There’s no doubting the marketing effect of a lawyer’s blog. My own case is demonstrative. A few years ago, I was an anonymous patent associate. Now, I’m no longer anonymous.
How did you all get started?
The Hurricane Law Blog started out of necessity, as the levees were breaking. The managing partner was in the room, and we came up with blogs as a way to disseminate information about the disaster. It’s been a very interesting project. We rely on all parts of our firm, but you need a lot of editors to start something like this. We have lots of hits from outside counsel, from inside counsel who we represent, and hits from the public (300-400 per day). Most of the information we post is public, but that doesn’t mean that clients want it posted. (There’s a fear of copycat lawsuits.) Another problem is taking a legal position on issues, since they could be used against us later in litigation if we turn out to come around to a different interpretation.
I practice telecommunications law. It gets a little arcane and narrow. We decided that monitoring what’s happening at the FCC and at state PUCs was a good way to keep our clients, and potential clients, informed. We started the FCC Daily, as an email service. Then weblogs were used more, so we took the FCC Daily and created a weblog, the Telecom Law Blog. It takes a lot of time. Our firm has other blogs, including the privacy and security blog, but keeping pace with the issues as they arise. They get 10 times as many hits per day.
I just sat down with Blogger and put together my blog. I clicked publish. It was thrilling. I had no idea what would happen with my blog and with blogs in general. One of my first posts was about getting Hello Kitty on a Visa card. I came into blogging through the help of some very smart people — it puts you in touch with an amazing array of smart people. My observation as to this conferene is that it’s a living, breathing testament to the power of the blogosphere — not because it’s about blogs, but because these conversations we’ve been having have been going on for a long time, and will continue after the conference. Blogs have been “de-silo-ing” the law, creating conversations across institutional boundaries. Look at who’s here — all sorts of people. The types of people who makes the blogosphere great. I began to discern these types of relationships early on, and they became my blogroll. (Back then, there were a lot fewer blogs to sift through.) People pay attention to traffic early on, or if they’re commercially-oriented. You rapidly realize, though, that the tools for tracking traffic are imprecise and that traffic ebbs and flows. Soon, I started getting recognized as an expert. But what was even more valuable was being recognized as a funnel. I agree with about 80% of what Kevin O’Keefe says, but I disagree with him when he says to stay on-message. He’s tailoring his message based on his own personal preferences, which is great — see what YOU want, and what YOU
find interesting, and push that out into the world. That’s a less mercenary marketing approach, but one that is powerful and effective. Read The Cluetrain Manifesto and Small Pieces Loosely Joined. They predicted what we’re seeing today.
I agree with Denise in a big way. One successful part of my blog is that, although I certainly don’t have as much personality as Denise, I try to put a little bit of humor and a little bit of personality in my blog. When I meet regular readers, I feel like they know me as a person. It’s a little scary, but it’s a cool, unique experience. I’ve met thousands of patent attorneys around the world. One real issue is that for a law firm, it’s scary to make one of their attorneys famous. They want to make the firm famous, since that associate who blogs really well might leave. Greg: I didn’t get any push-back about somebody being a star, but our blog doesn’t have that much personality. Our premium is speed, not personality. That’s easier, too, because people won’t sue us for our back-of-the-napkin opinions. Bennet: We encourage associates, partners, and everybody else to contribute, and we’ve had no problems getting those contributions. Denise: I don’t think yours lack personality — they’re focused on an area where your passions really shine. Elevating lawyers above invisibility is, or should be, the holy grail of law firm marketing.
Q: Do you seek to develop a dialogue with your readers? Is that an objective? What works? Denise: Any time you’re publishing your thoughts and opinions with an email address, you’re inviting a dialogue. Just doing that creates a dialogue. Very few people comment on my site, despite lots of readers. Bennet: We’ve had a number of inquiries from people who have suffered through the storm, and we’ve put them in touch with people who can help them when appropriate.
Q: Do you worry about jurisdictional issues? Do you worry about someone relying on your advice? Greg: We generally do not give anything like legal advice — it’s just an objective recitation of what’s happened. Bennet: The litigators didn’t want me to take public positions on anythign we might be litigating someplace down the line. Denise: I worry about it very seldom. First, I don’t give anything that someone could construe as specific legal advice. I have conversations off-blog, and I treat them just like real-life interactions.
Q: If you’re about to post something, what type of review process do you go through? Greg: We established early on that we were going to be neutral and factual, so we don’t run it by anyone else first. If we were going to provide something more in depth, we would run that by someone on our Quality Assurance committee first to make sure it doesn’t raise liability issues and won’t be embarrassing later.
Q: How have you had to alter blog posts, and how often? Greg: Not often. Bennet: Everything goes through our marketing director, and she has parameters about controversial topics. Denise: I self-police, since my site is not affiliated with the firm. But they nonetheless are connected with the folsk you work with, and to my ethical duties as an attorney, and I’ve had conversations with folks in the firm about posts. I check for conflicts.
Q: Do you give any thought to what Bag and Baggage will be 10 years from now? Denise: No. I didn’t give it any thought when I started it, and it’s fun and useful, and I hope it still will be later on.
Q: On your blogs, Greg and Bennet, the posts seem to be by the firm, not by the lawyers. But people hire lawyers, not firms, much of the time. Having the face of the person who did the post come through might be good. Bennet: I don’t have a good answer, but we do list all of our editors. We decided to make it less personal. Greg: We do a combination of things. For a short post, there’s no real authorship, just editing. But when there’s something big that comes out and requires some limited analysis, we give credit.
Q: Will there ever be a time when there will be lawyers who will do nothing but blog? Clients hire lawyers, but long ago you had one rainmaker — the social guy — and technicians. Denise: I think you’ll see peopel give that a try. It’s one approach to trying out the tools. But now, everyone has to be a rainmaker in one way or another, in a way that doesn’t make people feel like craven business mercenaries, and also have a normal life. Blogging has a powerful role to play there. How do we know that you are who you say you are, and you have the traits you say you do? Well, your online trail — and your blog. Greg: Blogging is great because it shows people you know what you’re talking about. If the person showing the expertise isn’t the one doing the legal work, that value goes away.
Q: What do you use to measure the success of your blog? Bennet: I don’t focus on it a whole lot. I sometimes look at hits, and I hear about contacts made because of the blog. I’m not running a cost-benefit analysis on it. Greg: Marketers look at hits. I agree with Denise — hits may not do you much good. It’s exceedingly hard to measure. The more you get your name out there, the more you show your expertise, the more they’re going to call you with a problem. Denise: The tools can tell you some really cool things. When you’re getting hits from uscourts.gov, that’s cool to see. Who knows, it could be the janitor — but it’s interesting to see. Dennis: It depends on WHO the hits are from. Denise: That’s right. Tiny but influential numbers of readers are better than huge numbers of people who are not as influential.
Kevin O’Keefe: There are going to be different ways to measure stats. Most stats packages are free, and you get what you pay for. [*scowl*].
Dennis: Attorneys are crunched for time. How much attorney time is going into writing this blog on a daily or weekly basis, and have you gotten pushback? Greg: There’s an expectation that people will put in a fair amount of hours on these kind of things. Our billables are lower for partners, and this is the sort of thing partners have to do. Bennet: Most of the time investment was on the front end, setting it up. Taking a little time froma lot of lawyers isn’t that much of a hit. Dennis: I spent no time setting mine up, but spend a lot of time — an hour a day — on by blog. Denise: I’m at a firm that recognizes that lawyers have to be out there communicating their expertise. My firm understands that it is an effective publication platform. Also, because I am in an appellate arena, there’s a particular emphasis on writing and new developments.
Q: Why aren’t email addresses on some of these? Bennet: Many of our hits come from the general public, and we didn’t want that kind of response. Greg: We don’t do as well as we could at getting our writers’ names and contact details out there on the blog. Denise: I’m constantly cross-marketing to other lawyers in the firm based on emails I get.
Q: What’s off-limits? A: Nobody wants to make life more difficult for themselves at work or at home, and nobody wants to jeopardize their safety or the safety of others.
Q: You mentioned your time was front-loaded, Bennet. How long from idea to launch? A: Ninety days. The hardest thing was figuring out what we wanted to cover. We wanted a public sphere making available documents and news of interest to people following the situation. It took a lot of work to sift through the types of information to decide what to include. Dennis: When I first started, I went live within 24 hours, but I didn’t put my name on it. Some people do a private blog for a few weeks first. Bennet: Another group of lawyers had already started blogging by the time I started.
Q: What’s going to happen with New Orleans? Bennet: I have a presentation on this. By September or October, you could visit the tourist areas and you wouldn’t know there had been a hurricane. If you travel north toward Lake Pontchartrain, it will look like Berlin at the end of World War II. Of you go East into Mississippi, you’ll see areas the water was pumped out of that haven’t been touched since. It’s horrific to see. Until there’s a commitment from the govenrment as to what the levees will look like, the insurance companies won’t write policies; without insurance, people won’t move back in.
Q: Does podcasting have any place for lawyers in the future? Denise: Oh, yeah. Both internally and externally. The legal community isn’t that technologically innovative, though, so it will take some time.
Q: Advice for jumping into the process? Bennet: Talk to everyone in your firm that you want to participate with and make sure you have your game plan down. The last thing you want is to set up your site and then have partners coming in with additions. Greg: Look at what you know, and consider how best to communicate it. Find your own voice and your own target audience. Make it fun. Denise: Know what you know, but also know what information you’re processing and approach blogging from the standpoint of making it useful and compelling to you first. Other people’s aggregation rocks, and yours does for other people.
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