Denise Howell is a seasoned appellate and intellectual property litigator based in Los Angeles. Denise writes one of the first and most popular law-related blogs, Bag and Baggage, coined the term "blawg" and helped pioneer podcasting for lawyers. Microcontent obsessed since 2001, she is frequently quoted in the media on legal issues involving intellectual property and technology law. "Sound Policy" is Denise's show at IT Conversations, and it's also what she hopes results from the briefs she submits to court. Email Denise at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Kennedy is a computer lawyer and legal technology expert based in St. Louis, Missouri. An award-winning author, a frequent speaker and a widely-read blogger, he has more than 300 publications on legal, technology and Internet topics, many of which are collected in his e-books. Dennis has been described as someone who knows almost every rock song in existence and, more importantly, how they apply to technology and law. Email Dennis at his gmail address.
Tom Mighell is Senior Counsel and Litigation Technology Support Coordinator at Cowles & Thompson in Dallas. He has published the Internet Legal Research Weekly newsletter since 2000 and blogged about the Internet and legal technology at Inter Alia since August of 2002. With Tom's singing, Ernie on guitar and Dennis' encylopedic knowledge of rock music, we may have the beginnings of a good band, if this whole blog thing doesn't work out. Email Tom at email@example.com.
Marty Schwimmer left a partnership in the largest trademark practice in the world and founded Schwimmer Mitchell, a full-service IP micro-boutique in Westchester County, New York, where he represents owners of famous and not yet famous trademarks. He founded The Trademark Blog, the first IP law blog and the one with the most pictures. He is the first to come in and the last to leave in his firm. Email Marty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ernest Svenson practices law with a mid-sized law firm in New Orleans, specializing in business-related lawsuits. Most of his practice takes place in federal court, especially the Eastern District. He is best known for his weblog Ernie the Attorney, which he started as an experiment. Like many experiments it got out of control. Nevertheless, he continues to practice law and, occasionally,
to seek enlightenment. Email Ernest at email@example.com.
About this blog
Between Lawyers provides just-in-time group commentary on the issues
raised when technology, culture and the law intersect. We take you
behind the firewalls and conference room doors to show you how
experienced lawyers deal with these issues and help you prepare for
the new challenges we all face. For more, see our introductory post.
I agree with everything my cohorts have said about the value of blogs in general, and of law blogs in particular. Obviously blogs are, at their core, nothing more than an easy-to-use communications tool. But the successful ones require a certain kind of committment, which is why the blog craze was incubated by passionate individuals rather than corporations or partnerships. Corporations and other legal entities don't possess passion, although they may employ people who do. The best corporations harness that passion.
The corporate-type blogs have been growing in number and they'll keep growing. And just like the individual blogs some of them will be well-done and interesting while some will fall flat on their faceless faces. But even the corporations that like to operate behind a committee-created mask will learn that when the clock strikes twelve, and the costume party ends, the masks have to come off.
My law firm has experimented with blogging, and at some point we'll develop a full-fledged blog strategy. When we do, we'll probably do it very well. After all, we have the desirable (and accurate) reputation as a place where good lawyers do serious work without taking themselves too seriously. For now, the fact that I blog is good enough for our firm. But eventually we'll feel more pressure to have a firm-sponsored blog. The pressure will come when other Louisiana firms start blogs. Just like this firm in Baton Rouge, which has just recently started a weblog called Louisiana Law Blog.
How quickly will law firms move to develop weblogs? It depends on a lot of internal and external factors. But the clock is ticking. And for some firms that sound is loud and annoying; for others it is stirring and prompting them to act. When will your firm create a blog?
Is it too early to think about the virtual practice of law? In bringing together lawyers from across the country, blogs have made it possible for lawyers to communicate and collaborate with each other across physical boundaries; it will only be a matter of time before these folks begin to truly test the limits of "multijurisdictional practice."
See my "should every lawyer and law firm" answer. If you're going to do it, write about what interests you. Write often. ("Often" is subjective.) Write briefly or lengthily as the subject warrants and time permits. Point to and comment on things that delight you, depress you, or piss you off. Float trial balloons, test secret theories. Observe and report, with common courtesy and discretion. List and chronicle. Above all, be yourself. Give yourself permission to be personal, quirky, and passionate. It's often not that easy (especially for those in the sometimes rigor bound profession of law), but it's invariably the best stuff you'll write.
Ditto to what Denise said. I'll be interested to see how many law blogs that we see today are still around then. I have been keeping track of new blawgs through my "Blawg of the Day" at Inter Alia since 2002. During that time, I have tracked more than 500 law blogs, and I have also kept track of some 150+ other law blawgs through sites like Blawg.org and Blawg Republic. I was expecting to find a pretty high turnover rate among lawyer-bloggers, but that was not the case. Of the blawgs I have been tracking, almost 85% are still going strong.
Of the blawgs that are not active anymore, I found that the average life of these blawgs was just over six months. So I've been using that period of time as a benchmark -- separating the dabblers from the blawgs that will likely be around for some time.
Dennis makes good points in response to this. Blogging will make more relevant, quality legal information more readily available, which will put its own pressures on the practice. It will serve to make clients and members of the profession increasingly better informed about resources and options.
My answer: Yes. I largely agree with both Dennis and Denise on this, but I think it's almost impossible to answer this question -- they will all play an important role. Blogs will become even more mainstream for the casual reader, who I don't think will be ready for Blogging 2.0 by that time. Denise, I agree that the idea of blogging without syndication is silly, but syndication without blogging.......?? The power of the RSS feed is where we are headed -- just see what the folks at FeedBurner are doing. It's not all about blogs, and it doesn't have to be.
Weblogs (legal and not) began as solo activities -- individuals wanting to find their own particular voice on the Internet. The medium has evolved, however, to allow for and encourage collaboration between bloggers -- as Dennis intimates with his "virtual law firm," this has tremendous implications for the future.
Early and visionary blawger Rory Perry, the clerk of the Supreme Court of West Virginia, coined a phrase a few years ago: "Building the new Blackstone, blog by blog." That will start to really come into its own. I expect the increasing uptake and popularity of blogging and related Web distribution tools will continue to break down barriers between the public and the legal field, and build bridges between its constituent parts.
Though people (myself included) often talk about the potential for blogs to humanize and improve the perception of a much maligned profession, the fact is they'll also continue to expose unpleasant and unsavory aspects too. There will be great opportunities for firms and other institutions to engage in real conversation and hopefully accomplish meaningful change about common areas of criticism and discontent. There likewise will be opportunities to look foolish, be ridiculed, and lose business and goodwill for firms and institutions that mistakenly conclude they can afford to turn a deaf ear to these voices.
Hard question, they're all important. I'll rank them though as follows.
First: Blogs. Ordinary, mostly nontechnical people like lawyers need an easy way to participate in online discourse, and it's important psychologically somehow (and useful from a practical standpoint) to have a "place" that's all your own.
Second: RSS. It's hard to separate this from #1, because the idea of blogging without syndication, especially given the capabilities of the blogging tools available today, is just silly. Syndication of not just text but audio and video makes whatever it is you have to say extremely user friendly. This is Good for all concerned.
Third: Collaborations among bloggers. It's hard to separate this from #1, because it's hard to blog in a vacuum. But active collaboration adds another layer that perhaps not everyone needs. If all your schedule permits is posting your insights from time to time to a (syndicated) blog, that's great. You're already collaborating and communicating across organizations and disciplines in a way you couldn't have done without blogging.
The Landrush where someone could claim a whole sector of the law as their subject is almost over but not quite. Oddly, we saw the first practitioner-authored blog in Copyright Law only this week. On the most part however, we will see differentiation from here on in - by speciality, location and other forms of differentiation that will mirror the way lawyers brand themselves.
We are also seeing aggregation, Between Lawyers and ReThink IP being two early examples.
And we are seeing corporatization - the Law.com network being an early example.
Not number of readers, and not dollars in the door. If it's useful to the writer and interesting or helpful to even a tiny universe of readers, it's a success. If you think that's too forgiving a definition, consider 1) the trivial or nonexistent cost of getting a blog out there, and 2) the ease and speed with which you can reach a literally global audience. Small investment + disproportionate return = success. Of course, the more time, thought, and effort you put in to creating something compelling, the greater will be the return.
No, it's inaccurately hyped. Main stream media likes to cover blogging for a variety of reasons, including that the volume is beginning to be such that it'd be irresponsible to ignore it. Blogging also is "new" enough that there's some shock and sensationalism to be milked from the coverage ("Your employees are blogging your company secrets! Film at 11:00"), and there's still the unfortunate tendency by media outlets to treat weblogs like something in the sky over Roswell, NM — interesting but hokey. The best writing about blogging is the product of those who have done their homework and/or have firsthand experience (e.g., BusinessWeek, Dan Gillmor, Online Journalism Review). And from those sorts of sources, you're less likely to get hype and more likely to get a straightforward assessment.
Any way I slice this question the answer is no, but I get there sort of circuitously.
Not every lawyer should have a blog, because not everyone is predisposed to processing and sharing information in the way blogs facilitate. Lawyers who answer "yes" to more than one of the following questions but don't have a blog should think about starting one:
Do you read or otherwise take in many materials related to your practice, above and beyond what strictly speaking you need to get through your daily workload?
Does your practice put you in places and situations that don't get much or any news coverage, but you think others might nonetheless find interesting or informative?
Do you email colleagues items you think they might want or need?
Do you make lists? (Mentally or otherwise.)
Do you spend much time using search engines?
Do you write about legal issues or developments for print publications or other outlets?
Do you hate the idea of keeping extraneous paper around, but like being able to find and refer to things you've read and found significant for one reason or another?
Do you like staying well informed about developments that affect your practice and your clients' lives and businesses?
Do you have a sense of humor?
Are there one or a few substantive areas of the law you know pretty well, or better yet, very well?
Are you sufficiently professional and comfortable in your skin that you will link generously to material — including competitors — that's not part of yourlawfirm.com without worrying that you'll never see that reader again?
Are you sufficiently professional and comfortable in your skin that you will publicly acknowledge and correct mistakes?
Do you think your clients, potential clients, and colleagues probably already get more email and paper mail than they'd like?
Are you less than thrilled with your ability to manage your conventional practice-related Web site and keep it up to date? Are you less than thrilled with its ability to get your message out to colleagues, clients, and potential clients?
Are you willing to engage in public discourse with people you don't yet know that will raise your profile and sharpen your writing and thinking, but might not translate directly or immediately into paying work?
Are you basically a good egg? (Lawyers who think hiding associate contact information is a good idea, for example, might not be the best candidates for blogging. Then again, it could prompt some sort of "born again" epiphany.)
Law firms are a different story. Before a firm decides to publish one or more weblogs, it and its prospective bloggers in residence (and I do hope they are "in residence," rather than commissioned for the purpose of generating weblog posts) had better be able to answer all of these questions affirmatively. Law firms (like all businesses) aren't a who, they're a what, and blogging (when done effectively) is a who-oriented pursuit. All the firms to date I've seen successfully embrace blogging are small or solo shops. I'm not saying a large firm can't do it, I just think there are more hurdles to overcome in that setting. Until weblogs are mainstream enough that thoughts like these are a quaint anachronism and people just know what works well and what doesn't, businesses (including law firms) should think hard about whether they've got what it takes to do a good "official" blog. If not, following in the footsteps of Microsoft, Sun, and Harvard is worth considered thought — i.e., we're not people but we've got people, spectacular ones, here they are. (I'm also assuming this question was aimed at public blogs. I think most law firms would save all kinds of time, money, and lawyer brain cells by replacing their existing intranets with a network of internal, syndicated, well-indexed and searchable blogs.)
Dennis is absolutely right about content, so I won't spend time talking about that. My thoughts:
1. Frequent updates. Providing that great content on a regular basis ensures your audience will keep coming back for more.
2. Legalese. A blog post should be conversational, less formal than what you're used to in motions or briefs. Lighten up and have some fun.
3. Publicize Your Blog. Even if you regularly post terrific content in a light, conversational style, it won't matter if no one knows you exist. There are a couple of ways to do this. The best and most obvious is to announce the blog a select group of law bloggers -- this will usually guarantee you instant exposure, because everyone likes to announce a new, cool blog. Also make sure the major blawg directories (Blawg.org and Blawg Republic) know you're out there.
Yes. There has been so much blog-mania lately, most people roll their eyes when I start to talk about blogs. I hope (in the legal space, anyway) that the negative reaction will ultimately be replaced by a realization of the benefits of blogs.
I mostly agree with Dennis about RSS -- while I believe that RSS feeds are the future, and blogs are just the fancy window dressing for the technology, it's the weblogs that will draw the readers in. If you tell the average internet user and potential client that the Smith & Jones firm has 3 RSS feeds on different legal issues, his or her eyes will glaze over with confusion. Show them a blog, however, and you can hook them with the RSS later.
The question here should really be, "Is it a Good Idea for Every Lawyer and Law Firm to Have a Blog?" The answer to that, I think, is yes. However, the answer to the question stated is "No." Blogging is not for everyone; if you are going to start a law-related weblog, be prepared to invest the time and energy necessary to making it a credible Web presence. Lawyers who either don't have the time to write posts, or who post very infrequently, should not undertake the effort. A poorly-maintained weblog understandably will have the opposite effect of a well-written, frequently updated weblog: the blogger will lose credibility with her/his audience.
In other words, don't just have a blog so you can say you have a blog.
1. Marketing potential - by publishing regularly-updated content in your area of practice, you will become known as a "go-to" person in that field. Clients and would-be clients will (hopefully) send you work because of the valuable information you provide to them, and other lawyers who read your blog will refer work to you because you are a trusted authority in that area of law.
2. Becoming a Better Writer -- I know that I have become a better writer overall since I started blogging. It forces lawyers to drop the stuffy legal-speak that infests so many briefs and motions.
3. Collaboration, and Being a Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself - the law bloggers I know are people who "get it" -- people I never would have met were it not for my weblog. If it weren't for weblogs, would Steve Nipper (Invent Blog), Matt Buchanan (Promote the Progress), and Doug Sorocco (PHOSITA) have gotten together and started rethink(ip), which discusses how to change the way we think about intellectual property law? Would the five of us have ended up talking here every day about issues that interest us?
I agree with Denise -- the field for weblogs is wide open. I have always believed the "niche" weblogs -- those following a particular area of law - are more likely to be followed by "regular" internet users than the more general blogs, law student blogs, etc. The average internet user will not be as voracious a reader of blogs as those of us who are early adopters; but the average user will, I think, take the time to receive information that is useful to them in their practice, whether it be practice area-specific or more related to the business of running a law practice.
So as long as lawyers are putting out quality content regarding their practice areas, the demand should continue to grow. Right now large firms are underrepresented in the "blawgosphere," but I expect/hope that will change as more law firms recognize the numerous benefits of blogging.
Easy, effective, fast, flexible, well-organized, persistent, participatory, distributed communication at marginal cost. Non-weblog oriented Web tools have a tough time competing on any of these factors.
Exposure to a flattened cross-section of others' thoughts, musings, research, analyses, etc., to which you would otherwise be oblivious, some of which at any given moment is precisely relevant to whatever it is you need or want to be doing. (In other words, not just youroutboard brain, but everyone else's.)
I'm guessing there must be well over 1,000 weblogs maintained by legal professionals, given that the Blawg Ring includes some 650, and probably only a small percentage of those out there submit to or are listed in directories. If I'm right, this means more than a hundredfold increase in the number of legal weblogs since I started paying attention to such things in early 2002.
I see no sign of this growth slowing down, and no reason to think there can ever be "too many" weblogs of any kind, legal or otherwise. Every author or group of authors has perspective, knowledge, expertise, talent, interests, etc. that are totally unique, and of immeasurable value to those who want or need access to that precise informational blend. In other words, it's a great time to start a law oriented weblog. There's a considerable frame of reference for what people are already doing, yet enormous room for innovation and perhaps an infinite number of interesting niches to help fill.
We all are in awe of Sabrina Pacifici, who started her blog, BeSpacific.com, by blogging on a daily basis in private for several months before launching her blog publicly. That allowed her to launch a blog with a substantial archive of posts and prove that she could develop a routine of regular posting. With that kind of commitment, there's little wonder why long-time legal bloggers consider Sabrina the best of all the legal bloggers.
My advice grows out of that story.
1. Be serious about your purpose and commitment.
2. Treat your blog like a publication and try to have enough material written in advance to carry you through some of the lean days of your first few months.
3. Learn about the blogging culture and treating it with respect.
4. Be concerned about what you can give and contribute with your blog, not what you can take.
5. Be brave enough to reflect your personality and develop a voice.
6. Think of blogs as a means of communication, not just another form of marketing.
When I was writing my first article for publication nine years ago, I never imagined the writing career that article would launch for me. I simply don't know where blogging will lead me. I'd be surprised if my blog didn't still exist in five years, but I'm not sure what it will look like or if it might be more audio or video than text.
I don't think people appreciate how hard it is to write regular content for a blog on a regular, often daily, basis. It's difficult and it has to become part of who you are in the same way that regular exercise or a hobby must be for you to stick with it.
Of course, the more blogging can turn into something that generates income, the easier it will be to keep blogging.
Blogging (or, perhaps more accurately, bloggers) seems to force the pace of change and increase the pressure on institutions to make changes. I think that biggest pressure from blogging will be placed on the state-based regulation of legal practice.
Blogging will also put increased demands on firms to provide incentives to retain their best talent. Both clients and lawyers will question the role of firms. What happens when a client comes to you for a problem that you know can better be handled by a blogger you know than by your partner down the hall?
Unlike the evolution of legal websites, I expect blogs to continue to focus on subject matter expertise and resources rather than have a focus on individual law firms.
I also expect to see blogs used to enhance communications with clients and non-clients. Blogs will almost inevitably lead to new approaches to the online delivery of legal services and the creation of products for sale, new lines of business and other innovations.
I really like blogging, but I've always said that blogs are the side show and RSS feeds are the main attraction. Lately, I've starting to talk about "Blogging 2.0," which is the current period in which bloggers are starting to cooperate on a variety of projects. When people look back on this period of legal blogging, I think that the focus will be on the projects that grew out of these collaborations rather than on blogging itself. For example, if we ever see something everyone would agree is a "virtual law firm," I have little doubt that it will have grown out of the efforts of bloggers.
Most of the tried and true requirements for a successful law firm website also apply to blogs. You must have quality, compelling content that gives visitors a reason to return. Most successful blogs have these factors and they are also well-written and have an identifiable and attractive personality and voice.
The successful blogs also give you a strong sense of generosity and helpfulness. Blogs that have "official" or "institutional" voices have not been successful to-date. Our own experience with group blogs leads me to question whether a law firm blog will be successful without a significant amount of planning and a willingness to allow contributing lawyers to have a large amount of freedom in what they write.
You might ask Dan Rather. We are certainly in a period of a negative reaction to some of the inflated claims that have been about blogging. I can tell you that the impact of my blog on traffic to my website and my search engine rankings has been amazing and I've certainly gotten other benefits from blogging.
In spite of that, I think that the emphasis on blogs as a marketing technique is generally misplaced. Blogs, like websites, may be an important part of the overall marketing portfolio for some lawyers or firms, but if you put all of your marketing efforts into blogging, I'm not sure that you'll be able to pay your bills.
For law firms, I would argue that a strategy based on RSS feeds makes much more sense than a strategy based on blogs. The trail of legal blogging is littered with the dead blogs of law firms.
Legal Internet guru Jerry Lawson has said that blogs will be great vehicles for a small percentage of lawyers, moderately good vehicles for perhaps 10% to 15% of lawyers who try them, and disasters for the great majority of lawyers who try them. I agree with that.
Blogs make the most sense for writers, especially for writers who can write on a regular basis and are generally comfortable with writing for a general audience. I don't know a lot of lawyers who fit that description.
The first benefit is that you can create a good-looking, content-rich website without learning any HTML or other coding. If you use a hosted service, such as Typepad (http://www.typepad.com), you can simply choose one of their templates and have a great website for under $15 a month.
The second benefit is that a blog can give your practice a voice and a personal presence. Because blogs consist of regular "posts" or short essays, many blog authors express their personalities and share their experience, expertise, insights and ideas. Many bloggers provide genuine helpful information and tips.
The third benefit is that bloggers are, for the most part, incredibly generous and helpful. As a blogger, you can gradually become part of the world's greatest network. I regularly talking on the phone or exchanging emails with some amazing people at the top of their fields who are also bloggers.
While there are probably fewer legal blogs than most people expect, they have captured a lot of attention. A recent survey indicated that legal blogs are a well-recognized segment of all blogs.
Individual lawyers, law librarians, law professors and law students have created almost all of the best-known legal blogs. Blogging experiments by law firms have yet to show long-term success. There is a general feeling that legal blogs have improved the reputation of lawyers, at least to some extent, among Internet users.
Blog is derived from the phrase "web log" or "weblog," which got shortened to "blog." The term "blawg," coined by Denise Howell, is a similar contraction of "law blog."
The simplest definition is that blogs are the most effective form of web presence you can have in 2005. The technical definition is a little more difficult to pin down and you can find many different definitions. See, for example, the list at http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/blogging_part_1.htm.
A blog is a template-based website created by a simple content management program generally characterized by a set of standard features, the most common of which is a set of time-stamped "posts" displayed in reverse chronological order. Other common features are calendars, archives, news feeds, search tools and comments.
Legal blogs include blogs by practicing lawyers, law librarians, law students and law professors. They cover a broad range of topics. We estimate that there are between 500 and 1,000 active legal blogs, some of which are very well known and have surprisingly large audiences.
Merrilyn Tarlton at the ABA's Law Practice magazine has asked the Between Lawyers group to write a roundtable discussion article on the future of legal blogging. So, for the next couple of days we'll be writing the article in public using this blog.
While we have drawn our inspiration from the "blogging in public" book projects like The Red Couch, our project is less ambitious and, for us, more realistic. An article should be easier to write than a book.
I'll be posting a number of questions for each of us to answer and Tom will be pulling all of the posts into a finished article.
We hope that we will remember to construct the article by using "RE:" posts for each question and you'll be able to follow the threads. We may also use the comments feature and, of course, invite your comments.
Remember that the exercise here is create an article and each of us will be contributing parts of the article. Please consider this before you take someone to task for not providing complete answers or for neglecting certain issues that someone else might cover.
We'll post a link to the final article when it is publised.