Blogging is not something I expected to make part of my weekly routine as a litigator. Yet here I am, writing a post every week that relates in some way to my own experience of having moved “from Biglaw to boutique.” This post marks my 40th post on Above the Law, and for several reasons, I remain grateful and look forward to the opportunity to write a post every week, dead weeks included.
If your goal is to build credibility regarding your expertise in a certain area, then blogging — or tweeting, for that matter — about that topic is a helpful start. Blogging about a certain topic is in some ways the online equivalent of presenting a seminar or CLE course.
Generally, the benefit of presenting a seminar is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, if you give a seminar, each attendee is a prospective client. But more than that, you also help build a reputation as someone knowledgeable about your topic.
Legal blogging works the same way. If you consistently blog about a certain topic, then you have a good platform by which you can establish credibility as an expert in the field. If you tweet and re-tweet about your topic, then someone searching Twitter is more likely to come across your name and assume you have expertise in the area. I know from experience that valuable contacts and potential clients actually do consult Twitter for lawyers to hire….
And of course, presumed expertise aside, blogging is also a way to increase your internet exposure generally. For example, my blogging on this site doesn’t do much to establish my expertise in any substantive area beyond small firm management and practice. Nonetheless, this blog does increase my exposure generally and even has led to valuable clients and numerous quality contacts.
Whether you write about a substantive area of law, practice management, or virtually nothing at all, you nonetheless can gain exposure. Sometimes exposure is a valuable end in itself. For example, Paris Hilton became famous mostly just for being famous, and she has parlayed her (over)exposure into a valuable brand and bona fide success.
To be sure, I agree with others who are skeptical about paying for search engine optimization. I don’t think you can effectively fake being popular for very long. It seems to me that the best way to rise in the Google ranks is to become someone who others think is worthy of mention. If you Google “best hockey player,” you’ll quickly be directed to Wayne Gretzky, and I’m pretty sure he never paid an SEO advisor to get that result.
Offering original content strikes me as somewhat more genuine in that regard. If you consistently publish your writing, then you will be establishing an actual, authentic internet presence instead of paying someone to create the illusion of a presence.
But there also are downsides to blogging. Writing a quality piece, even if short, can be quite time consuming. This time commitment can be pretty challenging if you also are maintaining a full case load and engaging in other business development efforts.
Often I have heard a blogger remark that coming up with an interesting topic is the hardest part of blogging. To some extent, substantive blogging can be easier in this regard, because you can always write about the latest reported case in your subject area. But if your focus is too narrow, even that approach may lead to long stretches where it is challenging to generate content.
Unfortunately, writing about a particular topic to establish credibility also is risky. If you are going to write a blog on a substantive topic, you better get it right. That means, in addition to all the other work involved, you also need to meticulously research your topic. One of the reasons I eschew giving substantive legal advice on this site is because I think that is just asking for trouble.
Traditionally — to the extent that word even makes sense here — blogging was intended to engage the audience. A blog was not so much a lecture as it was a dialogue between writer and readers. On this site and others, certain commenters gained even more notoriety and, ultimately, popularity than the authors who they castigated. When others are forgotten, Bonobo_Bro and The_Haterade are not.
If you post something to the interwebs, and invite comments from the ubiquitous Guest, you also open yourself up to criticism both foul and fair. Throwing stones is easy when you are anonymous; bloggers know all too well that anonymity can bring out the worst in people. And when you’re talking about lawyers, “the worst” can be pretty bad indeed. You have to have a pretty thick skin.
Quitting once you have started blogging can also be a problem. Many law firm websites launch with “firm news” or some other dynamic-content section. This is dangerous. If the firm runs out of content, or becomes too busy to maintain that section, it can look bad. If you go to the “firm news” section of a website and the last entry is from three years ago, it might seem like the firm is stagnant or obsolete.
Ultimately, as with all things, I think you have to have a passion for the project for it to work. If you are blogging only as a means to the end of exposure or business generation, you will not succeed. You have to love the work and blogging has to be its own reward.
Even though blogging is time consuming, I love to write and I use this forum to indulge myself. For my own amusement, I sometimes write with dual meanings, or with multiple agendas, or, as in this post, enforce a certain arbitrary structure on my writing, etc. That’s also why, for example, I insert favorite song lyrics into every post. Blogging can be useful in a number of ways, but to succeed, first and foremost, you need to keep yourself entertained.
Tom Wallerstein lives in San Francisco and is a partner with Colt Wallerstein LLP, a Silicon Valley litigation boutique. The firm’s practice focuses on high tech trade secret, employment, and general complex-commercial litigation. He can be reached at email@example.com.