Is Blogging Part of a Strong Internet Presence?

I was at the WILG Convention in March and talking to a leading vendor of legal websites. They had a white paper on what a law firm should do to maintain a strong internet presence. Lots of stuff in there that cost a lot of money (SEO, Google Adwords….), but it didn’t mention blogs at all. Seriously.

It amazes me how behind the times that major marketing ‘gurus’ are and how slow they are to integrate blogs into their thinking. Even when they are advocating an internet presence. Let’s see, I’ve heard net/tech gurus at ATLA/AAJ, Southern Trial Lawyers, Virginia Trial Lawyers, Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers and WILG Conventions talk about net presence and NONE of them mentioned blogs.

I guess it makes it that much easier for the rest of us to look smart.

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Cisco Uses Blogs to Get It's Opinion Out

Mark Chandler, a senior vice president and general counsel for Cisco has written a blog post on  Cisco's iPhone Trademark lawsuit with Apple:

Today’s announcement from Cisco regarding our suit with Apple over our iPhone trademark has spurred a lot of interesting questions. Most importantly, this is not a suit against Apple’s innovation, their modern design, or their cool phone. It is not a suit about money or royalties. This is a suit about trademark infringement.

That’s pretty unusual to have general counsel to publicly post information about pending litigation. It’s an effort to get out ahead of public opinion on the matter and explain what Cisco’s position is. Maybe weblogs are chaning how companies operate after all. Thanks to Robert Scoble and Kevin O’Keefe for the heads up on this.

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What Audience is Your Blog Addressing?

I get asked a lot about why I write towards other trial lawyers, rather than the general public. A few reasons, first I don’t think the general public thinks about negligence, tort law or safety issues until they have been hurt. I think when someone has been hurt, they get on the internet and google these issues to see what is out there. I am seeing more and more clients doing internet research on their injuries, the seriousness of them and the appropriate medical treatment.

So, I write about trial techniques, practice tips and the use of technology, both in the courtroom and in the office because that interests me. I also think a lot of cases are referrals from other attorneys. The referrals might be for geographic purposes (the other lawyer isn’t in Myrtle Beach or even South Carolina), or the case is outside their area of practice, or possibly they don’t have the resources to handle a substantial case. By writing the blog, they think of me and my practice, rather than other lawyers in the area. I think potential clients will also search for the blog and while they might not be interested in the topics I write, will be able to see that I’m a competent lawyer that cares about his clients.

I have a friend that wants to start a real estate blog. For her, I would recomend a more consumer oriented blog. While they’ll change over a period of time, it’s important to think out the categories and what the overall feel of the blog will be. For a real estate blog I would suggest starting off with the following:

  • Mortgage Rates
  • Housing Trends
  • Tips for Homebuyers
  • Tips for Homeowners
  • Real Estate Law

With these categories, you could help people that are looking to buy, help them know when to buy, know when to sell, give information concerning owning a house and then also give updates on the real estate law. I think dirt lawyers get their business from real estate agents, mortgage brokers and individual consumers, so you want to write a blog that will interest them.

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An Obscure Benefit of Having a Weblog

People often ask me why I bother to write a weblog. Do you get clients, does it raise your visibility, does it help with referrals? Yes, yes, and yes. But there’s an additional benefit….The benefit is meeting people that have the same interests.

When I was at the South Carolina Trial Lawyer’s Convention, someone would come up and talk to me about a post I had written. This happened far more times than I would have thought. It started a conversation about a subject I was interested in (after all, I wrote the initial post).

Sometimes posts will generate e-mails from lawyers in South Carolina or around the country and we’ll strike up an e-mail conversation and I will learn new information and gain a new friend.

The people you meet is one of the best benefits of writing a blog. You attract people that are interested in the same things that you are interested in. Good stuf. (And if you’ve been enjoying the blog and haven’t written, feel free to drop a line).

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Article on Best Practices for Legal Blogging

Joshua Fructer, has written an excellent article on Law.com on the Best Practices for Legal Blogging. The article covers the basics of design, where to get content and how to write it, building links and how to build an audience.

I’m glad that Josh mentioned design. I feel that’s a critical part of a blog, that is often overlooked. Yes, I know that a lot of people read the blog using news aggregators or RSS readers and many of my readers never actually come to the site. BUT….

This blog is a reflection of my practice and myself. I wouldn’t show up in court in a pair of ratty old sneakers, my ‘painting jeans’ and a worn t-shirt. Why would I want to represent myself on the internet that way? It’s important for the quality of the website to reflect the quality of the work beingdone. Here’s what Josh has to say about design:

DESIGN

As any lawyer well versed in marketing will tell you, prospective clients often draw inferences about service quality from physical cues such as the appearance of a lawyer's office or the quality of his or her stationery. A lawyer's blog should be no different. A blog that employs a visually appealing design will project a professional image, whereas a poorly designed blog based on some stock template will send the opposite signal about the author's experience and expertise. Indeed, since a blog is nothing more than a specialized type of Web site, just as a lawyer should think carefully about the appearance and usability of his or her firm's Web site, the same care and thought should be invested in the design of a blog.

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How to Write a Better Weblog

In looking on how to write a better weblog, you don’t have to go any farther than Evan Schaeffer’s New Year’s Resolutions for Blawg Review #38 on his fabulous Legal Underground blog. A few of Evan’s suggestions:

Provide Both Information and Opinion
In mixing it up, weblog authors instinctively know they should provide relevant, quality information. But what about opinion? Some lawyer-webloggers seem afraid their opinions will offend readers or generate unwanted controversy. But if you can say it on an Op-Ed page, you can say it in a weblog. Besides, in the blogging business, controversy is good.

Link Freely to Other Weblogs
Many weblog authors criticize the type of post that does nothing but provide links to other sources. But if you have a sense of what your readers want, you are providing an editorial service by choosing and selecting posts you think will interest them. As Dave Winer wrote recently, "the fundamental law of the Internet seems to be the more you send them away the more they come back. It's why link-filled blogs do better than introverts."

The whole list is:

1. Mix It Up
2. Prove You Have a Personality
3. Be a Better Writer
4. Write for the Computer Screen
5. Use Photos
6. Don't Be Obscure
7. Build a Community
8. Experiment with New Weblogging Ideas
9. Don't Let Your Weblog Make You Crazy
10. Learn from Other Weblogs

But don’t take my word for it.  Check out the link yourself. Evan talks from the voice of experience. It’s good advice for anyone just starting out a blog.

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How to Set Up a Weblog

So you’re ready to start a blog, but you want to do it right. You want a professional blog and not just a personal one and you want it to represent your firm or company. Here’s my advice on that.

  • If you’re a lawyer, use LexBlog to set up your blog. They know what they’re doing and will take a host of technical considerations off your hands. If you don’t want to go with LexBlog, and you are not a techie, use another company that sets up blogs professionally so you don’t have to worry about it. I previously wrote why I went with LexBlog.  If you want to go it on your own, read on.
  • Pick a blog name and use a top level domain name. For example, www.MyCoolLegalBlog.com. This not only gives you an identity, but also gives you a home base. That way you are not wedded to Blogger, Typepad or Word Press... If you have a top level domain, you will be able to switch your blogging software without losing readership. It might not make a difference now, but it might make a big difference down the road.
  • After you get a domain name, use Typepad or Word Press. It's easy to set things up, and they have a lot more power than Blogger.
  • Categorize by Categories instead of dates. People care what is written. They don’t care when it was written. As time progresses, you want your blog to become a resource, not a running commentary.
  • Set up your blog to 'ping' the various tracking sites. By ‘pinging’ the sites, you let them know of new posts. You want your posts to come up in the search engines, so you have to let them know you are out there. Sites you will want to ping include Technorati, PubSub, FeedGator, IceRocket, Google.... To be honest, I don’t keep track of all of the sites that should be pinged. That’s why I use LexBlog, so I can lawyer and they can ping.
  • Use Blogjet for blogging software. You will be able to create posts by right clicking on other blog posts and turning them into a new post. Or right clicking on a web page and automatically turning it into a post. Blogjet works as a word processor, where you can highlight, bold, italicize, indent or automatically number among other things. It’s main drawback is that it’s British and the spell checker is not quite ready for American prime time, but I think it’s the best out there. Ecto is also good software that runs on both Windows and the Mac.
  • If you don't know how to do any of the things I talked about, get a good computer guy to help you out. Get someone good to help you. If you’re a tech hobbyist do it on your own. If you want to spend your time lawyering and spend time with your family, get someone good to help you out. I used to be a programmer and as techie as they come, but now I’d rather work on my trial skills.

Those are my initial thoughts, for a new blog user on starting a professional blog. Did I miss anything? If you would add anything, leave a comment to let others know what is important.

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What Should I Write About?

This was a major question for many people at BlawgThink! And I have to tell you, when I first heard the question, I thought it was pretty silly. Write about what you know about and care about. But then when I listened, I realized that it was a very legitimate question. The real question people were asking was not ‘What’ should I write about, but ‘How’ should I write about it. Here are my thoughts on that:

  • Who is Your Audience? – Who do you want reading your blog? Potential clients? Existing clients? Other lawyers? Lawyers who might potentially refer business to you? People in your community? Determine that and that will help you focus your blog. At BlawgThink! Bonnie Schucha from WisBlawg - From the UW Law Library asked for advice on how to increase readership and bring more value with her blog. She got a lot of real good advice for increasing her readership on the internet. But it didn’t do anything for her target readership, Wisconsin lawyers. Jim Calloway does a great job of appealing to Oklahoma lawyers, but most of the advice will help anyone, whether they’re in Oklahoma or not. Keep in mind who your readers are.

If you live in a relatively small town, you might want to write more about community news and what it means to the town. What is happening at City Council and the effects it will have on the town. What the zoning changes will mean. If you have a niche specialty, like inadequate security cases like my friend Richard Jones, then you would want to write about that. Or, if you specialize in pharmaceutical law, like Mark Zamora of A Georgia Lawyer, you’d want to write about that (and he does).  Look at what you know, what you care about, and the audience you want to reach.

  • What Categories Should You have? – If you want your blog to become a valuable resource over time, rather than just a running commentary, I strongly believe you should organize your blog by categories. The standard archiving by date  doesn’t help people find your previous posts. So what categories should you have? Think about your topic (or topics) and what you will want to write about, think about how they break down into logical categories. Also, think how the blog will grow over time and the topics and information that you will want to see and write about.

A friend of mine was thinking of starting two blogs on fairly closely related material. I asked him if he really needed a second blog, or whether he could just make a separate category on the first blog? The answer to that lies in who was the target audience for the first blog and who was the audience for the second blog. While the issues were fairly related, if he had a different audience and a different approach for each of the topics, he should go with two blogs. If he has the same audience and same approach, but different information, then he should go with a single blog and multiple categories.

It helps to map out your categories beforehand and think through your topic, rather than just add categories as you go along.

  • Do You Have Enough to Keep Going? – It’s easy to do a post a day and go like a bat out of hell for three months. But with a blog you have to be in it for the long haul. I’ve written about 350 posts in the period of a year. That’s a lot of posts. Within the South Carolina trial bar, I have a reputation for knowing about technology and applying it to being a trial lawyer. I frequently spent 15–20 minutes responding to technical questions on our listserv, only to answer the same question six months later. One of the things I wanted to do with my blog was to answer common questions and put them in a public forum so I didn’t have to revinvent the wheel on a regular basis. I had a lot of information I wanted to share. But the built up storage of things to say was exhausted in the first six months. Remember, writing a blog is a marathon and not a sprint.

It’s a nice thought to have a weekly feature, but that means you will have 50 posts to that weekly feature in a year and 150 posts to the weekly feature in three years. Yikes! That’s a lot of writing (and consistency). Evan Schaeffer has done that with remarkable consistency over at his Legal Underground site, but relatively few people have that kind of discipline, week in and week out.

  • What Do You Want to Talk About? – In the end, write about what you want to write about. Don’t worry about the rules, just write about what interests you, what concerns you and what drives you. (I refuse to use the word passion as it’s become a seriously overused business buzzword / cliche). If you’re having fun, you’ll get readers and good things will happen.
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Why Should You Have a Weblog?

I gave a presentation on weblogs in New Orleans last month. I spent some time working on the presentation and it was well received. I had done a request on what others saw as benefits and drawbacks of weblogs and the responses were very helpful in shaping the presentation. Also helpful was a long discussion with Kevin O’Keefe of Lexblog. Kevin understands the benefits of weblogs to lawyers, like few people do.

How Do We Know that Having a Weblogs Will Work?

Because it’s the same thing that lawyers have always done. The ‘old school’ method is to give presentations at conferences and network with other lawyers. That’s what weblogs give you. The chance to get your knowledge across, but rather than give a 30–45 minute presentation at a Convention, you can give the information 2–3 paragraphs at a time. You get to pick the topics. You get to pick the timing. You get to pick when and what you want to say. Say more. Say less. It’s your call.

Plus, you get the advantages of networking. Sharing information with other lawyers who blog. Linking to their best information (posts) and they link to your best stuff.

One advantage to the weblogs is that once you write the post, the information is out there on the internet and available to the search engines. A firm newsletter, once written and mailed has a relatively short shelf life. The posts are available to the search engines and you never know when people will do a search and find you and your blog.

Weblogs are easy to maintain. Weblogs are effective. If you want to raise your presence on the internet, it’s time to start writing one now.

Based on the response to the presentation (and a few other requests), I’ll be doing a series this week on how to start a blog and things to think about before starting a blog.

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