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Lots of lawyers are blogging about the law, aka blawging. There are about 3000 blawgs out there, according to the ABA Journal , which began honoring the best law-related blogs in 2007 with its annual “ABA Blawg 100.”
For a lawyer, producing a blawg can be a nice break from traditional legal writing. It’s a chance to try something new that demands creativity, skill and consistency. Although the blawg may not immediately pull in clients or referrals — the monetary rewards of blawging can be modest — it offers other rewards.
Here are some tips for a successful blawg:
1. Blawg for the right reasons. Lots of blawgers begin with hopes of generating business and promoting their practices. But given the thousands of blawgs already out there, not to mention the thousands of other blogs and Web sites available today, getting business and promoting the practice might not be the best reasons to start.
Lawyers should blawg because they want to do it. Blawg to write, not to make money. Practicing writing skills and expressing oneself — something most lawyers left behind in college — are nonfinancial reasons to blawg. Spending 10 minutes composing a blawg post about personal reactions to a recent case or news event can be quite pleasant after spending four hours on a brief or contract.
2. Post consistently. Once the blawg is underway, keep at it. Post frequently, or at least regularly. Successful blawgers try to develop a following, and when the posts are consistent, readers stay with the blawg. When a blawg goes idle for weeks at a time, it slips from readers’ minds, and they might tune it out and stop visiting.
Many blawgers post daily or almost daily. That pattern works well. But if that pace is too demanding, at least post on a regular schedule — twice a week on the same days, for example.
3. Aim at someone and check to see if the blawg hits the target. Once a blawg has been publishing for a short while, the author may be able to focus the content more. What began as a writing outlet for the author may attract a following; by tuning in to reader comments, the author can begin to gear the content to specific reader groups.
So welcome comments; they let the blawgger know who is reading. Search the Internet for the blawg name to see who is linking to it. Comments and links will reflect the blawg’s audience, so the author can get a sense of who is reading the posts. Match the blawg posts to the readers’ interests.
Keep in mind that once the blawg has a following, many readers will syndicate the blawg posts — receive them by e-mail — rather than visit the site. Consistent posting keeps syndicated readers interested, preventing them from unsubscribing from the syndication feed.
Learn how to review the site’s statistics: hits, page views, syndication reads and so on. This information shows the size of the audience and the most popular posts on the blawg. The author can use this information to tailor future blawg posts. Many resources are available for blawgers who need tech help to learn how to understand and review this information.
Also important is to follow and blawg about current issues. This lets the author connect with lots of readers, most of whom are interested in current events. A blawg is about the author’s personal views, so take a position and offer a distinctive voice. That’s what readers want.
4. Adopt a readable, personable style. It’s not the point of a blawg to write in a traditional, lawyerly voice. It’s the opposite: Make the posts readable, informal, alive. Keep the sentences and paragraphs short. Go ahead with the first person (“I”) and with contractions. And drop lawyer-talk like “pursuant to, such and whereas.” Need a good style guide for Web writing? Try “You Send Me: Getting it Right When You Write Online” by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman.
5. Advertise. Get the name of the blawg out there. If your firm or company allows you to do so, put a link to your blawg on its main Web site. Find blawgs on similar topics or blawgs by colleagues and acquaintances, then offer to exchange links. Embed a link to the blawg in the signature block of e-mail messages.
Beyond these basic steps to promote the blawg, legal authors can consult with experts in search engine optimization or SEO. These outfits charge for their services, but they can increase traffic to the blawg.
6. Avoid pitfalls. In trying to be interesting and relevant, resist the urge to engage in harsh criticism, personal attacks and name calling. Peers, colleagues, clients and even judges can and will see the blawg. Maintain a professional approach.
Another common pitfall is to get into flaming wars and arguments with those posting comments. Although accepting comments is important to stay in touch with readers, long, angry exchanges turn most readers off.
If the posts become mere reporting of events without commentary or an individual take on the events, readers lose interest. For the blawg to be interesting, it must have some personality. The blawg should be informative, but it should also be relevant and even entertaining.
7. Try humor. Being professional does not mean being somber. Humor usually won’t work in court documents or letters to opposing counsel, and it’s a pretty tough go in e-mail, too. But a blawg is just the place for humor. The point is to let the blawg show the personality of the author. This lets readers connect with the author and makes reading the blawg not just interesting, but a pleasure.
That, ultimately, is the best a blawger can hope for.
Wayne Schiess is the director of legal writing at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. He blawgs at Blog.LegalWriting.net, and his blawg was named to the ABA Blawg 100 in 2007.