Keeping up in a ‘blogal’ world
by Nicole M. Mundt
Amidst the billable hour requirements, client development, contract negotiations, hours of research, court appearances, and, if they’re lucky, a life outside the office, today’s lawyers are finding that a presence in the legal community might also mean a presence in the social media scene. The Internet, e-mail, Facebook, iPhones, BlackBerrys and the other facets of today’s technology have altered the way we bank, read the news, listen to music, take pictures, write, talk, and think. Today, it seems social media has infiltrated every aspect of our existence, and as more business is conducted over the Internet, lawyers have been quick to learn the necessity of staying in the online game. Being lawyers, they of course want to know the rules.
Although there are very few actual "rules" to legal blogging, there are quite a few considerations. On one end of the blogging spectrum are those no-nonsense attorneys who view the blogosphere as a place to cast their marketing nets. These attorneys spend hours poring over their websites and tailoring the perfect language to attract clients to their practices. They post just enough legal advice to ensure their site’s visitors realize they are in over their heads and will opt to pick up the phone (or send an e-mail via the very convenient links conspicuously posted in at least 17 different locations) to contact the attorney.
It becomes important to ascertain how much blog-legal (or blogal) information is too much information. After all, he who gets the milk for free is less inclined to buy the cow. Given that lawyers typically hate giving free milk, it is indeed a delicate balance of being helpful but not too helpful. The lawyers on the marketing-only end of the spectrum are challenged with creating a trusting relationship with their blog readers while also maintaining a professional persona. Their audience is those clients who are doing their own research before caving in, calling, and paying an attorney. It’s almost as though these marketing-minded attorneys are sitting in the legal self-help aisle at Barnes & Noble—and it works; it works well.
At a recent Denver gathering with Kevin O’Keefe, a legal blogger extraordinaire who runs the well-known instructional blog Real Lawyers Have Blogs (at kevin.lexblog.com), more than 20 local attorney-bloggers showed up to swap tips, stories, and sites. Of those using blogging as a marketing method, most boasted a high rate of success; one reported attracting one-third of his clients from blog hits. For this attorney and others, however, the question became how much personality should be included on the blog?
Do clients care if their prospective lawyer has interests other than criminal defense? Should clients find out that the corporate finance attorney is also supermom, but struggles with the balance of career and family and misses her friends? Or does revealing these personality traits make the attorney appear more human and less lawyer? Or contrarily, does a strictly professional blog come across as cold, disconnected, or even misleading? In essence, the question is, would clients like us more (and hire us) if they knew us personally?
Without addressing the client’s preference, the answer here is based not just on the individual lawyer’s personality but also on how good that lawyer is at conveying his or her personality online. So, like most things in law, "it depends." For many attorneys, it’s safest to leave personality out of it all together and strictly report the facts. The risk, of course, is that you attract clients with equally little to no apparent personality.
For other attorneys, those "funny lawyers," legal blogging is all about portraying a personality they would otherwise be asked to leave at home. These lawyers publish blogs that thumb their noses at the legal profession and provide social commentary on problem clients, dysfunctional law firms, and hard-to-believe cases. Generally, the funny lawyers fall into one of two camps: those who love their jobs so much they go home at the end of a long day and blog about it, and those who resent the profession with every fiber of their being and can no longer keep it to themselves. Either way, the blog posts often are funny accounts of life as a lawyer, based partly in truth, and almost always on hearsay.
These funny lawyers blog to entertain themselves and other lawyers more than to recruit new clientele. However, the caution here is the same as it is in most other social media arenas: be careful what you say on the Internet. Few people want to see someone airing dirty laundry on Facebook, and seemingly private personal e-mails can become public in a matter of key strokes. No matter how safe and secure the anonymous lawyer thinks his words might be, he must be comfortable with co-workers, partners, clients, and judges reading his work. The (modified) childhood rule applies here: If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all...but if you must say it, then don’t make your blog public. Most blog engines ask the blogger to choose between displaying posts for all the Internet-world to see, or limiting accessibility to only "invited" visitors. The invited-only option allows bloggers to give friends and/or family access to the blog, while excluding those who may find some of its content offensive. If a blogger has no intention of marketing himself through his blog, the privacy option is likely the safest avenue.
Legal blogging runs the gamut from the super-serious to the tongue-in-cheek, and there are blogger-lawyers (blawgers) of all shapes and sizes. At the end of the day, most are making it up as they go along. You can find more information on lawyers who blog by simply logging on to Google and searching "lawyer," "blog," and whatever other legal or non-legal specifics your heart desires. Whether you need a lawyer or just a good laugh, chances are you will find a blog that gives you what you’re looking for.