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CAREER COUNSELOR'S CORNER

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To Blog, or Not to Blog? [By Cary J. Griffith] A Minneapolis lawyer played a small part in igniting the firestorm over CBS’ reporting on President Bush’s National Guard duty. How did he do it? He made reference to another blogger’s story on his own blog. Web logs, or blogs, are playing an increasingly important part in the media life of the Internet. But they’re not for everyone, and their power is also their curse. Understanding how Scott Johnson’s blog played a role in CBS’ story can give you a glimpse into blog potential. It can also make you keenly aware of the blog’s penultimate caveat: reader beware.

What’s a Blog?

ticle “Law Meets Blog: Electronic Publishing

the value of blog information is suspect.

A blog is an Internet site where users can

Comes of Age,” “when applied to the legal

While blog content can sometimes change

record and publish virtually any type of

field, [blogs] present an irresistible channel

the course of history, it more often merely

information at the speed it takes to key it

for moving beyond the realm of operational

takes the pulse of history and documents its

in. Blogs can consist of long-winded diary

details into that of informed perspective.”

heart rate.

entries in which John Doe regurgitates the

Again, it’s worth stressing that blogs only

minutiae of his daily life. They can also be

provide readers with informed perspectives

Are Blogs Good for the Legal Business?

informative, breezy, and quick witted and

if their content is rendered by an informed

In March 2003, the ABA Journal ran an article

provide users with links to interesting news

author.

featuring the phenomena of blogs - Lawyers Who Blawg. (Blawg is the spelling some-

items or to other blog sites. In the case of the practice of law, they can be instructive

Understanding How Blogs Work

times used to differentiate legal-oriented

and profoundly educational. They can also be

In effect, think of a blog as a turning wheel

blogs from all others.) That article featured

chock full of garbage.

of information maintained by one person,

four bloggers: Martin Schwimmer (Trade-

or a small cadre of people. These people

mark Blog - http://trademark.blog.us/blog/),

The beauty of a blog is ease and immediacy.

are usually monomaniac in their interests

Tom Goldstein (SCOTUSBlog - http://www.

Generally speaking, if you can type, you can

and perspectives. They can publish content

goldsteinhowe.com/blog/), Denise Howell

publish a blog. Web-publishing applications

the nanosecond it occurs to them, or within

(Bag and Baggage - http://bgbg.blogspot.

like Microsoft’s FrontPage and Macromedia’s

moments of finding relevant information on

com/), and Howard Bashman (How Appealing

DreamWeaver can give anyone with modest

the Web.

- http://legalaffairs.org/howappealing/).

content to the Web. Third-party websites

Enter Scott Johnson, an attorney and Senior

Schwimmer’s site specializes in trademark

can also assist would-be Web loggers with a

Vice President with TCF National Bank.

law. Tim Goldstein keeps his finger on the

process for making themselves heard. These

Johnson is a blogger who co-authors a blog

pulse of the U.S. Supreme Court. Denise

blogs often become rapid-fire publishing

which is unabashedly conservative in its po-

Howell covers appellate and intellectual

platforms in which users can vent on the

litical perspective. In the aftermath of CBS’

property law. And Howard Bashman tracks

day’s activities, the political process, or a

story on President Bush’s military service,

appellate law issues. While the preceding

particular judge’s most recent decisions.

another conservative website immediately

generally summarizes the overall subject

questioned the authenticity of the documents

focus of these blogs, part of their charm

In the practice of law, blogs are usually sub-

Dan Rather used to support his case. Soon

is the personal and sometimes whimsical

ject specific, devoted to intellectual property

thereafter, Johnson posted the conservative

nature of their commentary. While they

law or appellate practice, for instance. In its

website’s opinions. Not long after that, the

almost always post information relevant to

purest form, the blog’s author (also known

infamous Drudge Report linked to the story

their given subject areas, they’re not averse

as a blogger) maintains and publishes an

on Johnson’s blog, and 250,000 hits later,

to offering opinions and links to a wide range

informative dialog about whatever he or she

the sudden surge in site traffic temporarily

of information on a variety of subjects.

deems important. Law blogs can provide

crashed his site.

readers with a current picture of their small

The story of Johnson’s blog demonstrates

All four of the lawyers were quick to point out

corner of the legal universe—at least from

the strengths and weaknesses of the

that blogs are a substantial amount of work

the blogger’s perspective.

medium. On one hand, information can be

and don’t necessarily translate into retained

posted as quickly as plebeian observers can

clients.

computer skills the necessary tools to post

According to Denise Howell, author of the ar-

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cut, paste, type, and post. On the other hand,

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Blogger Comments

a place I could send folks to get some back-

In fact, we questioned several bloggers about

ground and then ask them to call me if they

the direct benefits of their blogs and the

still had questions or had different questions.

3. They are highly visible. Search engines rank

amount of work required to produce them. The

It evolved from there.”

blogs highly because they contain predomi-

developer to create a website for you.

nately text, and they are updated frequently

responses of Tim Goldstein, Larry Bodine, and Jeff Drummond were particularly illustrative of

Lawcrossing: “Why did you start blogging?

– two things that attract search engines. And

some of the more practical aspects and ben-

Pleasure? Business? Both?

reporters love blogs. This week alone I’ve been

efits/detriments of hosting and maintaining a

Goldstein: “Pure business. It was an attempt

interviewed by the Fulton County Report in

blog. Tim Goldstein is a partner with Goldstein

to cement our credibility as Supreme Court

Atlanta and Chicago Lawyer magazine because

& Howe and a Stanford law professor. Larry

counsel.”

the reporters saw something in my blog.

ing, a firm specializing in helping lawyers

Bodine: “Business. The blog is a superior way

4. The topic can be about anything. A blog can

market their services. Bodine also produces

to communicate, and it has developed a follow-

simply recount a person’s thoughts, view-

the well-known Professional Marketing Blog

ing. People even post comments and questions

points, and news. They can also be used for

(http://blog.larrybodine.com). Jeff Drummond

about entries in my blog. I get about 400 visits

firm announcements, client newsletters, legal

is a partner with Jackson Walker and head of

a week, which is not bad for a niche website

updates, and answers to common client ques-

the Dallas office’s healthcare practice. He also

on professional marketing. I just checked and

tions.

publishes the HIPAA Blog (http://hipaablog.

got four visits in the last hour! I comment on

blogspot.com/).

news I run across, blast out opinions from time

5. They give the author instant credibility and

to time, and include links to other interesting

expert status on the topic.

Bodine is the head of Larry Bodine Market-

Lawcrossing: “How often do you update your

online destinations. I love to write, so I blog for

blog?”

pleasure as well.

6. If you fail to set up a blog on your special topic, someone else will claim it before you do.

Goldstein: “We like to get something on the blog every day. That’s hard for the three

Drummond: “I started blogging for business

The attention and traffic go to the early adopt-

months a year that the Supreme Court is out

purposes because it was a good place for me to

ers, not the lawyers who wait to decide to join

of session. Then we focus on links to news

put my ‘HIPAA notebook’ of interesting, recur-

the trend a year later.”

stories.”

ring background noise.”

Bodine: “At least once a week, sometimes

Lawcrossing: “What’s the value of your blog to

blog is to other attorneys. I think the links

more. It takes me only about 10 minutes. I use

attorneys?”

would be quite helpful, and if they knew nothing

into an online box and clicking ‘save’ to post it

Goldstein: “We hope to be the one place all the

mation, it might be useful. Also, if they happen

online. What I love about Typepad is that I can

courtwatchers go.”

to be looking for information on something

blog on the road. I can be anywhere, log on to

Bodine: “For lawyers, there are six compelling

that’s a hot topic I’ve recently hit on, they might

the Web, and update my blog.”

reasons to have a blog:

find it useful. Of course, I don’t want to make it

Drummond: I try to update my blog around

1. They are easy to set up and use. Simply go

use me, not use my knowledge to take clients

once a week, more often if there’s something

to Blogger at www.blogger.com or TypePad at

away from me!”

to report and I’m feeling ambitious, less often

http://www.typepad.com/ and download the

when I’m busy. It’s hard to achieve a balance. I

software. Once the program is installed, you

Lawcrossing: “Has your blog ever resulted in

started the blog to give me a place to put gen-

can simply type in the text of your message in

getting you clients or more business?”

eral information and answers to common ques-

an online box. You don’t need to know HTML

Goldstein: “Not that I know of. Our static

tions or issues. It seemed like I was answering

code. To put your message online, just click

website has been much more successful in that

the same questions for several different clients

on the appropriate button. The software will

respect.”

on several different occasions, and I began to

select a Web address for you.

Drummond: “I’m not sure how valuable my

about HIPAA and needed some very basic infor-

Typepad, and it’s simply a matter of typing text

too helpful for other attorneys; I want them to

Bodine: “Yes, for sure. When I get a call from

be concerned that I might not have hit all the points when I answered the question the fifth

2. They are cheap. Some offer a month’s free

someone who wants to hire me for a project,

time as I did when I answered it the first time.

trial of the software, and you can purchase

typically it’s someone out of the blue. I always

I found myself saying, “Did I already say that?”

the program for about $40 or subscribe at $5

ask how they found me. On several occasions

on too many occasions. So I started the blog as

a month. This is much cheaper than hiring a

my new clients said, ‘I liked what you said in

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CAREER COUNSELOR'S CORNER

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make defamatory falsehoods and will risk

Being perpetually forced to publish new

being sued; so will a blogger who plagiarizes

information makes most bloggers incredibly

It works for lawyers too. There’s a lawyer

or steals other people’s writing. If you blog

knowledgeable in their particular areas of

called J. Craig Williams, at a five-lawyer firm

for illegal purposes or for the transmission of

expertise. For instance, Howard Bashman

in Newport Beach, CA, who began a blog

material that is unlawful, harassing, libelous,

is generally recognized as an expert in the

called MayItPleaseTheCourt.net in August

invasive of another’s privacy, abusive, threat-

area of appellate practice. Similarly, Martin

2003. He said his postings, which focus on

ening, harmful, vulgar, obscene, or tortious

Schwimmer’s blog has made him a recognized

his particular area of law, have brought him

-- you’re asking for trouble.”

expert on trademark law.

legal business. He was covered in a New York

Drummond: “I think there are two primary

And finally, the daily practice of authoring a

Times article about all the business he got

blawg problems: ‘feeding the beast,’ and

blog sharpens invaluable research and writing

from the blog.”

‘goldilocks.’ Blogs are a great way to deal

skills, which is perhaps one of the reasons

with a legal issue that is new, complex, dif-

Tim Goldstein considers authoring a blog a

Drummond: “I don’t know if I’ve gotten clients

ficult to get your arms around or where the

“win-win” situation.

directly from the blog, but it’s good for client

information is spread out over many sources

retention. And it certainly burnishes my cre-

or constantly changing. The problem is that if

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Blogger?

dentials regarding HIPAA issues to write the

the issue is complex, you have to really keep

For now, if you’re contemplating penning a

blog. I do get a comment from someone out in

up on the blog to cover the issue. It can be

blog to increase your firm’s market share or

the world somewhere about every other week,

a ton of work, and you can feel compelled to

attract new clients, reconsider. Blogging is

either tipping me off to an issue, responding

keep handing out the free ice cream, even to

incredibly hard work. Perhaps more impor-

to something I’ve written, questioning what

the point of letting paying work suffer. Same

tantly, it takes a very special person to be a

I’ve said, or agreeing with me, often with an

if it’s on a topic that’s constantly changing.

successful blogger. First and foremost, you

anecdote of their own to add. But it is a good

And it’s too much work to have a legal blog on

should be interested in writing. If you’re a

marketing tool, even if indirectly.”

too big an area or on too small an area. The

frustrated novelist, poet, or journalist, you

blawg target must be not too big and not too

have a good start.

Lawcrossing: “Asked another way, has your

small. For me, HIPAA is a ‘just right’ topic for

When Howard Bashman was 16 years old, he

blog served in part as a marketing tool for

a blawg, at least for the minimal amount of

wanted to be a journalist. For family reasons,

your services?”

effort I want to be required to put into it.”

he ultimately decided to become a lawyer,

your blog.’

hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of

Goldstein: “Not directly. But it has continued

but, he notes, “my first interest was always

to help keep our name out there.”

Other Blogging Benefits

Bodine: “I look at my blog as a potent item

Like it or not, the practice of law is a word-

in my arsenal of marketing weapons. It’s

intensive business. Reading and writing are

Denise Howell’s college career started at

like the chain gun in the video game ‘Doom’

the mainstays of the job. The better you are

UCLA, where she studied English and wrote a

-- you want to have one. I also do a lot of

at both, the more likely you are to have a suc-

departmental honors-earning thesis on T.S.

public speaking, writing. [I] run websites, two

cessful legal practice.

Eliot’s poetry.

Listservs, and am Regional Director of the

journalism.”

Larry Bodine enjoys writing.

PM Forum, an association of 3,000 in-house

From the blogs we reviewed for this article,

marketers in the law accounting and consult-

almost every attorney-blogger noted several

While at the very least an interest in writing is

ing fields. Each of these makes a difference,

fringe benefits of authoring a blog. First, the

probably one of the more important require-

but the blog is the easiest one to use.”

constant requirement of publishing relevant

ments, an avid interest in news of all kinds is

information forces bloggers to become news

also important.

Lawcrossing: “From your perspective, do

hounds. Not only do most bloggers rabidly

blogs have a downside?”

consume all sorts of general news from gen-

While blogging may not be the most efficient

Goldstein: “I can’t think of one. The materi-

eral news sources (newspapers, television,

or best way for lawyers to market their ser-

als we put up are closely related to the work

and especially the Internet), they also con-

vices, given the rapid pace of today’s chang-

we’re already doing. So it’s a win-win.”

sume massive amounts of information from

ing legal environment, a good blog can say

publishing sources of particular relevance to

volumes about an attorney and his or her level

their legal area.

of expertise. And that can only be good for

Bodine: “In the sense that the laws of libel and copyright law apply, yes. A blogger can

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business.


To Blog, or Not to Blog?