A Contrarian View Of Legal Blogs
The hottest Web development for lawyers in the past year has
been the appearance of legal blogs. Everybody wants one, and
predictions are flying that the blogless firm will soon go
the way of the dodos and dinosaurs.
Do Legal Blogs Work?
Simply because something is new and hot doesn't mean that
it's effective. I haven't seen anyone address the question
of how blogging fits into a law firm's business plan, which
should measure why and how a law firm will make the
considerable investment of time necessary to run a blog.
But let's give the devil his due. Having spent the last few
weeks reading lots of blogs, both legal and non-legal, and
interviewing several bloggers, the following are my
observations of conditions in which blogs can be effective
for some professions or areas of interest, but why they
usually fall short for law firms.
1. Narrow Topics, Clear Expertise of the Blogger, Subject
Matter Related to Events in the News Cycle
All three of these elements are necessary for a legal blog
to work effectively if the purpose is to demonstrate the
expertise of the lawyer.
For example, the HIPPA blog,
http://www.hipaablog.blogspot.com, produced by Jackson
Walker LLP, is a useful resource for exploring the
intricacies of and developments in the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, an act whose
very name suggests its complexities.
But why is it better than, say, the newsletter that Fried,
Frank sends out on qui tam cases?
The best example of this type of blog comes from outside the
legal sphere. Informed Comment, http://www.juancole.com is
a blog about the Middle East written by Juan Cole, a
professor of history at the University of Michigan. He
speaks Farsi and Arabic and specializes in the history of
His blog combines his paraphrases of Arab- and
Farsi-language news reports with his own analysis based on
his research. His analysis of the political situation in
Lebanon on March 1, 2005 surpasses anything I've read in any
of the major publications, including the leading opinion
journals. Why? Because most journalists are generalists and
don't have the profound knowledge of the history, culture,
and politics of the Middle East.
But note that Cole is a tenured professor, and is passionate
about his subject. He writes well and quickly, and clearly
devotes a great deal of time to the blog, and has the time
to link the blog postings to current events.
Imagine what a blog written in legalese or academese would
read like. Do you have someone in your office who can write
well enough on a regular basis to produce a well-written
2. Massive Distributed Parallel Computing
Consider the case of the Dan Rather fiasco with President
Bush's military records. Hundreds of opinion bloggers got
copies of the documents described in the story and started
dissecting them. By closer attention to detail (attention
bordering on the compulsive), and by devoting far more time
than a single reporter or national news correspondent could
to the issue, bloggers discovered discrepancies and
inconsistencies in the use of typefaces in the various
This is very interesting stuff, and a nice example of the
kind of massive distributed parallel computer power, similar
to that used by the Search for Extra-Terrestrial
Intelligence (SETI) or cryptographic systems designed to
engage in brute-force password cracking spread over
thousands or millions of computers. But being a very small
cog in a large machine is not what you want for your law
3. News Service
Many blogs appear to be adopting news feeds from other
sources. Most are opinion blogs, citing sources that favor
their world view. This is fine, but what application does it
have for a law firm? Law firms are not news organizations,
and the value to clients (or to the firm) is at best
There is one news service in which a legal blog can excel,
and that is the reporting of recent cases. Far and away the
best legal blog I've seen is Abstract Appeal, http://www.abstractappeal.com, Matt Conigliaro's blog covering Florida and 11th circuit opinions.
Matt, a partner at Carlton Fields in St. Petersburg,
Florida, practices appellate law, and provides daily
summaries of significant Florida and federal cases, as well
as reporting and commentary on statutory developments and
court rules. His comments are pithy, usually only a sentence
or two, with links to the opinions, statutes, or rules. As a
public service, he also assembled many of the relevant
documents concerning the Terri Schiavo case, and offered
cogent commentary on the legal issues presented by the case.
Matt reports that it's not much more work than what he's
supposed to be doing as a practicing lawyer, anyway, and
it's clear from talking to him, as well as from reading his
blog, that Abstract Appeal is a labor of love.
Significantly, Matt is unable to report that any new
business came his way because of the blog, although he
reports that it has somewhat increased his exposure around
Many of the political blogs include announcements of
demonstrations or upcoming events. Again, this is something
that blogs are well suited for if there are rapidly-breaking
developments. Is this more effective than an announcement on
a Web site? I don't see the advantage of a blog here.
The vast majority of blogs appear to be soapboxes for the
bloggers' opinions. There's nothing wrong with that at all,
although most opinions I've seen are atrociously written and
So if you have strong opinions on breaking stories, blogging
may be perfect for you. However, ask yourself where it fits
into your business plan, and if you figure it out, please
let me know. Perhaps some celebrity lawyers can generate
additional buzz for themselves, but I don't see the
application to most law firms.
6. Inherently Interesting Bloggers
I have been told that there are some bloggers out there who
are just plain fascinating. I confess that I have not found
any. Even with interactive blogs, the quality of the
comments is distressingly banal, filled largely with
statements like "I agree" or "Right on!" or vulgar comments
suggesting that the blogger's argument is somehow linked to
his parentage, or lack thereof.
Do You Have What it Takes?
What can we learn from these examples of successful blogs?
If you are in a narrow area of practice with rapid
developments, a blog can nicely advertise your expertise,
although you do have to worry about giving away the store.
It can, if you think it appropriate for your business plan,
burnish your reputation as an expert in a specific field. If
you are something of a celebrity, people may even enjoy
reading your opinions on developing events.
But if you're like the vast majority of lawyers, you don't
fit into this category. So what advantages does a blog have
for you? Consider the following requirements to produce a
1. You have to produce quality writing under short deadlines.
If the received wisdom that a legal Web site must
continuously be updated is true, it is even truer for blogs.
Blogs with infrequent updates quickly lose readership and
With the advent of the popularity of RSS (see http://blog.technolawyer.com/2005/04/technofeature_r.html
for an explanation of this technology) to inform readers
when there's new material on the blog, the time pressures
and demand for production become even more acute. Make no
mistake about it: you must become a publisher, with all the
challenges that entails, if you want to have a successful
Do you, or does someone at your firm, have the time to make
this kind of commitment?
2. Blogs are a pernicious extension of the already
problematic 24-hour-news cycle, in which information gets
out because of perceived competition or the need to fill
Does anybody in America who's really interested in news
think that news coverage has been improved by a desire to
scoop the other networks by 15 seconds? The recent full-time
coverage of the Terri Schiavo and Michael Jackson cases,
even by commentators who claim to be lawyers, is dispiriting
to anyone interested in something as minor as, say, learning
Placing comparable time pressures on lawyers who are
probably already overworked seems like a recipe for
3. Consider further whether you want to be tied to any
Under time pressure, you may take a position on a legal
matter that could prove embarrassing or harmful in the
future. Rest assured that your opponents will discover
everything you have ever written on the Web, so you'll
either run the risk of being quoted against yourself or
you'll start self-editing, which diminishes the strength and
character of the writing you bring to the blog.
4. Blogs are easily accessible only for the current month.
True, you can facilitate keyword searching by placing a
search engine on your blog. But a successful search requires
the searcher to use exactly the words you used to describe a
particular issue. If their language is different, they won't
If your goal is to get information to potential clients, a
well-organized hierarchical structure like an index or table
of contents is far more effective and helpful. Browsing a
well-organized list of published articles is a lot more user
friendly than asking your readers to search through the
haystack of past blog posts hoping they find something
The real flaw in the rush to legal blogs is that no one has
ever answered the most critical question of time:
What, in legal practice, is so crucial that it needs to get
out immediately? I can't think of much of anything that
actually fits into the business plans of most law firms.
A well-written piece in your firm's library of available
articles, composed without the pressure of immediate
deadlines, will serve your firm far better than following
the blogging crowd and joining the cacophony of loud voices
and empty content.
This article originated in TechnoFeature, a free weekly newsletter
containing in-depth articles written by leading legal technology and
practice management experts, many of whom have become "household names" in
the legal profession. TechnoFeature is part of the TechnoLawyer network. You
can learn more and subscribe here: http://www.technolawyer.com/technofeature.asp
About The Author
Joe Hartley practices law in Santa Monica, CA, http://www.hartley.com, specializing in professional
liability, commercial litigation, and fraud cases. Unlike
many of his brethren at TechnoLawyer, he has not yet been
smart enough to escape from the practice of law. His
attitude toward new technology is a combination of interest
and skepticism, which most of his technophilic friends find
annoying. You can contact Joe via e-mail at
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.
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