– How to Build a Better Law Blog

Are you thinking about a foray into the world of law blogging? If so, you’re far from alone. According to the American Bar Association, there are over 2,000 law blogs now listed in the organization’s Blawg Directory, and the number is growing rapidly.

The benefits of blogging include better search-engine optimization, since frequent updates of attorney sites lead to more attention from Google and its ilk; an appearance of authority due to online punditry; and a combination of push and pull marketing. Blogs are less intrusive than e-mail newsletters and offer an opportunity for a conversation instead of a lecture. They may also showcase attorneys’ intellect or wit, thus personalizing them to potential clients.

Since they’re easy to start and cheap to run, it’s no wonder that so many new law blogs are sprouting. But don’t jump onto the bandwagon with a half-baked blog. If your blog is boring, banal or shamelessly self-promoting, it’ll do you little good and will likely die a slow death.

Instead, focus on creating a blog that is insightful and interesting and represents a resource to the legal community. Here are some guidelines to get you going.

PUT PASSION INTO YOUR PROSE

You should blog because you feel strongly about a topic and want to share your thoughts, not simply because the marketing department told you to. Yes, a blog can be a great marketing tool, but not if it’s a shameless, self-promotional gimmick.

“I’m vehemently against these guys telling every lawyer to blog for marketing purposes,” says Scott Greenfield, a New York-based defense attorney who authors the popular Simple Justice blog. “They’re just going to fill up the blogosphere with more garbage. Some people think they’re trying artfully to promote themselves while talking about some current event. But let me tell you: there’s no artful way to promote yourself.”

The litmus test for whether you should start a blog boils down to passion, says Kevin O’Keefe, CEO of professional blog service LexBlog and a blogger himself. “I think every attorney should consider blogging, [but] if you don’t have a passion for the subject, that shines through.”

Your enthusiasm might align with your area of practice or be completely tangential. For example, Ronald D. Coleman, a commercial litigator with Goetz Fitzpatrick who focuses on copyright, trademark and unfair competition, blogs about those topics on Likelihood of Confusion. On the other hand, John Mesirow writes the popular Legal Juice blog, a humorous take on the lighter side of law that focuses on odd cases and weird laws. In his real life, Mesirow is a partner at Mesirow & Stravitz, a personal-injury firm.

“Over the years I had a file of interesting cases, bizarre statutes, anything law-related that was funny, weird or crazy, and I had the idea to start a blog,” says Mesirow. Although the blog’s main purpose is marketing (it’s cross-linked to his firm’s Web site and has helped boost traffic), he stays true to the mission of the content: “If I think it’s funny, entertaining or interesting I put it up there.”

JOIN IN THE CONVERSATION

Successful bloggers recognize that blogging is a two-way street, says O’Keefe. “You have to understand that [blogging] is engaging in conversation with other thought leaders in that niche,” he says.

Michelle Golden, president and CEO of Golden Marketing and author of the Golden Practices blog, agrees: “If you’re just opining frequently and not participating in the conversation, you might as well just have a Web site.”

Before you publish your first post, says O’Keefe, take the time to listen to what others in your niche of the blogosphere are saying. “If you don’t listen, how do you engage in a conversation? You’d be offending people if you just blurt out content,” he says.

Once you understand the discussion, chime in with information and insights. Link back to other bloggers and give credit where it’s due. And be active on other peoples’ blogs by posting comments and questions.

“Go out and find three or four blogs you really enjoy and respect, read their posts and participate on their blogs,” says Golden.

Finally, don’t ignore your own readers. Respond to comments, solicit feedback and, above all, be approachable. “I have a community that I interact with,” says Greenfield. “I’ve made friends, I’ve made enemies. But I’ve talked to real people in a real way.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE — EVEN IF IT’S ONLY YOU

Golden says it’s important to stay tightly focused and to write to a specific audience, rather than attempting to be a generalist. “Picture the human being that you’re writing a post for,” she suggests. “You’re not always writing for the same person, but you should picture the conversation and write pointedly for that person.”

Sometimes it’s not easy to determine who, exactly, that might be. Walter Olson imagined that his Overlawyered blog would pull an audience of his friends and acquaintances and a cadre of legal policy wonks.

“But you don’t know who your audience really is until you start writing and find out,” he notes. “My readership has a large following among lawyers, but I’ve been surprised to find that a lot of doctors are reading it, as are a lot of people from other countries.”

Some successful bloggers write purely for their own pleasure and don’t worry about pleasing the crowd. Greenfield subscribes to this school of thought. “My philosophy is write what you want, say something, and if anyone gives a damn they’ll read it,” he says. “I have never given a thought to what anyone wants to read. I’d write this if no one read it.”

COMMIT FOR THE LONG HAUL

Many bloggers burst on the scene in a blaze of enthusiasm and then fizzle quickly, unprepared for the never-ending commitment that successful blogging requires. Their posts become dull and repetitive, traffic drops, and suddenly the blog is off the radar.

Olson, who has been writing Overlawyered since July 1, 1999, knows a thing or two about longevity. His blog is widely considered to be the oldest legal blog and is also one of the most popular, regularly surpassing 9,000 unique daily visitors.

“People who force themselves to blog, it’s a sad spectacle,” he says. “You can tell reading it that it’s painful to them.” The key is to find a topic that will sustain you. “You have to think, ‘Boy, there’s so much to write about I can’t imagine getting tired of it anytime soon,'” he says.

“You have to post consistently,” adds Mesirow. “I do it every day. Sometimes that is a drag, but I’m committed to it. You have to be willing to keep current on it or people will stop going. Go all in or just don’t bother.”

Daily posting isn’t a requirement — “In fact, it can be saturation,” says Golden –- but consistency is. Start slowly so you can realistically establish how much time you can commit daily or weekly, but aim for two or three posts a week to build up traffic and an audience.

But if at some point you find the well running dry, it’s better to pull the plug than to keep grinding out stale posts without enthusiasm.

“It’s okay to start something, find out it’s not your thing, and then retire it or turn it off,” says Golden. “You don’t have to kill it –- just suspend it. And let your readers know.”

REVEAL YOUR VOICE AND YOUR IDENTITY

Writing a blog post shouldn’t be like writing a brief. Use contractions and colloquialisms and don’t be afraid to show your personality. “People like to read the way people talk,” says Golden. “Being conversational is preferable, because I think that’s what resonates with people. They are sick of being marketed to, sick of being B.S.’d.”

“I think generally [a blog] should be entertaining,” adds Mesirow. “It’s got to grab your attention. Even really dry things can be made entertaining.”

If you don’t already have an established tone, practice before publishing. Golden advises writing 10 to 15 posts to find your voice before you go live.

And when you do start blogging, try not to hide behind a pseudonym. Greenfield says he understands the rationale behind anonymous blogging — fears of job reprisals, concerns about sharing personal information — but he finds it detracts from credibility. “It makes it very difficult to assess the merit of their opinion,” he says. “If you really feel something, you ought to be willing to put your name behind it.”

That advice goes for law firms as well. “Saying ‘posted by XYZ Law Firm’ is stupid, because the content gets syndicated without a face,” says O’Keefe. Let contributors have an identity, and spread the content wealth around. “Don’t feel you need to have partners only posting,” says Golden. “Let your associates draft the posts and get attribution; let them be the bloggers and have the partners chime in.”

Having multiple contributors to a blog can be helpful if you don’t think you can carry the weight alone, but again, be careful to establish a voice and identify for each blogger.

10 FINAL TIPS

1. Make sure your blog has an RSS feed to allow for subscriptions.

2. Encourage feedback and conversation by inviting people to comment — and by responding. Promote participation by putting up polls and surveys.

3. Use a clean, professional design and template. Minimize noisy add-ons and widgets. And when possible, customize it so you don’t look like everyone else out there.

4. Don’t overdo promotional copy. Instead, link to your bio from an “About” button.

5. Use (non-copyrighted) images whenever possible. The Web is a visual medium and you might as well make use of that. Sites like iStockphoto will sell you a royalty-free image for as little as $1. Others, like Stock.Xchng provide free photos.

6. Get familiar with Movable Type, WordPress or other software — or hire someone to produce your blog for you, if you don’t have the time.

7. Track your traffic. This lets you know how you’re doing overall and which posts strike a chord with your audience. Free tools like Google Analytics can do this for you.

8. Keep posts short and sweet. Your blog isn’t the place for long-winded discourse. Make your points — and move on.

9. Take control of your blog and make it a courteous place for informed discourse. Forget about First Amendment rights and don’t allow visitors to post inflammatory, hateful or obscene comments, either in response to your writing or to other comments.

10. Link to others. This gives your readers more resources, extends the conversation to other bloggers, and helps make you more visible in the blogosphere.

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Full article: http://www.law.com/jsp/legaltechnology/pubArticleLT.jsp?id=1202426527551

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