It’s tough being the managing partner of Bigg & Mediocre. All of the hard issues land on my desk. We’ve hired a new Chief Marketing Officer, and this guy recommends that we launch some firm-branded blogs. Press reports say that 94 percent of the AmLaw 100 plan to use blogs as part of their marketing efforts. I guess I have to make a decision; what should we do?
I’ve never actually visited a legal blog. I’ve certainly never subscribed to a good one (if there is such a thing, which I doubt). Someone once sent me a link to something called “Above the Law,” but that was just a post discussing our year-end bonuses.
To blog or not to blog: What’s a managing partner to do?
Let me think this through. We already have a web presence. We created a webpage more than a decade ago, and we track traffic to that site. I guess potential summer associates and new associates investigate us there, and the studies say that potential clients often visit firm websites to check the on-line résumés of lawyers they’re thinking of hiring. Creating a webpage may have been a good investment.
But that’s very different from a blog. I was able to put one of my trusted senior partners, Justin Case, at the helm of that webpage, and he controls everything that we publish there. We can avoid saying anything about our associates (except for noting the occasional pro bono victory, which cleverly lures new associates into our fold). We mainly use the webpage to trumpet the great achievements of our partners (did you see on our homepage that Justin coughed up some yellow phlegm last week?) and list all the awards that we receive. That should be plenty to draw readers to our site.
If I let people start blogging, then those people will get us in trouble. As a matter of theory, if my lawyers write an endless number of words, some of those words will offend either existing clients or prospects. And that would be true even if all of the writers were basically models of human perfection.
Lord knows my colleagues here at Bigg & Mediocre do not all approach human perfection. I don’t trust many of my partners to exercise good judgment. That’s why we insist that all draft publications or course materials — even those prepared by partners — be reviewed by a practice leader before we let them out the door. And the associates are even worse. If we let those kids loose on a firm-sponsored blog, who knows what they might say? They’d offend clients; they’d state inaccurate propositions of law; it would be a disaster. Shoot, if we let people blog anonymously, someone might even say something nasty about me.
Maybe I should permit only partners to post on our blog. No, no! That would require partners to do extra work, and I’d have a rebellion on my hands! Maybe I could tell the partners that I want them to recruit associates to work on the blog, but the partners must review the associates’ work. But I don’t really trust all the partners. And whose name would go on the posts? The associates might not want to write a bunch of posts and receive no credit for their work. Not only that — associates are generally younger than partners are, so associates may actually be more adept at this blogging thing than partners are.
I suppose I could let anyone who wants to contribute send the draft post to an editor whom I trust, and we could let the editor screen the content. That would slow us down a little bit — we probably couldn’t be the first on-line source of news about a big, new case that came down — but at least I’d have some quality control. On the other hand, it might be an overwhelming job to have one person read all the draft posts, if we really wanted to publish something every day.
Having an editor at the helm might also cause all of our posts to feel as though they were drafted by committee. Once we screen out anything that could offend anyone, and anything that’s provocative, and anything that’s written in a conversational tone, our blog posts might read like our firm brochures. I don’t know if there’s any truth to that crap about a blog needing a distinctive voice, but big-firm pomposity may not be a voice that attracts readers.
And how would we fuel the damned blog? For years, we tried to publish quarterly newsletters that contained just six articles each — six articles written over the course of three months — and we had to beg and coerce people to be able to fill even those pages. Now we’re going to try to fuel a blog, which (I’m told) requires fresh new content nearly every day? Five articles a week? How in God’s name will we do that? Even if we manage to feed the blogbeast, my lawyers would be spending hours every day writing silly stories to be posted on-line, instead of billing hours. What a waste.
Would all that effort even generate any business for us? I mean, I can see how a personal injury lawyer, who advertises on billboards, might attract new business by publishing a blog: “Ten-car wreck on I-94! Call me!” would probably attract some cases. But that wouldn’t work for us. We’re Bigg & Mediocre: Counsel To The One Percent. Our clients wouldn’t fall for what’s basically on-line advertising.
Is it conceivable that Cravath would attract new business by launching the “International M&A Deals Worth Over $1 Billion” blog? No sophisticated client picks counsel that way.
I guess we do like our lawyers (and our firm) to maintain a relatively high public profile, and I’ve heard that lawyers who blog are sometimes quoted in the press or invited to give talks or write articles or books. That would be good for us, I suppose. But it’s such a headache.
I really don’t know what I’m going to do. This blogging thing’s barely been around for a decade, so maybe it’s just a fad. I think I’ll just table this issue and revisit it a few years from now. Things are going pretty well at the firm this year, and there’s no reason to risk upsetting the apple cart.
Mark Herrmann is the Vice President and Chief Counsel – Litigation at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link). You can reach him by email at [email protected].