7 reasons lawyers should blog
This Sunday, I’ll be giving a talk in Sonoma, California with Karen Koehler, of the
Stritmatter Kessler Whelan law firm. Karen is the award-winning author of The Velvet Hammer legal blog. Our talk will be for the TAOS Group, a group of some of the finest (and busiest) trial lawyers in the country, about the benefits of blogging for lawyers and how Karen and I are able to practice law and still find time to write a blog.
Why did I start blogging?
I started my blog at a time that most lawyers and judges would agree was probably the ugliest in the history of Michigan jurisprudence. The “Gang of Four” controlled the Michigan Supreme Court, and an activist political ideology trumped any respect for precedent and stare decisis. Here’s a good example: “The 38 worst judicial travesties of the Michigan Supreme Court.”
Witnessing decisions such as Kreiner and Cameron, I began to blog. Blogging gave me an outlet to vent some of my frustration watching these legal decisions that I felt were dismantling our law.
And as it turns out, some people began to read it.
Here’s what happened to me. Newspapers and television usually ignore civil cases. But (and I sound like my Fox news-loving father-in-law when I say this) the “mainstream media” did start reading my blog. Newspaper reporters would do internet research on stories and were finding my blogs. Stepping into the legal field, legal newspapers like Michigan Lawyers Weekly were reading my blogs, and some reporters would frequently call me about the cases I was writing about.
Some reporters have occasionally clearly stolen ideas from what I write (no attribution, no link). And I also still have reporters who will call me up and take an hour of my time for a story, but when they run the story, it will be without any quote or link. But on the whole, my blog writing has led to a number of news reporters contacting me, including all of the metro Detroit newspapers and TV stations, and even the New York Times, Bloomberg and NPR.
Of course, now the “mainstream media” seems to have adopted blogs for themselves, and everyone from Michigan Lawyers Weekly to the biggest newspapers all write blogs. But link etiquette among reporters seems to be evolving in a more positive way. I notice far less stealing today.
Lawyer blogging is good for business (but it can be time consuming)
Click on any lawyer website, and you invariably will see one of two things today. The most common is a long-abandoned blog. These were started with the best of intentions by lawyers who were told by their SEO or marketing people that they have to write blogs. Blogging activity began on a daily or near-daily basis with incredibly keyword spammy titles and content, such as, “How to hire the best personal injury lawyer for a car accident in Michigan.” After a few weeks this activity slowed to a crawl, and then stopped.
Nowadays, only crickets.
The second thing we see are blogs that are clearly written for lawyers by non-lawyers. These are short, often again very keyword-targeted blogs that lawyers pay money to law students, freelance journalists or college students to write for them. The most common are $25-35 a pop.
These are largely unhelpful. They are clearly written in a generic way, and they’re usually not state-specific because that takes too much work. These blogs do not go in any depth on the actual legal issues because the people who are writing them don’t have deep subject matter legal knowledge.
My own 2 cents on why people go to attorney websites
I am a trial lawyer. I am NOT a lawyer-turned-marketer or heaven-forbid, an SEO expert. And there is nothing so annoying as a lawyer who goes around acting like he is an SEO expert. But here’s my own 2 cents on how attorney websites and legal blogs work. I’ve found there are two big reasons.
The first reason is that people go to lawyer blogs because they want to find the answer to something. Yes, there are still many people out there who will call a lawyer on a billboard or a face on a bus. And television clearly still works. The 800-pound gorillas in each big city aren’t going anywhere.
But people are increasingly more sophisticated, and the same people who will get on “Consumer Reports” and do research before buying a television or a toaster are now using the internet to find answers to their questions.
Or increasingly turning to the internet to find a lawyer.
That leads me to reason No. 2. I’ve also found that many people want to do their own research on who can best help them with their potential problem or legal question. This is where blogs for lawyers lead to business. If – it’s a big “if” – you can establish your own credibility and your subject-matter expertise, people will actually seek you out.
That strikes me as being a lot more desirable than being just one more lawyer on television or on a billboard.
The key is you actually have to have something to say, and you have to have the credibility to say it. In a world full of generic and generically crappy lawyer blogs, taking the time to write in-depth about an area of law where you’ve demonstrated subject-matter expertise is the only way to distinguish yourself from the hundreds of lawyers dropping thousands of dollars on this as an SEO-driven strategy to “get more business.”
Wearing the white hat
Good eventually does triumph over evil. Or at least it’s starting to in the world of legal blogging.
Things are starting to finally shake out in the world of lawyer marketing. The lawyers who had overly-optimized legal websites and were part of transparent link-farms with every other lawyer who used a particular SEO marketing company seem to be more a thing of the past, as Google continues to issue updates named after cute animals like Pandas and Penguins. I’d show you a few of the more egregious examples of legal blogs that are clearly gaming the system, but I don’t want to give them the link.
This shakeup is a good thing. It rewards the lawyers who are working hard to produce quality content that’s valuable and actually benefits the user.
Sweat equity versus writing big checks
This next part may sound familiar to anyone who has read the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.
A lot of the success that my own website and legal blog has had simply came about because I came along at the right place and at the right time. Before the internet and legal blogs, the options for lawyers who wanted to market themselves were generally limited. Lawyers could do television, Yellow Pages and billboards, as well as old-fashioned networking and lunches.
When it came to buying television and Yellow Page ads, you didn’t have to be a good lawyer. You just had to write a big check. Spending the most money to buy the double-spread page ad in the Yellow Pages worked for an entire generation of lawyers.
But with blogging, you can compete with the 800-pound gorillas in your market. In fact, you can rank higher than them. Here’s the key: It takes sweat equity, not money. Writing big checks won’t guarantee you top rankings in the results the way that it will put you front and center on the Yellow Pages, or give you the most airtime during the late-afternoon talk shows.
This is what has really changed my own legal practice. When I started blogging, we were a law firm that was nearly 100% dependent on other lawyers referring us automobile accident cases. We did no advertising. Almost all of our cases came from other lawyers, or from happy clients. Now, thanks to my blogging, we have a third referral source. This is all the people who are turning to the internet when looking for answers to questions they have. And it’s the people who actually want to do research before they hire a lawyer.
Blogging has leveled the playing field. I came about at the right place and at the right time.
Yes, the legal mills and big TV advertisers and even some of the billboard lawyers will still get their share, but increasingly the lawyers who promise one thing to people and deliver another – the lawyers who promise a million dollars for every whiplash case and then settle these cases for peanuts, and the lawyers who never return any phone calls – will get hammered by negative online reviews.
These reviews will be from the angry clients who now, for the first-time ever, actually have an outlet to use to vent about their experience. Unhappy clients now get on Avvo, Google, and Yelp to tell others how they were treated. And consumers today are increasingly turning to the web and doing their own research (including reading reviews), before they hire a lawyer.
Even legal consumers.
The good lawyers will be rewarded by the internet. People will use it as a valuable tool to really find the top legal experts in a given subject area. And increasingly, the bad lawyers will be punished, just as it should be.
Of course, the internet isn’t all roses. It has also led to some of the real ugliness I see today in the legal profession where personal injury lawyers in Michigan and in many other states go online to buy police reports of people who have been in car accidents. These lawyers then mail out solicitation letters, or have chiropractors or third-parties that they’re clearly conspiring with go out and contact these accident victims.
Intangible benefits of legal blogging
Daniel Boorstin, the former librarian of Congress, wrote “I write to discover what I think . . . After all, the bars aren’t open that early.” Writing about cases forces me to think. It is an active process, not a passive one. Thinking about how it will affect my own legal practice and the legal community forces you to really know what you’re reading about. It does help if you actually have something of value to say about it.
Writing is still the best way to become a better writer. As Malcolm Gladwell puts it, it takes “10,000 hours” to be an expert. I certainly am no expert yet, but I am a better writer today than when I started writing this blog.
And while my definition of hell is still spending a weekend writing a response to a motion that most of the judges I know will never read, I also know that many people are reading these blogs.
My phone is ringing because of it.
The secret of writing a good legal blog?
It’s a cliché, but content is still king. No one will read you if you have bad content. No one will talk about you (Seth Godin) and no one will share you on social media if you have bad content. No one will link to you if you have bad content.
Therefore, if you have bad content, no links and no one is sharing or talking about you, no one will ever find you.
Writing about original content, analyzing and writing hopefully insightful criticism of the new legal cases – and at times expanding to other topics that are interesting to me, such as how Walmart is defending the Tracy Morgan crash or the legal implications of Google Glass or an increasingly elderly population that is still behind the wheel – has worked for me.
Do watch out for trolls
I still encourage reader comments, but increasingly I find that crazy people, people with agendas (you should see the comments I get when I write about the bills to “reform” Michigan’s No Fault insurance laws from the shills and lobbyists), certain special interest groups or just collections of people who share interests, are making it increasingly difficult to engage with readers and respond to comments.
For example, my law firm’s Facebook page got carpet-bombed by a group of angry truckers once when one of them took issue with a legal seminar tip I gave on a video that was posted online. I had suggested that police and attorneys get in the habit of looking into the cabs of tractor-trailers because tens of thousands of truckers are using illegal drugs and alcohol these days. Well, one trucker didn’t like that, and he got all of his Facebook trucker friends to say negative things on our law firm’s Facebook page.
Note – Facebook customer service is really, really bad. I showed them the post of the trucker who said “let’s go over to this lawyer’s Facebook page and leave all of these terrible reviews,” and even though not one of these negative reviews was from an actual client, Facebook customer service has so far proved useless.
My experience with trolls is probably not unique. Beware of the trolls, for you certainly will encounter your share as you blog and as more people read what you have to write.
So, how much time does it really take to write a legal blog?
As to how much time it truly takes, it really isn’t quite that bad. For example, I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon. I just got off the phone with Karen Koehler, who is at the airport on her way down to Nashville to visit her daughter. Karen and I spent a few minutes catching up and then a few more talking about how we would divide up our presentation to the Taos Group on Sunday.
I hung up with Karen at about 3:15, and we both said it would be an interesting idea to write blogs for our seminar presentation and use the actual blogs as examples during our presentations. It’s now 5:15. That time included taking three phone calls (including one from my wife about what I’m going to pick up for dinner tonight), and one interruption from someone coming into my office to ask a question. That’s how long it took me to write this post (and that’s also why I prefer to write in the mornings when things are still quiet).
Still, two hours isn’t too bad.
Some days take longer than others. But the more I write, the faster I become. It takes me far less time to write a blog post today than it used to take me several years ago. And I like to think the quality has gotten better, too.
Blogging gives me something to do when everyone is sleeping. Blogging gives me something to do on those mornings when I’m at the office at 5:00 a.m. I try to write for at least an hour every morning while things are still quiet, and before court or depositions start. When my children were younger, I always used to come in on Saturdays and I would write while the phones were quiet. Saturdays are getting harder as my kids get older and weekends go from my time in the office to catch up on work and get ahead, to a day of driving my kids to soccer and baseball games.
But do blogs work for lawyers?
It brought you here, didn’t it?
And I didn’t have to drop a few million dollars on the Metro Detroit television market to get you here either.