Blogging for Lawyers: Lessons Learned
There are in excess of 7,000 blogs dedicated to the law business alone. While I can’t speak for other professions, I can tell you that blogging is alive, well, and prominent in the world of legal Internet marketing.
Here is what a law firm blog really provides.
- An opportunity to self-publish and position yourself as an “expert” on the topic of your choice.
- Increased search engine optimization visibility for the attorneys and the firm.
- Added “expertise” content for your web site, social media profiles and new client pitches.
Here is what a law firm blog rarely accomplishes.
- Develop a bookmarked following like you are the Dalai Lama of criminal defense law.
- CNN reporters go right to your blog to see your take on, say, aviation law following an accident.
- The U.S. Supreme Court weighs your views on immigration law before handing down a decision.
My personal experiences in blogging mirror those of many other attorneys. It seemed like a great idea. I started it, and got really busy. The result was an old, dormant blog that probably did more harm than good, but hopefully has a happy ending — keep reading. A blog on a timely subject with a post six months old is simply a waste of everybody’s time.
If you are engaged in professional services or a small business, like lawyering or accounting, it is never too late to find your place in the blogosphere. The difference today is the importance in finding a real niche within a geographic area or practice. A keyword search of “blogs” on Web Marketing Today will provide many of the nuts and bolts components to blog development and utilization.
A look at the most comprehensive directory of law-related blogs — the Justia Blawg Search — will help show you what areas have already been taken and where there are greater opportunities. Depending on your firm size and type, there is room for blogging success anywhere, provided you are willing to put in the elbow grease necessary over the long haul — which is the biggest detractor from doing it. Domain names, hosting, software — costs — should generally be the least of your concerns. Besides time itself, being able to freely write and opine without “editorial oversight” by your partners is the other potential detractor.
The Self-Published Expert
For many long-established attorneys, there is tremendous frustration with “less accomplished” lawyers getting greater visibility in the media and online as “experts” due to the use of Internet marketing — in many cases, as strong bloggers. And no offense to any editor that has made a change I did not appreciate, or journalist that cut the meat of a quote, but on my blog I’m the king — if I want to be outspoken, colorful, opinionated, you name it — I am the writer, editor, publisher and owner. It is a personal, published platform with a potential audience of the world. It is the ultimate in self-publishing, and while participation is not mandatory, in many ways it can be necessary to protect your turf. Many lawyers like the idea of self-publishing on a blog rather than dealing with reporters or publications that may or may not espouse their point of view.
Generalists Not Welcome
Maybe when the blogosphere first got rolling, you could take the approach of being the “tax law” or “corporate law” blog. That ship sailed long ago. Today’s blog needs to be about niche — probably more “ERISA” or “poison pill” than the aforementioned general legal practices. It is not too late to get started, but you need to figure out what you are going to write about on a daily, weekly or monthly basis over the coming years. Populating a blog on an area of practice you focus on daily should be simple.
Website Alternative Or Site Enhancer
Sole practitioners and small law firms (and this advice translates to many other professional services) have found that the blog or blog-like website provides great benefits in both time and cost. From developing a site in a low-cost, easy to use and update platform like WordPress to simply using a blog style for your main website is being done more and more.
Your blog posts can automatically feed numerous other online resources, giving you a lot of bang for your buck. In many cases, the blog posts will feed the home page of your business site, giving it a much timelier, informational feel versus the online version of a static brochure.
The Importance of SEO
If the goal is increased search engine visibility through organic results, then build the blog to better deliver the inquiring corporate counsel, journalist, or prospective client. Fresh content on fresh pages, with a word count in the 500-1,000 range provides the results so many internet marketing plans seek.
Steve Silverberg’s New York Zoning and Municipal Law Blog is a perfect example of the success that can be achieved in the blogosphere by a small law firm. For Silverberg Zalantis, the effort has generated notoriety and new clients.
“In 2006, we recognized a need to drive more traffic to our website. As a small firm, we wanted to emphasize our niche in order to differentiate ourselves from every other firm that does a lot of different things,” said Silverberg. “Whenever I attend meetings of attorneys in New York, at least one person knows of me by our blog.
Historically, the best law firm blogs are run by sole practitioners and small law firms. Why? Because (1) you don’t need any approvals to write and post; (2) You have more freedom to editorialize and entertain than in a larger firm setting; and (3) There are fewer chances for internal and external conflicts.
I used to speak anecdotally about some of the top law firm bloggers, and how they are usually solos. In the early years of blogging, many of these attorneys gained such a positive name for themselves online that they parlayed the recognition into jobs at large, prestigious law firms. Not much later, they were back as solos—because what made them great bloggers simply does not fly in the political setting of “big law.” These people were addicted to their self-aggrandizing fame, and had to get back to the comfort of their blogs.
One of my favorite success stories is The Delaware Employment Law Blog of attorney Molly DiBianca at Wilmington’s Young Conaway. As an associate, she developed the niche (in this case, geographic, for Delaware) in one of the largest blog categories on the web (labor and employment), crafting out a space for herself that has earned her national acclaim. While her firm has more than 100 attorneys, she has been able to retain a level of independence in quickly generating newsworthy, pithy and entertaining posts. While she may not have the same level of authorship independence as a solo, the firm has allowed her to flourish doing something that she clearly finds enjoyable. (Enjoyment is perhaps the most important trait to the long-term successful blog.)
For many years, I followed Reed Smith’s “AdLaw by Request,” the newsletter; now in an all-new blog. AdLaw follows news and developments in the advertising industry. It provides a good “big law” example in that it takes content produced by the firm over many years and converts it into a blog format.
The majority of large U.S. law firms have blogs, often replacing practice-specific newsletters or generic website content (which often was found in a different style as part of a biography and representative matters). Building and maintaining — in some cases, dozens of blogs — is an easy, low-cost turnkey process in relation to what you might spend on printing and mailing. They are typically much dryer than the blogs you might regularly enjoy reading (you’ll find me on TMZ and sports news blogs much more often than anything work-related). But they do generate web content, self-published views and online visibility — regardless of your direct interest in SEO.
In Blogger Rehab
I was an early adopter, heeding the advice of some technology marketing colleagues that insisted blogs were the website of the future. They were partially correct — social media sites are actually the website of the future, but nevertheless. So I set out in 2004 to create www.marketingattorney.com. The fourth post, one month later, welcomes my first child to the world, and eight years (and another kid later), my blog post total was around two dozen. The moral of the story is twofold. First, blogging effectively takes perseverance and commitment. Second, it is never too late to recommit. A few months ago I made a commitment to rebuild the blog, update the technology, and promise myself that I’ll really do it this time. Only time will tell. But it is never too late to try.