create a dialogue between the YLD and area law students. At that time we didn’t really have much of a connection with our law students and we wanted to find something to bridge the divide,” DuFrayne comments.
“Lawyers graduating from law school these days operate in a law school environment that is almost entirely web based—they get assignments online, correspond with professors online, and blog about the things they are experiencing,” explains DuFrayne. Therefore, to attract the law student population, the Philadelphia Bar Association decided to expand the blog’s target audience during the planning phase. “While we thought that the blog might have the potential to increase membership, we saw it more as a way to reach out to our members that we don’t see at our events—from the busy associate chained to a desk to those members with family obligations.”
DuFrayne has taken the lead in writing content for the Philadelphia YLD’s blog. “When we finally rolled out PhiLAWdelphia, we didn’t know what to expect,” DuFrayne remembers. “We weren’t sure what to write about or what people wanted to read about. We started writing about substantive legal issues and current events.” Then, as the blog developed, writers were able to monitor the comments and assess, based on the statistics compiled by the site, the number of hits received by each post. This monitoring enabled the site’s administrators to tell which content was striking a chord with readers and which content was falling on deaf ears. “When we wrote about more substantive issues, we didn’t get as many hits or comments,” DuFrayne recalls. “We found that people were more interested in reading about lawyer life, from studying for the bar exam to what to wear to work, to life as a contract attorney. Our bloggers have different backgrounds, so we have a variety of viewpoints,” says DuFrayne. “We have also had two law student bloggers, and I think they have helped us address topics that we might not otherwise have had at the forefront of our minds. We have definitely added another dimension to our member participation.”
According to Amy Muldoon, the Philadelphia Bar Association Public Relations Coordinator, “the blog is endorsed and supported by the Philadelphia Bar Association. We have links to the blog on our website, and we include links to the blog in our electronic newsletter that we send out to our membership.” Although the Philadelphia YLD was one of the first to leap into the blogosphere, it certainly was not the last, Muldoon says. “The success of PhiLAWdelphia sparked interest in our other sections, and we now have a blog for the Women in the Profession Committee and Criminal Justice Section.”
Creating Your Own “Blawg”
Should other state and local young lawyer organizations try blogging? Muldoon thinks so. “A blog is a great way to keep people connected who might otherwise be out of the loop,” she says. “It is worth a shot—especially on a free hosting site. We didn’t know the blog would be a hit, but now we have two other sections joining the blogosphere.”
Although it may sound daunting at first, starting a blog may be easier than one would imagine. “It is so easy to set up a blog and it’s easy to use,” says Brett Schaeffer, Web Editor for the Philadelphia Bar Association. “The technical requirements for authoring a blog post are minimal. If you can compose an e-mail, you can be a blogger.” Schaeffer is responsible for PhiLAWdelphia, as well as the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Women in the Profession and Criminal Justice Section blogs.
Even if your young lawyer organization may not currently have the technological capabilities to generate a blog, there are resources at little, if any, cost to help you. For example, Schaeffer says, “Our existing website did not have blogging capabilities built in, so we would have had to add those at a substantial cost. Instead, we opted to use a free service: wordpress.com.”
To have an effective blog, your organization also needs someone to monitor the blog’s activity. As Schaeffer says, “I’m part traffic cop, part coach. I keep an eye out for spam comments, though those are rare, and remove them when necessary. And I try to encourage bloggers by offering topic suggestions or assisting with any technical question they might have—like how to upload an audio file, for instance.”
Schaeffer also maintains control over the blog by limiting the number of bloggers. “To write a blog ‘post’ you must be registered as a wordpress blogger, and then I have to designate that user as an author for the blog,” Schaeffer says. “We’ve designated a handful of bloggers for each of our blogs. These are the only people who can author posts to the blog,” he explains. While who can “post” is limited, anyone in the public can comment on a post. Indeed, comments are the interactive element of PhiLAWdelphia. “In order to comment on one of our blogs, a visitor must simply provide a valid e-mail address and a username,” says Schaeffer.
Who are the readers of PhiLAWdelphia? “That is a good question,” answers DuFrayne. “We have 3,000 to 4,000 page views per month, but it is a mystery who is really reading these posts. We do know that we have people considering going to law school reading the blog. We also have law student readers,” DuFrayne says. “We have even had law firm partners add their two cents about whether advice to associates is sound or not.”
Muldoon adds, “We can see where people linked from but we don’t know who the individuals are. If you don’t know who your audience is—the age range or the practice area—it can be a little bit more difficult to tailor your blog to your readers. You want to please the audience.”
No matter who the audience or who the bloggers, one thing is clear—by spending only a small amount of time to figure out how your young lawyer organization can take advantage of all that technology has to offer, you can help derive enormous benefits for your volunteer organization, its members, and the legal community.