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/)