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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
items or to other blog sites. In the case of Who Blawg. (Blawg is the spelling some-
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/).
computer skills the necessary tools to post
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.
According to Denise Howell, author of the ar- 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- developer to create a website for you.
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-
responses of Tim Goldstein, Larry Bodine, and nately text, and they are updated frequently
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.
Bodine is the head of Larry Bodine Market-
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.
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
Goldstein: “We like to get something on the topic, someone else will claim it before you do.
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.”
Drummond: “I’m not sure how valuable my
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
Typepad, and it’s simply a matter of typing text about HIPAA and needed some very basic infor-
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
too helpful for other attorneys; I want them to
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.
be concerned that I might not have hit all the Bodine: “Yes, for sure. When I get a call from
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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your blog.’ 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.
hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of
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,
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 journalism.”
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 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
Bodine: “In the sense that the laws of libel their legal area. of expertise. And that can only be good for
and copyright law apply, yes. A blogger can business.