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    Law Blogs: The Great Equalizer

    A “new” tool advances an "old" marketing method. More lawyers now are using law blogs to enhance their reputations, showcase their expertise, and bring in business the old-fashioned way – by fostering discussion within a network of potential clients.

    Kevin O'Keefe

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 9, September 2008

    Law Blogs: The Great Equalizer

    A "new" tool advances an "old" marketing method. More lawyers now are using law blogs to enhance their reputations, showcase their expertise, and bring in business the old-fashioned way - by fostering discussion within a network of potential clients.

    by Kevin O'Keefe


    with four new law blogs launching each day, blogs may be the fastest growing client-development tool being used by American lawyers. Surprisingly, such growth does not arise from advancing technologies, but from the fact that the principles of blogging are rooted in longstanding law firm client-development methods.

    Long before lawyer advertising, yellow page ads, and law firm Web sites existed, lawyers obtained clients the "old fashioned" way. We did a good job for clients. We kept up to speed on the law. We developed niche practice areas for which we became known. We networked with business associates and community members so as to showcase our passion, skill, and expertise. Clients came by word of mouth.

    Law blogs are taking lawyers back to the future. Lawyers who use law blogs are simply blending new technology with tried and proven approaches to client development.

    "Situated properly, a professional blog can build an individual lawyer's profile and work as a more casual lead-in tool for the firm's Web site, which is geared more toward services, expertise, and experience," says Steve Matthews, a Vancouver-based Internet legal marketing expert. "In other words, get to know the lawyer in question, and then decide if that person is qualified."

    What sets blogs apart from Web sites is that blogs are a discussion stream: They constantly change and grow based on the online conversations taking place concerning specific realms of the law. Although information about a lawyer and his or her practice should be included on a blog, such content takes a backseat to something more important: the ongoing discussion that blogging lawyers are engaged in.

    Bloggers publish posts on their blogs in response to what they've heard (or read) elsewhere. They'll also post comments on other blogs. They share their insights, agree or disagree with other bloggers, make a point, and do all the other things that took place in town hall forums a few hundred years ago. Blogs allow lawyers to briefly comment on a ruling, cite something they read in another lawyer's blog, or simply provide a concise interpretation of the law for readers.

    Blogging allows lawyers to be seen by potential clients as more than professionals sitting in an office surrounded by awards and certificates; as time goes by, they will become known as leaders in their field - people who know what they're talking about and are willing to enter into the discussion with other opinion leaders.

    Plus, since blogs are easier to update than Web sites, lawyers who blog have the ability to comment on an issue almost immediately after it happens. In the same way a reporter who breaks a story is respected in the journalism field, lawyers who are quick to chime in with news or commentary will be seen by readers as on top of their game.

    And those are the lawyers prospective clients will contact first.

    "I get multiple calls per week off my blogs," says Jamie Spencer, a Texas-based criminal defense lawyer who publishes the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer (http://blog.austindefense.com) and Austin DWI Lawyer (http://dwi.austindefense.com) blogs. "I've probably been averaging a couple of clients a week off them. And almost all of them say the same thing, and that is, `You had more information on your blog than anybody else had on their Web site.'"

    The reason, he thinks, is simple: Most static Web sites are written not by lawyers but by marketers who focus more on the attorney than the client. All of the degrees a lawyer has acquired, the seminars attended, and the books read or written are of little consequence to someone faced with a legal issue. People want information and insight about what they're up against first, and information about a lawyer second.

    "With blogging, by being able to break it down and write three-, four-, eight-, 10-paragraph articles about what happens to people who get arrested in the real world, you're talking about the client, you're not talking about yourself," Spencer says. "That's what the client wants to see. They don't really care where you went to law school. They want to know, `What's going to happen to me, and what can I do to minimize the damage?'"

    Kevin O'Keefe

    Kevin O'Keefe is president of LexBlog Inc., a service that builds blogs for lawyers. He was a trial lawyer for 17 years and practiced in rural Wisconsin. He will speak about the benefits of blogging at the Solo & Small Firm Practice Conference, Oct. 23-25, in Wisconsin Dells. Email O'Keefe at Kevin@lexblog.com or visit Kevin.lexblog.com to join his conversation.

    Linking in and out of a blog - either by citing someone else's work or directing readers to a blog you enjoy - is another important characteristic of successful blogging. While traditional Web sites may have links, they often appear awkward and unnecessary, and it is much harder to encourage readers to click them. The more links in and out of a blog a lawyer provides, the bigger the lawyer's reputation on the Web (and as a result, the higher the blog climbs in search engines like Google).

    "Lawyers need to understand that links are the currency of the Web, and that blogs are not just a publication opportunity. If they were, why wouldn't you just convert all your newsletters into blog software? It doesn't work," says Matthews. "It's only when blog authors engage the social side of blogging, and begin to link out to other bloggers - who eventually reciprocate - that blogs begin to have a dominant effect on the search results."

    Blogging the Right Way

    Lawyers need to establish a niche for their blog, present a professional look, and perfect the art of effective blogging. Otherwise the return on their investment of time and expense will be minimal.

    Focus on a Niche

    Amy Gahran, a Colorado-based media consultant who runs a blog at Contentious.com, explains how jumping into blogging without doing your homework can be disastrous.

    Before you start blogging, figure out who is talking about the issue you'll be focusing on, she says. Then, begin reading their blogs and the blogs they link to so you can get an understanding of the major players in the field. Follow what they're talking about, comment on their posts … anything you can to enter into the discussion.

    "It doesn't matter if you don't have your own blog yet - or even if you don't have much of an online presence. The point is to start right now to build a constructive, helpful, credible reputation among your core communities," Gahran writes. "If these people get to know you first as `one of them,' they'll be more likely to keep listening and talking to you when you launch your own venue."

    Establishing and sticking to a niche focus is key. A niche means everything; without it, you're just a lawyer with a voice. If you haven't noticed, many people do not like lawyers … and they dislike even more the ones who use their voice regularly.

    However, when lawyers who are reliable and trusted authorities in a niche have something to say, people listen. Better yet, they cite what the lawyer blogged in their own blog, a news piece (if they're reporters), or an email.

    "We have 2,500 to 3,000 people per month reading [our] blog, friend and foe alike," says William J. Ward, managing partner at Carlin & Ward P.C. and author of the New Jersey Eminent Domain Law Blog (www.njeminentdomain.com). "Many of our adversaries monitor our blog, and we are watching them watching us. Newspapers track our blog and frequently call me for comments on cases that do not even involve our office."

    The more niche-oriented the content, the better your blog is going to work as a marketing tool. The niche for the blog can even be more focused than your area of practice. Think of your blog as a magazine published on one area of practice, among others in which you perform work.

    Kristie Prinz, a California intellectual property lawyer who runs the California Biotech Law Blog (www.californiabiotechlaw.com), has seen the value of such focused writing: After less than a year of blogging, it helped push her blog to the top of the Northern California biotech community.

    "I think the fact that my blog is unique has helped set me apart more than anything else," she says. "When I started and when I came up with the idea for a biotech blog, there were really no biotech blogs out there whatsoever. There's a few now, but there's still not that many."

    Design and User Interface

    Just as you dress professionally when you go to court or meet prospective clients in your office, you should give your blog a professional appearance. Well-designed blogs should include:

    • a brief title that is descriptive of the niche on which your blog will focus;
    • an indication of who is publishing the blog (be specific: Is it your firm? You as a lawyer representing the firm? You acting independently?);
    • content archived by categories, not by date;
    • clear "subscribe" options for both RSS (real simple syndication) and email users;
    • a full-text search that allows users to quickly locate relevant content; and
    • separate, but linked, pages containing information about you and your services and providing your complete contact information including phone and email. This is important for establishing instant credibility for reporters and others who may cite your blog.

    Darren Rowse, corporate blog consultant and founder of ProBlogger.com, explains how good blog design gives you credibility.

    "First impressions count and in a world where there are millions of people pitching themselves on virtually any topic you can think of you need to seriously consider how you'll stand out from the crowd and pre-sent yourself in a way that will draw readers into your blog," he writes. "Experience, expertise, longevity are great at building credibility once a reader makes a decision to actually explore your blog but there are a few crucial seconds that happen before this decision is made and blog design can play a big part and communicate a lot."

    The Art of Blogging

    Blogging is an art - and nobody's perfect their first time giving it a go. But while it may seem like unfamiliar territory for lawyers still cautious about the Internet, learning the art of blogging is a lot like learning to ride a bike: Once you've got the basics, it only gets easier.

    Be aware that you're writing for a blog, not a law review, newspaper, or magazine. Remember to write as you talk; blogging is a conversation, and your blog is your mouth. Lawyers are tempted to write a blog like they write an article for a bar publication or a memorandum for the court. Unfortunately, this formal writing style doesn't work nearly as well as a conversational tone.

    Think of how you would talk with members of your target audience at a reception following a speech. By and large, people still would be talking about the topic that brought you together. But the tone obviously would be much less formal than it was while you were speaking from the podium.

    A conversational tone alone, however, is not enough. You need to engage in conversations with other opinion leaders in your niche to realize the full potential of blogging.

    Think of blogging as an online Rotary meeting, where all the Rotarians are within your target audience, whether as opinion leaders, prospective clients, or influencers of prospective clients. You would not walk into a Rotary meeting and shout out legal updates through a bullhorn. You would engage in the conversation, offering your insight and commentary in the appropriate context of others' conversations.

    Remember the acronym FLEE: Find the relevant Internet discussion. Listen to the discussion. Engage in the discussion. Empower your readers.

    • Find the most influential bloggers and reporters on the niche for which you will be blogging.
    • Listen to these influencers by subscribing to RSS feeds of their blogs and news sites through the use of an RSS reader such as Google Reader.
    • Engage in a dialogue with these opinion leaders and influencers by adding a comment on their blogs or referencing what they wrote, adding your viewpoint in your own blog post.
    • Empower your subscribers to share your blog posts in blog posts of their own, in news stories, and on social networking Web sites by always adding content of value, that is, something that advances the conversation.

    The results of such effective blogging are far reaching. People conducting relevant Internet research, both lawyers and prospective clients, will see your name over and over again. You'll receive regular calls from reporters looking for commentary from a knowledgeable attorney (75 percent of reporters use blogs to locate experts and gain insights for stories, according to a recent study). Your content might be syndicated to periodicals, news Web sites, and newspapers as influential as the Washington Post and New York Times. And ultimately, word of your passion and expertise as a trusted authority in your niche will spread by word of mouth - both on and offline.

    Growth in Legal Blogging

    According to a study conducted in late May by J.D. Lasica, a veteran journalist and blogger, 73 percent of Internet users around the world read blogs - 48 percent do so on a weekly basis.

    Traditional media outlets are rushing to make blogs a staple of their online presence, and you'd be hard pressed to find a newspaper whose Web site doesn't include several blogs. Even television personalities like CNN's Anderson Cooper and FOX's Greta van Susteren are using blogs to keep the discussion going after their broadcasts have ended.

    With all these changes, it comes as no surprise that the legal field has adapted to join this new trend. The ABA Journal's Blawg Directory currently links to more than 2,000 legal blogs in more than 100 categories. It lists five blogs written by judges, 696 sponsored by law firms, 181 authored by law professors, and 38 published by legal news outlets. Blawgsearch.justia.com, another online law blog directory, currently lists 2,876 blogs in 67 categories. LexMonitor.com, a daily review of law blogs, pulls content from nearly 2,500 law blogs and more than 5,000 authors.

    Large law firms are blogging at a rate even greater than small firms. More than 25 percent of the 200 largest law firms in the country publish blogs. For the 12-month period between November 2006 and November 2007, the number of large law firm blogs grew by 49 percent.

    "Easily 80 percent of my new business comes from people who found me through my blog," says Seattle attorney Philip Mann, who publishes the IP Litigation Blog (www.iplitigationblog.com). "I make a point of asking new callers how they found me. More often than not, they say they ran a Google search on `contingent fee IP lawyers' and I popped right up."

    "The Internet and blogs are the great equalizer," Mann says. "No longer do the large, established firms have a monopoly on the power to get their name out and attract business."

    One hundred years ago, lawyer marketing was all about entering into conversations with opinion leaders, business associates, and the public to spread word of one's passion, expertise, and care and to further enhance one's reputation as a trusted authority. Today, it's still the same - except that the conversation has moved online.

    You too can enter the conversation through blogging.