Vincent Gautrais: “Blogging allows you to keep your professional network alive”

We’re very pleased to present the third installment of our Original Clawbies Winners Interview Series with these blogging insights from Vincent Gautrais. Gautrais is a professor of law at the University of Montreal, began his eponymous blog in 2006. He founded Droitdu.net, a francophone collaborative technology and law blog, in 2013. He was also a contributor at Slaw.ca from 2006 to 2008.

Vincent Gautrais blogs at www.vincentgautrais.com and droitdu.com

Vincent Gautrais blogs at www.gautrais.com and droitdu.com

You’ve been blogging for more than a decade. Do you remember what prompted you to start blogging in the first place?

Mon premier billet fut publié le 13 mars 2006, quelques mois après avoir obtenu une chaire (2005 – 2015) dont la portée était de considérer les nouvelles voies d’enseigner le droit en utilisant les technologies. À l’époque, bloguer était à la mode mais totalement absent du monde académique (mis à part Michael Geist !!). Il me semblait cependant, intuitivement, que l’exercice était davantage en lien avec mes obligations d’enseignement que celles de publication.
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I published my first post on March 13th, 2006, just a few months after getting a research chair whose purpose was to find new ways of using technology to teach law. At the time, blogging was highly fashionable, yet totally absent from the academic world (except for Michael Geist, of course). I nevertheless felt, intuitively, that blogging was as much in line with my teaching duties as with my publishing obligations.

Has blogging changed your professional or personal life? Can you share an anecdote or two?

Pas vraiment! Bloguer, c’est densifier son audience; ses audiences qui sont au nombre de quatre. C’est d’abord un moyen de garder un lien avec ses étudiants pour compléter une question que l’actualité apporte quelques semaines après un cours. C’est aussi une façon de garder contact avec la communauté juridique, qu’elle soit professionnelle ou gouvernementale. À cet égard, j’ai déjà eu un contrat de recherche suite à un billet de blogue afin de compléter la position défendue dans ses quelques lignes. Bloguer permet également très souvent d’avoir des contacts avec les journalistes qui souvent nous lisent. Enfin, parfois, plus rarement, nos blogues permettent de créer un lien direct avec la société civile en général. À cet égard, et c’est sans doute un de mes « trophées », j’ai déjà eu un message « peu sympathique » suite à une position défendue relativement à un procès où des personnes anonymes avaient proférées des insultes envers la mairesse d’une petite ville au nord de Montréal (http://ancien.gautrais.com/Jugement-interlocutoire-relatif-a#forum2728).
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Not really! Blogging still means increasing your audiences. There are at least four main audiences. First,  blogging allows you to stay connected with your students. For example, it will allow you to address issues that current events will make particularly relevant a few days or weeks after you’ve covered them in class. Second, blogging allows you to keep your professional network alive, and, even, to create new contacts.  I once got a research contract on a topic I addressed in a post. Third, blogging allows you to reach and communicate with journalists or reporters. Finally, blogging will sometimes connect you to civil society and the public at large. As a matter of fact, I even once got a “less than friendly” comment on a post where I took a position on the outcome of a trial relating to a case involving anonymous individuals insulting the mayor of a small town in northern Montreal. I consider this to be a “trophy” (http://ancien.gautrais.com/Jugement-interlocutoire-relatif-a#forum2728).

Have you ever taken a hiatus from blogging or considered shutting the blog down? Why?

Clairement oui. L’exercice prend du temps et après l’enthousiasme des premières années, le réflexe s’estompe; l’envie s’évapore. Également, même si la donne change un peu, cette « littérature grise » n’est pas toujours reconnue avec le sérieux qu’elle requiert par le monde académique. En ce qui me concerne, le moyen de perpétuer l’exercice fut de le communiquer à mes étudiants. Depuis 2008, j’ai donc intégré dans mon mode d’évaluation de mes cours en droit des technologies, la rédaction de 4 ou 5 blogues, et ce, pour 40% de la note finale. L’idée de www.droitdu.net était née avec un contenu provenant en grande partie des étudiants (Clawbies 2013).
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Yes, absolutely. Blogging is a very time consuming exercise, and after the excitement of the first years has faded away, one can lose the will to continue. Moreover, this type of grey literature, as we might call it, does not get the respect it deserves from the academic world, even if things are changing a bit.  I personally have been able to find and nourish the will to continue my blogging activities by sharing them with my students. Since 2008, I have integrated blogging into my evaluation processes. Students are invited to write 4-5 entries for my class on law and technology. These posts account for 40% of the final grade. As a matter of fact, www.droitdu.net was mainly put together with student-produced content.

Where does your blogging inspiration come from? Do you use an RSS reader or social media to be alerted to topics of interest?

De 2006 à 2010, les sujets de blogues provenaient des fils RSS; depuis 2010, principalement de Twitter.
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From 2006 to 2010, topics mostly came from RSS feeds, but since then, I’ve relied mainly on Twitter.

Do you ever include items of a personal/less-serious nature?

Bien sûr que non! Ma vie personnelle n’intéresse personne et je ne suis pas intéressé à la dévoiler.
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Of course not! My private life doesn’t interest anyone and I’m not interested in disclosing it.

Do you mention your blog in your (firm website/faculty) biography?

Un hypertexte est une invitation au voyage. J’en ai donc mis 7 dans la signature de mon courriel. Seulement 7, pour le moment.
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A hyperlink is an invitation to travel. So, I put 7 of them in my email signature. Only 7, for the moment.

 Any tech tools you use to make blogging easier?

C’est vraiment ma question favorite qui peut se résumer en un mot: OpenUm et un lien: www.openum.ca. Openum est un projet que nous dirigeons et qui cherche à favoriser la diffusion de contenus académiques tout en permettant aux chercheurs de maitriser leur image numérique. Aussi, près avoir utilisé pendant 8 ans le logiciel Spip (www.spip.net/), il nous semblait intéressant de développer des outils (sous WordPress) qui puissent être réutilisés par d’autres chercheurs académiques. En matière de blogue individuel, ForceRouge entend propulser près d’une centaine de sites en 2016 et parmi lesquels, déjà, plusieurs ont obtenu des Clawbies (www.gautrais.com (2010) + www.eloisegratton.com (2014) et www.administrativelawmatters.com (Paul Daly) (2014)). Une plateforme existe aussi pour les blogues collectifs, ForceBleue, dont bénéficie www.droitdu.net (Clawbies 2013).
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This is my favorite question! One word, OpenUM and one link, www.openum.ca. OpenUM is a project that aims to increase the distribution of academic work and to allow researchers to control their online image. After using a Spip (www.spip.net/) platform for 8 years, I thought it would be interesting to develop a tool (using WordPress) that other researchers could also use and rely on. For individual blogs, “ForceRouge” is the platform behind a number of sites that have already won Clawbies: (www.gautrais.com (2010), www.eloisegratton.com (2014), and www.administrativelawmatters.com (Paul Daly) (2014)). Our goal is to launch close to a hundred sites in 2016. ForceBleue also exists for collective blogs. It’s the platform I use for www.droitdu.net (Clawbies 2013).

 Merci, Vincent! Next week we’ll bring your our interview with Allison Wolf (see also our previous interviews with Michael Geist and David Canton).

Michael Geist: “Blog posts are often used as a testing ground for new ideas”

This week we’re presenting the second installment of our Original Clawbies Winners Interview Series with these blogging insights from Michael Geist. Geist  is a law professor at the University of Ottawa and started his eponymous website/blog in 1998.

Michael Geist blogs at michaelgeist.ca

Michael Geist blogs at michaelgeist.ca

You’ve been blogging for more than a decade. Do you remember what prompted you to start blogging in the first place?

I’ve run a webpage since 1998 and the site gradually evolved to include blog posts. At first, the posts were a bit stiff, used primarily to alert readers to a new column or article.  Over time, I found it much more interesting to use the blog to post original content that might not appear as a column elsewhere.  As the readership grew, so too did the frequency of the posts.

Has blogging changed your professional or personal life? Can you share an anecdote or two?

Professionally, it has provided a much wider audience than my conventional scholarship or my mainstream media columns.  I’ve found that some posts can generate hundreds of comments and tens of thousands of views.  I think it’s fantastic to have a large, interactive and engaged audience on digital policy and I’m grateful for the steady stream of readers that keep coming back.  Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the blog has come when I’m posting regularly on a hot-button policy issue.  For example, the blog was very active during the copyright reform battles in Canada or the contentious negotiations over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The media and politicians seemed to regularly consult the blog and it was frequently cited in various reports and debates.  That was exceptionally gratifying and provided a valuable reminder of the potential of the Internet to provide everyone with a platform to share their views and opinions.

Has blogging helped you become a better lawyer/librarian/etc? In what way?

I think it has definitely helped me become a better academic, lawyer, and advocate. Blog posts are often used as a testing ground for new ideas and when you get it wrong, your readers are not shy about letting you know.

How do you decide what topics to cover?

I try to cover all matters Internet and digital policy.  That typically includes copyright, privacy, telecom, and a myriad of other emerging issues.

How do you spread the word about a new blog post? Through social media or other channels?

I’m active on social media with posts immediately promoted on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.  I also have a fairly large Twitter following (about 85,000 followers), so that provides a natural place to alert people to new posts.  I also include a picture – all the photos on my site are openly licenced under a Creative Commons licence – which makes the site look better and may attract a bit more attention.

How do you know people are reading? In other words, what kind of reader feedback do you get? comments – social media feedback – email – media calls – blog traffic monitoring, etc.?

All of the above.  I get comments, email responses, and media calls on many posts.  My site also contains some basic analytics that I consult from time to time to see traffic patterns for various posts.

What are you best tips for lawyers or other legal pros thinking of starting a blog, or struggling to maintain one?

I would offer four main pieces of advice.  First, just do it.  Writing regularly is hard, but making the commitment provides many professional and personal rewards. Second, stick with it even when the audience is small.  It takes time to find an audience (and for them to find you), but regularly postings will eventually gain traction with search engines, word of mouth, and a steady growth in readership.  Third, actively use social media to promote your work.  It is hard work to write regular, original posts and you might as well promote it as much as possible.  Fourth, find your own voice. Blogs that adopt overly conservative or “legalistic” postings will have a hard time finding readers beyond the profession.  Making your work accessible and personal is important.

Thanks so much for your insights, Michael!

P.S. Check out last week’s interview with David Canton here, and watch this space for our chat with Vincent Gautrais next week.

Moments In Time: Twitter’s Newest Feature And The Future Of Legal News

Most articles about Twitter in the legal market focus on helping lawyers make better use of the service for marketing and business development purposes, and that’s all to the good. But Twitter serves another, arguably more important function: to supply its users with up-to-the-second information, either through tweets from accounts they follow or by tracking hashtags attached to updates from Twitter users everywhere. (A good example yesterday here in Canada, where a federal election took place, was the #PollWatch hashtag that followed reports of voting difficulties or irregularities at polling stations across the country.)

I use Twitter first and foremost for this purpose: to stay on top of news, insights, developments and trends in the legal market, as reported by about 200 personal and commercial accounts that I follow in the legal sector. I frequently retweet the best or most interesting of these to my own Twitter followers, sometimes with a piece of my own micro-commentary, but that just flows from my primary use of Twitter to remain informed. This is why I’ve always felt Twitter would be a valuable tool for a lawyer even if he or she never issued a single tweet: following informative accounts in your practice, industry, and community sectors is enough on its own to justify your investment of time and effort in Twitter.

So I wanted to bring to your attention a possible quantum leap forward in the utility of Twitter as a knowledge-gathering resource. Earlier this month, Twitter announced the launch of “Moments,” a new service that will identify and collect within a single stream the most useful, insightful, or engaging tweets issued on any given subject. Whether it’s the Emmy Awards or the Packers-Bears game, a natural disaster or a political demonstration, Twitter users can “tune into” the Moments stream of tweets on the subject and follow along to be informed, enlightened, amused and engaged by the commentary. When the event that triggered the stream of tweets ends or peters out, the Moment for that subject is automatically removed from the system; you don’t need to “unsubscribe” from it.

Technology strategist Ben Thompson thinks that Moments is a potential game-changer for Twitter and for social media generally, because he sees Moments as the natural evolution of, and replacement for, the newspaper. Moments offers Twitter users pre-determined categories such as News, Sports, Entertainment, and the like, no different from what your local daily broadsheet provides (or used to provide, anyway). The difference is that Moments is, by definition, moment-by-moment, whereas your newspaper is updated once a day. Unlike traditional media or even many new media, Moments also costs Twitter nothing for its content: all of its content is provided free by Twitter users. Moments is also perfectly designed to offer the most targeted type of online advertising the Web can currently deliver, potentially even better than what Facebook can pull off.

There are all sorts of angles to consider as Moments begins to roll out. (The update hasn’t yet reached my smartphone, as Twitter is evidently rolling out this new feature in stages.) Media analyst Jay Rosen points out that by adopting a curation function, Twitter has given itself an editorial dimension, one that requires certain choices be made about what is and isn’t going to get covered and which in turn creates new public expectations and social responsibilities for the company. Tech entrepreneur Josh Dickson is extremely disappointed with Moments’ debut, finding it to be a haphazard collection of celebrity tweets, with little evidence of advanced analytics or AI underlying its operations at this stage. If this is the kind of thing you find fascinating, I invite you to read these posts and explore the links provided therein.

What most interests me, however, is the eventual potential impact of Moments on the legal industry. Let’s think positive and assume that Twitter straightens out its tracking systems and makes defensible editorial choices, and that Moments really takes off in the ways that Ben Thompson envisions. In short order, Moments would develop far narrower and more sophisticated categories than just “News” and “Sports,” and eventually it would get around to industries and professions. What would “Moments: Law” look like? What “legal moments” would you want to follow?

More arrestingly, would you strive to have your own tweets on a subject included in a “Moments” stream? Think about the impact of having one of your tweets, linked to your home page and profile, included in a stream of updates that reaches millions of interested people worldwide, simultaneously. Would that be less or more attractive than trying to get your article published in your local legal periodical? Would that possibility pose any challenges to those legal periodicals themselves? If “news” and “analysis” continue to become more real-time, crowdsourced, and viral, what might that mean for your firm’s publishing strategy? For legal periodicals? For public legal education?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, and I’m not even sure they’re the right questions yet. But when I look at Moments, I can see a potential successor to the traditional periodical — and there are a whole lot of periodicals in the legal market, serving both the sellers and buyers of legal services. Even if Moments crashes and burns on the launchpad, something else like it will eventually emerge and catch on, because we still need news to maintain and grow our knowledge of the world around us and inform our actions in response, and social media has changed our conceptions and expectations of what news is, when we can find it, and how we can engage with it.

Twitter Moments, regardless of its own eventual success, foreshadows the emergence of a very different world for legal news, legal marketing, and legal knowledge management over the next decade or so. Stay tuned.

David Canton: Blogging was “a chance to become my own publisher”

We’re excited to present the first installment of our Original Clawbies Winners Interview Series with these blogging insights from David Canton. Canton is a trademark and technology lawyer at Harrison Pensa in London, Ontario and started his blog, eLegal, in November 2004. He’s also been blogging regularly at Slaw.ca since 2008.

David Canton blogs at eLegal.

David Canton blogs at eLegal.

You’ve been blogging for more than a decade. Do you remember what prompted you to start blogging in the first place?

There were a number of things that came together. I have an interest in new tech in general. At the time I was writing a regular newspaper column on tech law. And you could probably count the number of lawyers with blogs in North America on two hands. So having my own blog was a way to write, to promote, and get on the ground floor of something that I saw at the time as being a game changer. It was a chance to become my own publisher. To put it in perspective, at that time there was no social media – no twitter, no LinkedIn, and Facebook was just a college ploy.

Has blogging changed your professional or personal life? Can you share an anecdote or two?

It generally takes a certain number of times to meet with an individual before they are comfortable enough to do business with you or treat you as a peer. Blogging and social media in general can act as those first meetings. There have been times when I’ve met people in person for the first time where it seems like we have already met several times.

Where does your blogging inspiration come from? Do you use an RSS reader or social media to be alerted to topics of interest?

Since I practice in the tech and IP area, there is always something new and changing in both the tech and the law. I find inspiration for most topics on social media – which is what I use generally to keep on top of both tech and legal changes. The topics I write about are a combination of what I think my clients and client influencers would be interested in, spins on tech topics that are different than I see being expressed in the press, and sometimes just things I find interesting.

Has blogging helped you become a better lawyer/librarian/etc? In what way?

After blogging for a while, one builds up a fair repository of posts. I often find that when a new topic comes up with an existing client, or a new client comes to me with an issue, I’ve already written something about it that I can immediately send to them. That helps inform the client and adds to credibility.

Writing also makes one think about the topics in a way that often adds clarity and simplicity, as blog posts have to be expressed in a clear, easy to understand way.

How do you spread the word about a new blog post? Through social media or other channels?

I have my blog set up to automatically send out notices via twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Harrison Pensa also cross posts them on the Harrison Pensa website blog.

Thanks, David, for sharing with us! Coming up next Wednesday: Michael Geist.

The Original Clawbies Winners 10 Years Later: An Upcoming Interview Series

Hard to believe that this December will see the announcement of the 10th annual Canadian Law Blog Awards, a.k.a. the Clawbies – but it’s true. Since the inaugural awards in 2006, we’ve had the privilege of highlighting dozens of Canada’s most insightful, committed, and articulate legal bloggers.

Legal blogging is so commonplace now that it’s easy to forget how relatively rare it was just 10 years ago. When Steve rounded up and published a list of Canadian legal bloggers in December 2005, there were only a couple dozen names on it (now that list, which evolved into lawblogs.ca, has close to 500). The folks named in the first edition of the Clawbies awards truly are pioneers.

In anticipation of this year’s 10th annual Clawbies, we looked back at those original winners and runners up, and were glad to see so many of them still blogging regularly. Curious about the secrets to their longevity, we asked them to answer a few questions about their decade of blogging expertise. The result is a series of mini-interviews that we’ll publish over the coming weeks here on Law Firm Web Strategy, starting tomorrow with London, Ontario trademark and tech lawyer David Canton. Stay tuned!

Stem Client Roundup for September 2015

Is that pumpkin spice I smell? Do I hear leaves rustling underfoot? And yep, there’s definitely a chill in the air… it must be fall. Despite it being the end of summer, there’s always something welcome about this time of the year, isn’t there? Here’s a look at what our clients have been up to throughout the month of September:

Enjoy the start of scarf and sweater season, and we’ll be back again next month with more news to share.

The Least Useful Page On Your Law Firm Website

The least useful page on your law firm website is the one titled “Our History.” It puzzles me that so many law firms, even (or especially) smaller ones, take the time and effort to provide visitors with an extended recital of the riveting story of how the firm came to be.

Many such recitals start with the firm’s founding in the 19th or 20th centuries and provide biographies of various name partners. Then they dive into unaccountably detailed genealogies that cover various name changes, the retirement/death/judicial appointment of original partners, several periods of expansion, and long-ago achievements like drafting community property legislation in 1947 or developing rate-fixing expertise in 1958. One firm’s history runs twice as long as its “Client Service” page. Another tells the firm’s history through a series of videos. Quite a few identify the local address or street corners where the firm originally practised, or the nearby men’s clothing store, or the partner’s father-in-law who ran the local bank. It’s not quite “I had an onion on my belt,” but it can come pretty close.

I’m not suggesting these pages should be removed. There’s value to highlighting the firm’s longevity to underline its reliability: a firm founded in 1889 can reasonably present itself as a trustworthy institution. (Query the value of a firm history that dates back to 2006). And if a firm wants to emphasize its local community roots for marketing purposes, there’s no harm in playing up its sepia-toned memories. But there’s a self-seriousness about most law firm histories that invites a certain degree of mockery, whether it’s the bulletin-style historical flashpoints (“1947: John Smith retires. The firm is now called Jones and Robinson”) to the intricate recitation of letterhead changes “(Jones and Robinson merges with Peterson & Williams. The new firm is called Jones & Peterson until 1956, when Al Richards joins the partnership.”) It’s like being stuck on the couch next to that uncle who mapped out the family tree five generations back.

My biggest problem with “Our History” pages on law firm websites is that they illustrate the huge gap between what lawyers think is important and what clients think is important. Most lawyers are proud of their law firm’s history, especially when they or their ancestors are prominently featured. Most clients will glance at the year the firm was founded and read no farther, because they don’t care what the firm was called in 1963, they care about what the firm can do for them by next Tuesday. They want to know what the firm does, who it does those things for, what results the firm has achieved, how much the firm’s services cost, and how they can connect with someone at the firm right now. Law firms should make comprehensive and reliable answers to those queries conveniently available before spending any more time on their “Our History” page.

Here’s my challenge to law firms: If you have an “Our History” page on your website, keep it there. But start developing another web page, called “Your Future.” This page tells visitors, in the same loving and painstaking detail with which you relate your genealogy, exactly how your firm meets its clients’ needs in ways other firms don’t. Be specific: don’t just say that you’ll “solve their problems” and provide “excellent service,” because everyone else says that. Explain precisely how your customer service is demonstrably better, exactly how your client experience has been engineered for maximum convenience, and specifically how your prices are reliable and come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee to serve the client’s interests and help achieve its goals. If your firm doesn’t have these kinds of service guarantees and protocols in place, I suggest you start developing them now.

Start thinking about a “Your Futures” page to both complement and supersede your firm’s “Our History” page. Show visitors to your website how their tomorrow is more important to you than your yesterday.

Stem Client Roundup for August 2015

It’s been a fantastic few months of sunny days, but all good things must come to an end, and we hope that as you head back into work mode, you’re feeling rejuvenated and refreshed. Here’s a look at what our clients were up to in the month of August:

We’ll be back next month with more client accomplishments and news to share.

Newest Additions to Lawblogs.ca

Did you know that 2015 will mark 10 years since the inaugural Clawbies, a.k.a., the Canadian Law Blog Awards? Although there are always a lot of established blogs that receive well-deserved nomination from their faithful readers, we especially look forward to seeing which new blogs will be nominated — and hopefully become mainstays in the Canadian legal blogosphere.

Here’s a look at some of the latest blogs to be added to lawblogs.ca — could one or more of them be a 10th annual Clawbies award winner? We’re excited to see!

As always, if you’ve got a blog that meets our submission guidelines, please let us know!

The Secret to Solving Google Business Listing Problems

If you’ve ever had work out a kink in a Google business listing, you know it can be an exercise in aggravation. Fixing issues such as lost control over a listing, updating your business address, correcting a map marker, or removing duplicate listings can turn into a lengthy online process filled with steps like “trigger a verification postcard” and “pending approval by a Google editor”. Although Google is always changing and improving their process, for anyone who doesn’t do this stuff on a daily basis, it can be really frustrating.

Today I want to share a little secret that it seems very few people are in on. And that is as a business owner (or someone authorized to manage a business listing), you can get phone support from Google My Business, and it’s actually very helpful. All you need to do is make sure you call during their operating hours of 1 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time.

Here’s how:

Go to Google My Business’s Help page at https://support.google.com/business.

GMBsupport

Click on the “Contact Us” link in the top right corner. A pop-up will appear; the first option is “Request a call”. Click that.

GMBsupport2

You’ll get a form with the header “Talk to a Specialist “. Fill out the fields and click “Next”.

GMBsupport3

Fill out your contact details and click “Call me”. Voila — you’ll get a call from Google My Business shortly.

GMBsupport4

Here are a couple extra tips on GMB phone support from Greg Gifford at Search Engine Land:

Top Secret GMB Phone Support Pro Tip #1

GMB Phone Support has been available since 2013, but it seems that Google has recently outsourced some of its support staff. The outsourced staff is still incredibly helpful, but they’re more likely to follow a help script. If you’re lucky enough to catch someone in the California or Michigan call center, and it’s clear that you know what you’re doing, they’ll skip any script and you’ll solve your problem even faster.

In our experience, you’re more likely to get the U.S. call centers if you call between noon and 5pm Pacific Time (emphasis added). If you’re in the UK or Europe, you’re better off waiting until the evening to call, so that you’re calling during that magic window.

Top Secret GMB Phone Support Pro Tip #2

GMB Phone Support can help with almost anything related to your Google My Business listing. While you’re on the phone with a support agent, ask them if there are any duplicate listings. If any exist, they’ll be able to shut them down immediately. If you’re working with a business that set up a personal Google Plus page for their business, Phone Support can help you get it converted to a GMB listing.

You’ve got Google on the phone, and they’re willing to help — take advantage of the opportunity!

Technology is great, but often problems get solved far quicker when talking to a real person. So the next time an issue pops up with your GMB listing, don’t be afraid to trigger a call.

Stem Client Roundup for July 2015

Hello summer! Now that sunny days are really and truly here, we hope you’re enjoying all your favourite activities and taking a break from the hustle and bustle. Here’s a look at what our clients have been up to so far this summer:

Stay cool and enjoy a little downtime — we’ll be back next month with more client news to share.

Stop Saying That! 6 Phrases To Drop From Your Written Work

Mark Twain once wrote (no, really, he did): “One isn’t a printer ten years without setting up acres of good and bad literature, and learning — unconsciously at first, consciously later — to discriminate between the two, within his mental limitations.” Within my own mental limitations, I’ve read and written so much in the last couple of decades that I’ve learned, if not what constitutes great writing, then at least which phrases constantly recur in poor writing.

Specifically, I’ve now come across the following six terms so frequently, in articles written for, about, and by lawyers, that I’m finally compelled to write this post and ask everyone to please stop using them, and to explain why. Here they are:

1. “Let me explain.” Superfluous. Maybe the most pointless three words in regular use among writers. Take them out of any article in which they appear and re-read the piece: there’s no difference. You’ve lost nothing except the subtle insult you’ve been delivering to your reader: “Let me explain” = “You probably didn’t understand the complex and clever thing I just said, so let me restate it in terms you’re likelier to understand.” Remove this phrase and give the reader back three seconds of her life that she can put to better use, e.g., humming the first four notes of the theme to “The A-Team.”

2. “In other words.” A red flag for poor communication. Set your word processor to search for this phrase and scan the article you’ve just written. If you find “in other words,” go to the sentence directly previous, and either rewrite it completely or remove it altogether. “In other words” = “I don’t think the phrase I just used was very effective. I’m now going to restate it more clearly.” Take out the previous sentence and the “In other words,” and pick up the paragraph at the new phrasing: It gets across what you’re actually trying to say more clearly. (Unless that rephrasing is itself followed by “Put differently.”)

3. “Put differently.” See #2.

4. “Forget X; Y is what matters now.” This is more of a headline problem, but with the advent of Twitter and the drive for brevity above all, it’s become a text problem, too. This phrase undermines what might otherwise be a legitimate point with ludicrous overstatement. Did X somehow become irrelevant overnight? Has it disappeared, leaving us bereft and wandering the streets, forlornly seeking the comforts of Y? Unless you’re discussing Beta and VHS, and I really hope you’re not, the better approach is to say something like “In addition to X, we now need to consider Y,” or “Y has joined X as issues of concern.” In this vein, see also: “X is dead, so Y.” Unless X is “Babe Ruth” and Y is “throw strikes,” stop saying this.

5. “X, and Y, and Z, oh my!” I literally clench things (jaw, fists, rosaries) when I read this phrase. The original source is a movie released 76 years ago, so it’s maybe time to find a slightly more current pop-culture reference. This is the lazy standby for the headline or opening sentence of an article that talks about three separate phenomena related in some way not readily evident to the writer. What frequently makes it worse is the failure to even pretend we care about scan: “E-discovery and artificial intelligence and unauthorized practice of law rules, oh my!” Make it stop, please.

6. “Very.” I’ll leave this one, not to Mark Twain (to whom it’s often wrongly misattributed), but to its true originator, William Allen White: “Never use the word ‘very.’ It is the weakest word in the English language; it doesn’t mean anything. If you feel the urge of ‘very’ coming on, just write the word ‘damn’ in the place of ‘very.’ The editor will strike out the word ‘damn,’ and you will have a good sentence.”

Stem Client Roundup for June 2015

It’s official…2015 is halfway over! Between launching new practice areas, announcing scholarships, and welcoming new associates, our clients have had a busy June. Here’s a peek at what they’ve been up to:

We’ll be back at the end of July with more news to share, and hope your summer is off to a terrific start.

Stem Client Roundup for May 2015

Hard to believe that the year is almost halfway over –we’ve only just gotten used to writing 2015! Here’s a quick look at what May held for our clients:

As always, we’ll be back next month with more news to share.

Spring Additions to Lawblogs.ca

Time for another installation of “What’s new at Lawblogs.ca”! Since our last update, we’ve added several new (and new to us) blogs to our directory of Canadian law blogs. Take a look:

As always, if you have a blog that meets our submission guidelines, please let us know!