- Are there tools and templates to help with design?
- What should I cover in my blog?
- How do I develop good writing habits?
Joe Wallin is the creator of the well-read Startup Law Blog. He also blogs at The Law of Startups and JoeWallin.com. As a result of his blogging, he has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Pando Daily, GeekWire, and Xconomy. In addition, he has appeared on NPR and HuffPost TV. He has been quoted many times, including, among other places, Forbes. Joe also has almost 7,000 followers on Twitter. In the “real” world Joe is a partner at the Seattle law firm Carney, Badley, Spellman, where, in addition to being a well-known and highly respected corporate lawyer, he has developed an almost cult-like following in the Seattle startup community. I’m also proud to call Joe a friend and, to my great pleasure, an increasingly frequent collaborator on projects at the intersection of law, entrepreneurship, and technology.
Joe agreed to share some thoughts about how he built the Startup Law Blog and how other lawyers can start and build a law blog.
Dan Lear (DL): So, I’m going to cut right to the chase and give you a hardball. Our audience here in GPSolo eReport is largely solo and small firm attorneys. You, on the other hand, have spent most of your career at larger firms (you used to be a partner at DLA Piper). You’re now at Carney Badley Spellman (which, with more than 30 attorneys, is big for Seattle and probably for most areas of the United States) but came most recently from Davis Wright Tremaine, which is an AmLaw 200 and NLJ 250 sized-firm.
Bottom line: do you think your advice is applicable or even useful for small firm attorneys who don’t come from BigLaw?
Joe Wallin (JW): Absolutely. Listen, starting a blog and building it up is an entrepreneurial endeavor, just like starting a solo or small law firm practice.
If you write, good things happen. You will become known as someone with a clear and unique voice on your chosen topic. This will help you. I can definitively say that my blogging has been a huge help to me, both personally and professionally.
DL: Okay. So, if someone is interested in starting a blog, where do they start?
JW: People regularly ask me for advice on how to start a law blog. I suppose this is because people think I’ve had some success at it. I don’t know about that, but here are a few tips that have worked for me.
First, and most importantly, just start. Don’t wait to know everything. Don’t wait to be completely ready. You will never be completely ready.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson recently told Inc., “Most young people with good ideas . . . will find that 99 percent of people will give them every reason why their idea’s been done before or why it’s not a good idea or why they’re going to fall flat on their face. . . . In the end, you have to say, ‘Screw it. Just do it.’” This advice is as true for starting a blog as it is for starting a business.
Second, read great bloggers and writers. James Altucher, Steven Pressfield, Kamal Ravikant are suggestions. There are many, but I especially like James Altucher. James is an author, investor, entrepreneur, and blogger. Not only do I love his style, but he has some great tips about how to write and how to get people’s attention. One of my favorite things to do, actually, is to read James Altucher out loud to other people.
DL: How do you name a blog?
JW: Pick a good website name, something that will catch the attention of your target audience, and try to secure that URL. For example, I was lucky enough to obtain “startuplawblog.com.” Another great example is Kristin Voinovich and Andrew Dix’s blog on crowd-funding: “crowdfundinsider.com.” The shorter the name, the better.
DL: Let’s talk some about the content of the blog. How should people think about what they write?
JW: First, write to your target audience. Who are the people you want to reach? Think about a specific person. Who is your ideal customer? What does your ideal customer think? What do they read, and what would they want to read? Answer those questions and then write to that person. If you need help, read Kevin O’Keefe’s blog posts on this topic: when you write, imagine you are having a cup of coffee with your ideal customer. Be conversational, not pedantic. A blog is not a law review article or journal.
Also, remember most prospective clients don’t know the basics. So, write basic stuff. Don’t be afraid to write about something very fundamental. You will be surprised. I’ve had great success with posts so basic that I hesitated to publish them it in the first place.
Google search your topic. If nothing good, or even nothing that speaks to you, pops up you have found a “seam.” A “seam” is a term I’ve coined to refer to a good writing opportunity: a subject on which there is a dearth of good commentary. With some quality writing and decent promotion you will likely be able to make your blog post a central voice in the discussion in a relatively short amount of time.
Finally, produce content to which people will return time and time again; content that’s “timeless.” Good prompts for timeless content are those questions that regularly come up from clients.
DL: What can you say about good blog design? I know that we’re lawyers, and we don’t usually think about “design,” but I also know that it can significantly aid both general reception of your blog and readability. Thoughts?
JW: Find or develop a good graphic to go with your blog. I really like Tax Girl’s graphic representation of herself on her blog.
You want people to associate a unique image with you and your writing and your blog. Pick a graphic people won’t forget and that they will associate with you.
DL: I like the image you’ve got at the top of your blog.
JW: Thanks! It’s simple, but it does the job. The backstory is that I love and live on coffee. I also am not the neatest person on the planet, and my workspaces tend to have a lot of these rings “decorating” my desk. It’s kind of an inside joke about my personality.
Another important piece is to use sleek design. Kevin O’Keefe’s “Real Lawyers Have Blogs” is a great example. There’s no clutter. It makes the reader’s eye focus on the content instead of on the sidebar or elsewhere on the page.
Wordpress is a great platform for blogging. It has lots of templates that have “good design.” You can get free or paid blogs on Wordpress, complete with lots of extras, templates, and tools.1 LexBlog and Squarespace are also good Wordpress alternatives.
DL: Those are great points on design. So, once you’ve started your blog and you’re writing, what are some best practices for getting it read and promoting it?
JW: Here are some basic tips to keep in mind:
- Share on social media—Share your blog posts via Twitter and email with your friends and, if you feel up to it, journalists. Use Twitter especially heavily to promote your blog. A Tweet about a new post three or four times in one day is not excessive. Also, share links to your current and prior posts in relevant conversations on Twitter.
- Timeliness—You should try to post at least once a week. That’s certainly an ideal if not a best practice.
- Timeliness—Work on your blog every day. It is like a garden. It needs constant work. That doesn’t mean publish every day. But work on it every day.
- Link to other work—Reference other and better bloggers in your posts; link to their blogs and to posts that they’ve written. Use their posts for inspiration, or even as a jumping-off point. Along those lines, try to seek out guests to post on your blog and, as appropriate, seek opportunities to guest post on others’ blogs.
DL: OK. How about some final pointers?
JW: Proofread! Read your blog posts out loud. This will help improve the post’s “voice,” flow, grammar, and syntax. When you listen to your post, you will likely find holes in the content. As a writer, it can be hard to see gaps in logic or information in your posts. Your ear may hear the missing content. If you like what you hear, consider turning your posts into audio posts. Soundcloud is a great tool to turn written posts into audio ones.
Next, remember that it takes time to build up your blog. Be patient. Work on your writing every day. You won’t publish everything that you write, but everything you write preps your mind and hones your skill for the good posts that will come out more quickly and more fully formed.
Finally: experiment, tinker, and have fun.
1. Wordpress.com will host your blog for you for a fee and give you easy “plug-and-play” access to templates and Wordpress plug-ins. On Wordpress.org, most of the software is free (Wordpress is open source), but you have to host the blog yourself, or use another hosting service, and you have to download and manage Wordpress and the Wordpress plug-ins yourself.