Should You Blog?

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More important than the question of whether your blog should be on or off your law firm website is this: should you blog at all? For a while, it seemed like every legal marketing consultant was promoting blogs as the be-all and end-all of law firm marketing. (Now they’re mostly on to Pinterest and Klout.)

As a result, many lawyers seem to think starting a blog is as important as getting a website.

In all the excitement, nobody thought to ask whether lawyers really ought to be starting blogs. And the thing is, most shouldn’t. But hey, maybe you are the exception. Let’s see.

What is a blog?

First, a little vocabulary. When it comes to blogs, the software does not define the medium. A law firm website with a Blog tab that is mostly FAQ-type posts or posts about a lawyer’s latest award is not really a blog — at least not as I’m talking about here. So if that’s what you have in mind, don’t kid yourself. You aren’t blogging; you are self-promoting.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a self-promote-y Firm News section of your website. Of course you should. But it’s not a blog.

A blog has substance, not just promotion. A blog is generally focused on a fairly narrow subject. And it is updated frequently with posts arranged in reverse-chronological order. (n.b., A post is not a blog.) Most successful blogs are updated multiples times per day. Some successful blogs are updated less frequently, but if you aren’t going to update a blog at least once a week, you are probably wasting your time.

That’s a lot of time to waste, really. Most bloggers take a couple of hours to write a post. That’s a serious investment of time, and you’d better make sure it is worth your while.

What are the (potential benefits) of blogging?

In order to decide whether blogging is worth your while, you need a clear idea of your objectives.

Potentially, a blog can be a powerful source of potential clients, directly and indirectly. If you write a focused, frequently-updated blog about a practice area of interest to your potential clients, you can generate a substantial percentage of your potential client inquiries from your blog.

But — this is a gigantic but — blogs that consistently generate a lot of quality potential client inquiries are rare. So you need to look beyond marketing to the other potential benefits. For most successful bloggers, the immediate benefit is having an outlet, a place to express oneself and join a conversation about the subject of the blog. Blogs predate Facebook, and they remain one of the best ways to have a conversation online.

If you are really lucky and/or good at blogging, you might even get enough traffic to make running ads worthwhile, at which point your blog can generate a bit of beer money, which is nice.

It is hard to generate a lot of quality potential client referrals

What you cannot count on is consistently generating a lot of quality potential client inquiries. Some, sure, but a lot?

Consistency requires a substantial, well-targeted readership. In other words, you need a lot of potential clients to read your blog on a daily basis. How many a lot is depends, of course. For most blogs, it means a few hundred, at minimum, if the blog is well-targeted to a specific niche.

To generate that kind of traffic, you will need to publish quality posts several times a week. That means giving up several hours of billable, marketing, or networking time to write for your blog.

Finally, the quality of potential client inquiries is often a crapshoot. No matter how focused your blog, you are going to get referrals that are a waste of your time to deal with. I got family law inquiries from my blog about debt collection abuse. I got lots of debt collection inquiries from other states. It’s the nature of the internet. People don’t always read. Sometimes, they just see the word lawyer and fire off an email.

What I’m saying is that blogging is a gamble. If you work your tail off, it might pay off. I worked my tail off for years, and my blog generated a big chunk of my potential clients. It can be done, but it’s not the normal result. The normal result is a dead law blog once the writer gives up, disappointed by the lack of results.

Blog because you love it

To avoid disappointment, focus on a different goal. For most successful bloggers (me included), blogging is its own benefit. I would be writing something else if I weren’t blogging, so I might as well do this. The love of writing (or the need to write) is probably the best reason to start a blog, actually, because you will be able to keep it going even if it doesn’t result in clients banging down your door.

So blog because you love it, not as a way to get clients. Write a blog because you want to share information, take part in the online conversation about your issue, rant about injustice, or whatever. Just write because for you, writing is its own reward. You will probably have the same chance of generating potential client inquiries as someone blogging for that purpose, but if they don’t happen, you will still have succeeded.

Otherwise, you’re going to have just another dead law blog, and we’ve got enough of those already.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/69858568@N07/6351235260/)

Legal Marketing

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  • http://www.calawreport.com/ John Corcoran

    I absolutely think it’s important to blog, because it allows potential clients to really get a feel for you before hiring you. It can short-circuit the amount of time you need to spend with a potential client before they will pull the trigger.

    Also, what is nice about blogging compared to say networking, is you can benefit years later from work you had completely forgotten about. I actually get clients out of blog posts I had written two or three years earlier. If I had dedicated the hour it took to writing that blog post to some other form of networking (say, attending a cocktail function), then there’s less of a chance it will pay off out of the blue 3 years later in the way that a blog post can.

  • Catherine Tucker

    It drives me bonkers to find a blog that I’m interested in and to then discover that it’s only updated once a week, or less often.

  • http://thegirlsguidetolawschool.com Alison

    Very good points. In my experience, people massively underestimate how difficult it is to consistently produce worthwhile content. Not an easy task, and very time-consuming!

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/andymergendahl/ Andy Mergendahl

    Sadly, most lawyers don’t enjoy writing. That, combined with the fact that they don’t enjoy reading, explains to a large degree why so many lawyers are unhappy. I read a comment today mocking all the history/poly sci/english majors who are now lawyers. The point was that they don’t make good business people. Perhaps that’s true. But they do tend to know how to write. Some even think it’s fun. Don’t love to write? Please don’t blog.

  • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

    But Andy, blogging is the surest path to fabulous wealth and prestige. And iPads. And logos. Don’t forget logos. Blogging, iPads and logos are the surest path to fabulous wealth and prestige. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  • http://constructionlawva.com Christopher G. Hill

    Great post Sam. I agree whole heartledly with the last point. When folks ask me about the blog at Musings, the first thing I tell them is that they need to enjoy it. Without this, it becomes drudgery and hard to justify

  • Drew

    I have thought about blogging about my practice area, which is fairly dynamic (and populated by a couple of quality blogs already)–but (besides the time-sink issue), I am concerned that I would either (a) tend to make generic, relatively toothless comments about case-law developments, or else (b) risk compromising my potential effectiveness when briefing that case down the road (and a quote in opposing counsel’s brief) if my duty of zealous advocacy requires me to argue a different point of view.

    I help organize an annual ABA conference on my practice area. One of the things I like about that format is that there is very, very little risk of verbal comments from a panel discussion being used against me.

    I suppose if you always argue a single point of view (e.g., all debt-collectors are scum; all prosecutions are flawed), the risk is mitigated somewhat. Even then, however, how do you approach accurately commenting on how bad (read horrible, unfair, disadvantageous) a case decision is to your clients, when you might have to write a brief in 3 months arguing that the decision really isn’t that bad–or doesn’t mean what it seems to say?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I think you handle it in the same way you would if you were going to write an article for a law journal or bar magazine. But in general, talking about cases doesn’t make great reading for non-lawyers. I avoid it, unless I am just talking about big-picture takeaways.

  • Drew

    Ah . . . that explains the disconnect: almost all of my clients are lawyers (e.g., inside counsel or referring counsel) or those (e.g., CFO’s) used to dealing with lawyers. Dissecting the case law is a major part of what would give me exposure/credibility with these referring sources.

    Most of my bar articles deal with either new legislation (or rules changes) or emerging trends. In the former category, its easy to punt (“It will be interesting to see what the courts do with x, y, and z”), and in the latter the topic is descriptive (“Cities are suing banks for x, y, z. Watch out.”). Some of this would be fodder for a blog, but generally speaking these topics are more suitable for a longer, more labor-intensive articles–complete with associate research to back up the partner’s marketing effort (and lots of law firms put these out on their websites anyways). Case law developments seem more ideally suited to shorter, more regular updates in my area of practice.

    Ah, what’s an advocate to do?

  • http://www.skipassets.com Peter Pitorri

    A blog goes out to the world. ????????????Do you really want t?he world at your doorstep?

    Networking is great, provided you have defined your audience, qualified the people with whom you network as potentially in need of your practice areas, and established the habit of frequently intermingling with those people.

    Space ads are great. Just make sure you appear in carefully selected publications for at least a year. Remember, successful advertising is a campaign, not an one-time insertion.

    Then there is Direct Mail. By far the most efficient, most cost-effective means to market products or professional services. DM requires lottsa research up front: define your market, stratify it, identify the decision-makers, etc.

    As you go through all the steps — which you will learn by talking with specialists in that business — you will realize that there are meaningful benefits: First, you brand yourself to the market you select — not to the world. Second, you maintain direct control over the costs. Third — in my opinion the most important — YOU compose the letters that you will mail during your DM campaign. That’s because you know your practice areas and your financial needs and time budget better than anyone else.

    I did use the word campaign. Successful DM is not the result of one letter; rather, it results from a series of letters — or postcards, elegantly done, with a real photograph of a nature scene, for example, on one side.

    Think about it. Talk about.

  • http://www.texas-truckaccidentlawyer.com Greg Baumgartner

    I have been blogging for about two years now and have enjoyed the process, even though it is very time-consuming. Sometimes putting thoughts to paper helps clarify your thoughts regarding an issue.

    I started a blog in an effort to increase my online visibility and blogging is still somewhat effective for increasing your visibility however, much less so now as opposed to a year ago. Recent changes by search engines such as Google have made blogs less relevant and harder to find unless you are specifically looking for blogs.

    For anyone contemplating starting a blog, I suggest researching the recent impacts of Google’s algorithm changes to see if blogging will meet their needs at this time. Blogging certainly has a place for attorneys and that place is ever evolving within the search community.