Blogging for Lawyers: Getting Started, Keeping It Real
This little primer on blogging offers assistance to get you started selecting blog post topics and choosing unique attention-getting perspectives. The quality of any blog depends entirely on the quality of the content. Here are some tips for getting started and staying focused as you carve out your expertise niche on the web.
1. Blogging Objectives
A good blog should provide useful content for its readers. Blog readers are generally not looking for a thesis or even a full-length news story, but instead are scouting for quick and practical information on a topic that is important to them. You want your readers to bookmark your blog as a “favorite,” link to it from their own Websites and blog-rolls, and/or tweet about it and promote it in social media. In short, you want readers to find it useful enough to revisit and socially propagate. If you are lucky enough to attract readers who are reporters or media members, you want them to feel invited to call you, quote you and interact with you as often as possible. But no matter who your blog attracts, it will enhance the search-engine ranking of your professional Website if properly linked.
2. Target Audiences
Your objective should be to attract readers who are, among other things:
• Clients and potential clients
• Referral sources
• Thought leaders in your field
• Reporters and other media members.
You will find all kinds of debates among experts about ideal lengths for blog posts. The fact is that there is only one ultimate bottom line in blogging — getting people to read and revisit your material. More readers mean more success. Shorter posts appeal to many people, but they need to provide highly useful nuggets of information to be effective. Longer posts can (temporarily) improve search engine rankings with the use of more relevant keywords and content, but they need to “chunked up” into digestible bits for Internet readers, who like sub-heads and bullets, and are not looking for “War and Peace” online. An average of 500 words is better than either 1,000 or 100, but varying lengths are useful and appear frequently on successful blogs. Thus, you will likely benefit from offering many shorter, punchier but powerful posts, along with some longer, richer and deeper posts. The longest post, however, should still be much less than a traditional full-length news or feature story in print (although it could link to one or more full-length white papers or professional/academic analyses/studies).
4. Blogging Topics
The topics should relate in some way to your professional expertise. If your firm handles personal injury cases arising from medical malpractice, defective products, construction accidents and vehicle accidents, then the topics in your blog should related to those practice areas. You can write about the emerging medicine related to common injuries, or the latest court rulings and how they will impact clients, or any number of topics related to your work. Just ask yourself: Is this topic of possible interest to your target audiences and why. That will help you come with a desired angle.
5. Types of Blog Posts
In order to come up with an interesting and varied store of content for your blog, it can be helpful to think of the blog as your own socially interactive press publication. You are the editor, and you get to decide what is timely, practical, intriguing, memorable and useful to readers. Just like an editor, you can vary your content with a number of possible formats, such as:
• The “list” posting, such as “Seven Things to Do ASAP If You Suffer an Accident” or “Five Keys to a Killer Closing Argument.”
• The timely news analysis, which can provide some analysis, from your experienced viewpoint, about the practical impacts or future changes resulting from a recent major news event.
• The practical tips posting, offering some practical advice on a subject related to your field.
• The legal demystification posting, which distills a seemingly complex and difficult aspect of a currently topical legal statute, regulation, or ruling into digestible and understandable bits.
• The big case analysis, which offers your take on what a recent opinion from the Supreme Court or some other authority really means.
• The editorial opinion piece, which could just offer several reasons why you think a piece of legislation or a ruling is very right or very wrong.
• The anniversary story, looking back on the significance of an event that happened 10, 20, 30 or even 100 years ago today.
• A technology story, analyzing the emerging use and impact of key technologies (for e-discovery, trial presentation, etc.) which can give you a reason to tout your own use of cutting-edge technology.
• A “keys to victory” story, in which you offer a brief and practical analysis of why Party X won a recent high-profile case (maybe a case you handled or some other firm handled).
The point here is that the format and approach you take to your blogging is bounded only by your imagination and by the common sense rule that the post must have the right length and the right content to keep readers interested.
6. Where to Find Blog Fodder
Lawyers always ask me: “But where do I find enough information to write about?” This one is actually pretty easy. You can start with looking at what you already write. You probably have speeches, PowerPoint presentations, trial briefs, appellate briefs, client newsletters or alerts, research memos and other written works that offer up plenty of nuggets that could fit one of the potential blog content categories enumerated above. You can also get ideas and information from other blogs, other Websites, trade association publications and other content in the public domain. It is not hard to do; it is just a matter of habit. Take a few minutes each week to go through an inventory list of possible content sources, and soon it will become easy to find material. Also, remember to follow your passions. If you tap into your own interests, you will find a flow or even a gush of topics to cover.
7. Act Quickly
This is perhaps the biggest problem that lawyers have. We tend to be professionally cautious, for the protection of our clients, but we have to reconnect with our impulsive side if we want to be effective as blog-publishers. Nobody wants to read your take on a big headline case seven months after it is newsworthy. Nobody wants to read about a “new” technology that has become old by the time you examine it. In short, nobody wants “yesterday’s news,” especially in an age where news is delivered in real time, 24/7. If something strikes you as noteworthy or important, just take a few minutes to jot down why and that will provide a starting point from which a post can be constructed as soon as possible.
The beauty of a blog is that it is your own publication. In it, you have a chance to cover those stories you always said that someone should cover. You have a chance to add that fresh perspective that you always thought was missing from traditional media. You can give to the world whatever you have to offer, especially that which is uniquely you and cannot come from anyone else.
© 2013 John O. Cunningham. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce or disseminate without permission of the author.
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