05 November 2004

How to Get Your Blawg Going (Practitioner)

Okay, I think anyone who has had a blog that has survived a while is every so often required to write a post about how ya'll out there can Start Your Very Own Blog. I'm not sure why; maybe it's in some adhesion contract I signed with Blogger or Site Meter. I just know we must - so here's my latest: An Aid to a Practitioner Who Wants to Blawg.

1. The Purpose: The very first thing you must realize is that blogging will not make you money. It's a hobby or a way to build a little prestige or an addendum to your website which will make it a little more interesting. It's just not going to work as a marketing tool. Of course, there will be some exceptions but this is the general rule. YOU WILL NOT BE THE ONE WHO PROVES THE EXCEPTION - don't fool yourself.

2. Links: (a) I get emails from other practitioner (and others) all the time telling me how they've set up a brand new blog about [insert specialty here] and asking me to link to them. My almost unwavering response is not to respond. I might make an exception if the site has something to do with criminal law. Nevertheless, my experience is that most of these sites are dead within a week, maybe two.

(b) The best way to get linked is to build your blog, link to other sites, and then keep adding content. Use the links on your blog to go to other blogs rather than getting the info thru some sort of XML or Atom collector. Most of us have some sort of tracking program on our site and will notice you; every week I discover another site this way. If your site is being updated often and the content is something I wouldn't mind associated with my blawg you will most likely get a link.

(c) Note that this will probably not work on some of the larger blogs such as Instapundit or How Appealing which get thousands of hits each day. You may want to ask them to link to your site. But, for goodness sake, do two things. First, make a track record for yourself; wait until you have been blogging consistently for a few months so that if they check your site they will see an ongoing operation. Second, send a sample of a post, preferably that day's post (and, as a matter of common sense, you might want to make sure that it is a good day or a good week as far as your posting is concerned). Don't expect success in this endeavor. I imagine Professor Reynolds and Mr. Bashman get swamped with these kinds of requests; if they linked to everybody who has linked to them there'd be no room for content.

(d) Remember that a link from someone is a privilege. Just because you linked to a site or wrote something you think is pertinent to that particular site does not mean it is in any way obligated to link to your site (unless it addresses your post). Everyone will have their own criteria for linking and apply it to your site. For instance, there is probably a reason that I am linked by Southern Appeal and not by TalkLeft. IMHO, the fact that someone does not link to you is not even a reason to remove them from your link list. If you put them on the list it should be because they have the qualities you want in blogs to which you link.

3. Content: (a) As a practitioner you will not be able to keep up (in sheer amount of content) with law students or law professors - get over it. What most of us bring to the table is the keen eye of someone who has actually been in the trenches and the black humor developed while engaged in (semi) mortal combat with that SOB, lying, cheating, non-law-knowing attorney on the other side (Who WON. How the BLEEP did he win? He must be married to the judge's daughter or something. 'Cuz he sure as heck had the law all wrong. Didn't even know the single larceny doctrine existed - much less what it meant. AAaaarrggg!!!).

(b) There are different strategies in blogging. I try to post something every day but on some days it will be a few links to interesting news stories or a few links to interesting posts on other blogs about criminal matters. Sometimes I even go off topic and do some silly things like post pictures of my critters but I try to keep on topic at least 80% of the time. Others handle this in a different way by posting when they feel they can add quality content. However, if you want to keep people coming back and choose to blog on occasion your posts best be very good. Some can pull this off. Not sure I could.

Assuming that you're going to go the daily post route accept the fact that your entries will be uneven. On one day I might be blogging about the absolute constitutional shambles which is the Virginia jury system and the next I might post a three sentence entry making fun of some judge in South Dakota for ruling that jaywalking is a third strike. Even if you haven't any clients or court appearances it is just natural to be somewhat uneven. If you do have clients and court appearances (and perhaps even *gasp* a social life) there will be days and maybe even weeks when you just don't have the time to do a long, insightful post. Just make sure there is a little value added. Often my posts are a sentence long smart-aleck comment with the link in the sentence. I can live with that. If you are going to both practice and blog you need to be able to develop some sort of similar "quick post" strategy.

(c) For Pete's Sake, if you find content on another blog give it credit and a link in the post. I repeat - For Pete's Sake, if you find content on another site give it credit and a link in the post.

Now, if it is a story that's everywhere (OJ found not guilty) then maybe you could pass on this if the article (not the post itself) triggered something you want to post about. However, if the post found an article which is original (OJ found not guilty because space aliens did it) then you need to credit the blog which found it, even if you write about something totally different. Don't ever, ever take content from a blog without crediting that blog (you'd be surprised).

(d) You might try to do something cool on your blog. You'll remember that I did a few videoblog entries a few weeks back. I'll probably try to do one again in the future but they are too time consuming to do every day. May It Please the Court has started doing something really interesting by providing recorded blog entries along with his written entries. Be creative.

(e) If you choose a particular legal subject you can stick to it and eventually you will draw a core group of readers. Write about your knowledge and the things you know actually happen. However, don't expect a huge following if you are blogging about a very specific area of the law. And realize that a lot of lawyers who might be interested in your blog are probably not savvy enough to look for a specific blog in that area of interest (unless you do techlaw). You will probably stall at certain levels of readers for long periods of time and at a certain point you will reach a certain level which you cannot expect to rise far above.

There are easy ways to draw more readers. Start doing politics instead of the legal issues or legal practice. Go pick a fight with other mid-level blogs. Truly despicable individuals comment incessantly on other very popular blogs in attempts to get people to come to their blog. The first of these is okay. The second is okay if done in a principled manner (real discussion of an issue - not vitriol). The third is not acceptable.

(f) You will, if your readership gets big enough, anger someone. Everyone deals with this differently. I'm not big on erasing a post because someone is upset; I have - very rarely - altered what is on this page but it takes something special to get me there (or an attack of conscience, but I'm working on that). Mostly, if I don't think the attack is worth answering I don't. If I have received a reasonably articulated argument and the time I will often try to provide an answer but generally I don't spend post after post arguing back and forth. Sometimes you just have to answer with a little humor.

4. Should You Blog Anonymously? (a) This is a personal call. If you blog anonymously you are more free to state what you actually think about other attorneys, judges, politically sensitive issues, your trial tactics, etc.

(b) However, I chose and think that most serious bloggers must choose to identify themselves. If you don't you run the risk of stating what you actually think about other attorneys, judges, politically sensitive issues, your trial tactics, etc AND having someone figure out who you are. Imagine writing something like "In Whatsitsname City, Judge Smith wouldn't know the law if it hit her in the nose and prosecutor Jones is a cowboy who purposefully hides evidence" AND finding out that they read your blog and have figured out who is writing it. You are in deep trouble. When you write with your name in plain sight you will (hopefully) be a little more guarded in what you say. Instead of an angry outburst you are forced to say that you disagree with Judge Smith because A, B, C . . . (or speak in far more general terms so that it is not obvious you are talking about Judge Smith or prosecutor Jones).

People will figure out who you are.

5. Comments: (a) Comments are something which can be good or bad. I've not had a lot of problems but I'm not a big enough blogger to draw problems. Maybe someday I'll have a thousand hits a day and get some problems but as of now I like comments. With comments I can ask questions and get helpful answers. I can also get called on the carpet a little when I violate my self-imposed rule of not blogging about politics.

(b) You are going to have to police your comments. Someone will eventually start a flame war. Some will abuse them just to try to get people to come to their site. Personally, if I feel that some sort of value has been added I am generally loathe to remove a comment - even if it is a weak or barely supported argument. Of course, cursing and obscenities are a reason to get deleted here; they may not be on your blog.

6. Your Blawg's Name: Don't put "Blog" in your name. Don't put "Blog" in your name. Don't put "Blog" in your name. For goodness sake, don't put "Blog" in your name.

(a) We know it's a blog. Choose a short, memorable name which reflects your subject, your firm, you, or something else you want to catch people's attention. Make it easy to do a search on Google or Yahoo. Adding "Blog" at the end adds nothing but length to your name. There are exceptions to this rule but they have either been around for a long time or succeed despite a name which is longer than needed and redundant.

(b) Don't change your name (and url) unless forced to do so by problems (once CrimLaw froze up so I ran CrimLex for a short time until Blogger fixed it) or a major shift in subject. You will confuse people as their links no longer reach your site and their search for your old name doesn't lead to you anymore.

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Hope that's been helpful. Let the new sites come forth . . .

1 comment:

Mark said...

Thanks Ken, Insightfully good advice. I was contemplating how best to build my blog. This gives me some ideas. And as my course load lessens somewhat next semester, maybe I'll have a little more time to research and post.