- In Practice
- In Business
- Moving On
Logging on to blogging
Thursday 12 January 2006
How do I set one up? I do not know the first thing about this Interwebnet thingy
Blogging is the buzz word of the moment and more and more solicitors view legal web logs as a valuable business and marketing tool, reports Rupert White
It is one of those words that Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, should surely have banned by now. Blogging has become a word of the moment, and having a blog is now something that American teenagers see as part of growing up. Even in the UK, blogging has taken off with the general populace with almost the same vim as mobile telephones.
Blog is short for Web log, or a regularly updated Internet diary of some form, and solicitors are a little late to the party. US lawyers have been blogging for years in their droves, and have spearheaded this move to a more open debate in the ultimate public forum.
As if to show that the legal profession can make up words with the best of them, law blogs are increasingly being called blawgs.
However, the fact that, in 2006, there are still comparatively few UK lawyers blogging is testament to the way most legal professionals here view the Internet a vital conduit for all the e-mail messages that suck so much actual working time from their days.
But more solicitors now consider blogging as a route to business and personal enhancement, with the number of legal Web logs based in the UK growing by the week. So what do they see in it?
To understand why blogging has become so popular elsewhere, it is a good idea to get the American perspective first. Ernest Svenson writes the endearingly titled Ernie the Attorney blog. Based in New Orleans, he has spent recent blogs partly detailing the disaster and recovery regime there. This ability to be both a private person and a public voice is part of the attraction of blogging.
Blogging, like other Internet communications, is captivating because it transcends ordinary boundaries, physical as well as temporal, he says. And while it may not transcend cultural boundaries, it certainly challenges many peoples views of their culture and the culture of others.
Lawyers are gatherers and purveyors of specialised information. All information, particularly specialised information, is best shared and debated in a public forum. This is precisely what blogs enable.
Blogs are often touted as being a method of better marketing, or at least another channel to find clients what the corporate world calls another route to market. But seeing blogs like this is, according to those in the know, to misread their value in a way that will lead to failure. Blogs should be sources of valuable and interesting content first, which in turn makes them good advertising.
Sarah Cole, one of the solicitors on the technology team at Mills & Reeve in Cambridge who maintains the firms NakedLaw blog, says: I think blogs are unlikely to become a primary marketing tool, partly because for it to look like a marketing exercise would, I think, lose credibility among the people most likely to read it, and partly because those people are not necessarily going to be the ones holding the purse strings.
But from a profile-raising point of view, I think there are a lot of benefits, she adds.
More than a few UK legal blogs are about IT law, and they could be accused of being a specialised knowledge base talking to itself. But some of the most successful are not all about IT, though that is how they may have started.
Lilian Edwards, co-director of the arts and humanities research council centre for intellectual property and technology law at Edinburgh University, blogs at BlogScript as well as finding time to edit books. She gives a good example of a company-sponsored site that is content, rather than marketing, driven national firm Pinsent Masons Out-Law. Though Out-Law is not strictly a blog, it functions in a similar way and produces the results a good blog should strive for. It also makes Pinsent Masons look attractive to new recruits, she says.
[Out-Law is] a blog thats being used very effectively as a branding/marketing tool, says Ms Edwards. I cant really say how well blawgs work at marketing to clients, but I think they do work very well for impressing the outside world in terms of recruitment, she says.
Ms Edwards adds a vital caveat to solicitors thinking of blogging it is about commitment. As with everything on the Web, you have to do it professionally. A blawg with four entries and then nothing for a year is far worse than no blog at all.
Commitment often comes because blogging can be its own reward, and turns out to have business benefits later. Most bloggers would say that the Web logs they keep are an excellent outlet for views they have that, during the day, they are not normally allowed to express.
One barrister, whose blog is often fairly close to the bone and who requested anonymity for this feature, outlined why blogging is now a big part of his life. His blog, Geeklawyer, is both a source of comment on law and opinion on life in general.
From the perspective of the bar, my hope is that [blogging] will make us seem less aloof, he says. My hope is that blogs will play a part in the lamentable PR efforts of the profession so far. If people realise, at an emotional level, that lawyers are just ordinary professionals we may be treated with more respect. Thats my hope at least.
This deeply personal approach to what blogging can achieve is echoed by nearly everyone who does it and is, for example, many peoples basic tenet of what makes a blog a blog.
This is not to say that blogs cannot function as business enhancers. Justin Patten, a sole practitioner in Hertfordshire, says he has gained new business through his blog HumanLaw. His slant on blogging is that it uses the inherently faceless world of the Internet to give a leg-up to small practices.
Blogging has given me two new significant clients, he says. It is now my primary tool of marketing. It is of particular use to the small player as start-up costs can be zero, or at most less than £150 per year, and it enables a small player to appear much bigger than they are.
The author of the Geeklawyer blog agrees. Blogs are a great way of getting initial exposure to potential clients, much more so than conventional directories, he says. The value proposition is in the content of the blog if it is well done you can build a sort of virtual relationship that yields results, particularly where the client respects your competence and your personality.
So the consensus seems to be if you want to blog, go ahead. Just do it for the right reasons, and put as much personality into it as you can. There are, however, words of wisdom and warning for those looking to start a blog. Defamation is, of course, a primary issue, but blogging need by no means be constantly beset by such monsters.
Read lots of different types of lawyer blogs and figure out what appeals to you, and what kind of blog you would like to have, says Mr Svenson. Ms Cole agrees: Be clear who your intended readership is, and dont be afraid to express an opinion something which lawyers often try to avoid.
If its going to be a flagship for the firm, put real resources behind it, warns Ms Edwards. If its going to be about your passion for patent law, then fine. But if youre starting it cynically as a marketing tool, Id pay someone to do it a bright trainee even because you just wont find the time.
Blogging is fun, useful and edifying for everyone involved. But Geeklawyers three rules on blogging sum up what awaits the unwary in this brave new world: One, dont forget your professional rules: advertising and so on, he says. Its all too easy to get carried away with the supposed intimacy of the blog.
Two, remember that everything you say will be available to everyone, everywhere, forever. You should chant this to yourself three times before you click the publish button.
Three, demonstrate your personality and try to be individual. Its what will win you an audience. But dont try to be funny, he warns. Youre not me.
What is a blog?
A blog is a Web site where you can post entries, much like writing an e-mail or posting on a bulletin board. The entry is date and time stamped and appears on your blog page. In essence, it is an on-line diary that people can reply to if you let them.
How do I set one up? I do not know the first thing about this Interwebnet thingy
There are myriad blogging sites. Nip to Google and search for blog Web sites, or go to some of the big ones such as Blogspot.com, Blogger.com, LiveJournal.com, TypePad.com, hometown.aol.com, Yahoo! 360 or MSN Spaces. All blogging sites will give you simple walk-throughs to set up your blog. Some are free, some will charge and, as with everything else in the world, you will get what you pay for. But free blogging is not bad just less flexible.
- Law firms and bank finance
- My Legal Life: Jane Keir
- Indonesia: treasure islands
- My Legal Life: Mark Stephens CBE
- Competition law
- My Legal Life: Sherina Petit
- Advising small businesses
- Law centres: living on the edge
- My Legal Life: Richard Charlton
- Interview: Lisa Cameron
- Interview: Chris Grayling
- My Legal Life: Shami Chakrabarti
- Roundtable: immigration
- Russia’s legal sector
- My Legal Life: Monique Fauchon
- Interview: Elisabeth Jones
- E-learning and CPD
- My Legal Life: Sarah Webb
- Law firms and cloud computing
- My Legal Life: Mark Hynes
- Interview: Rupert Scrase
- Roundtable: Wales and devolution
- My Legal Life: Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC
- Interview: Freshfields’ Paul Bowden
- Career breaks: return journey
- My Legal Life: Mark Beer
- Army law: uniform instructions
- My Legal Life: Ted Greeno
- Jackson reforms: trials and tribulation
- Risk and Compliance conference
- Legal education: bespoke courses
- My Legal Life: John Spencer
- My Legal Life: Gerald Shamash