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.


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.


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


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


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!

Invite Your Clients To Co-Author Your Firm’s Content

Most lawyers have long since figured out that writing articles showing off their expertise in their chosen field is a safe and productive way to market their services. Some lawyers choose to publish these articles in their firm newsletters, others on blogs, and others in legal profession periodicals. Quite a few lawyers, additionally or alternatively, have realized that the best place to publish content is where potential clients will read it: in client periodicals, business magazines, industry newsletters, and consumer websites.

This is often easier said than done, however. These client periodicals are swamped with submissions from lawyers, so they can afford to be choosy and might take greater editorial licence with the text than most lawyers would like. There are other barriers, too. One of the most noteworthy belongs to the ACC Docket, the highly regarded magazine of the Association of Corporate Counsel.

You can probably imagine the number of BigLaw partners who’d love to display their written know-how to more than 20,000 in-house counsel. The ACC Docket stems this tide effectively with a simple publishing rule: every submitted article must be authored or co-authored by a corporate counsel. It’s an editorial policy masterstroke, ensuring that (a) ACC members have the opportunity to promote themselves to their colleagues, (b) content is always relevant and on-point to in-house readers, and (c) law firm lawyers who want access to this audience must have the strong relationships with their in-house clients necessary to make such collaboration possible.

What I’d like to suggest here is that every lawyer, including those in smaller law firms, could take a lesson from the ACC Docket‘s policy. Why not make this your firm’s content publishing policy, too?

Make it a requirement that one or more articles in your firm’s newsletter or on your firm’s blog be at least co-authored by one of your clients. This is possible across almost every type of law practice, from family law to wrongful dismissal to bankruptcy to trademark litigation to M&A: get the client to tell his or her story as part of a practical guide to navigating similar matters in future. Base it on an actual legal experience by the client, or have the client share his or her first-hand perspective on a commonly occurring law-related matter.

This would have all sorts of benefits for your publishing program. The clients and potential clients who read your firm’s content would respond positively to stories “just like theirs” related by people “just like them.” They would identify more closely with the familiar co-protagonist of these articles than they would to a faceless stranger in some case comment from the Court of Appeal.

The articles themselves would be heavy on personal narratives, actual facts, real challenges and practical solutions (although of course, sensitive or confidential information would be omitted or anonymized). Accordingly, they would also be lighter on the jurisprudential detail in which lawyer-authored articles frequently get bogged down. These two changes alone would improve the quality and readability of most articles prepared by law firms for their clients.

Best of all, this policy would strengthen the relationship between the lawyer and the client. Even setting aside the positive feelings engendered for clients asked to tell their stories to the firm’s clientele, co-authoring any written work requires close collaboration, frequent conversation, and the friendly (when carefully administered) give-and-take of drafts and revisions between the writers. The lawyer will often learn things about the client’s interests and experiences that didn’t emerge during the actual matter itself; the client will get first-hand exposure to the lawyer’s expertise and experience in similar matters.

This wouldn’t have to be a permanent policy: there could be a special issue of the newsletter or month of blog posts featuring clients as co-authors, just to try it out. We’ve seen what lawyer-authored content looks like, and most people would agree it’s not usually Pulitzer material. Think about turning to your clients for an injection of first-hand experience and real-world relevance to your law firm’s publishing efforts.

Stem Client Roundup for April 2015

April is a busy month in the legal world, with both the ABA TECHSHOW and the Legal Marketing Association’s Annual Conference taking place. Our clients were busy as well, with cases, conferences, media mentions, and more. Here’s a look at what April held for them:

That’s it for this month’s roundup, but we’ll be back at the end of May with more news.

Beyond Lawyers: The Future Of Law Firm Branding

If you’re among those who enjoy the spectacle of “Battles of the Brands” among law firms, the Acritas Brand Indices provide unsurpassed grist for your mill.  The 2015 Brand Index For [large] Canadian Law Firms was released last month, showing that Norton Rose Fulbright has regained from Blake, Cassels & Graydon the crown it wore in 2013 and briefly surrendered in 2014.

I offered an analysis of this report, as well as a critique of law firm brand indices in general, in this article at Bloomberg Business of Law. Here at Law Firm Web Strategy, however, I’d like to talk more generally about the idea of a law firm’s “brand,” and to suggest that lawyers who spend time and money pursuing strong brand recognition for their firms might be hamstrung by an unseen but critical flaw in their firms’ service delivery model.

You can find many definitions of “brand” in the legal context, most portraying brand as a complex amalgam of myriad interconnecting factors. For myself, I tend towards a simpler definition: a brand is what it’s like to deal with someone. How your customers or clients feel following one or more interactions with your business, the impression they’ve gained and the likelihood that they’ll want to deal with you again, is your brand. It has little to do with tag lines, advertisements, or the colour scheme on your website. It has to do with the user experience of your firm.

This, at first blush, is not an encouraging thought for law firms: most clients experience a law firm through its lawyers, and many lawyers do not rank stratospherically high on measures like emotional intelligence and customer service. But even in firms whose lawyers are natural communicators (or who are carefully trained to appear that way), there’s a larger challenge: the inconsistency of the user experience across multiple points of contact. Clients’ experience with a law firm frequently varies according to the person, and especially the lawyer, with whom they’re dealing.

Now, if a client only ever deals with a single lawyer at the firm, then this isn’t much of a problem. But in that situation, it isn’t really the firm that the client is experiencing, but the lawyer: we’re really talking about an individual lawyer brand. A firm brand comes into play when many different people interact with a client, a far more likely occurrence for an institutional client or a complex matter. In those situations, the client is much more likely to experience a range of personalities, behaviours, and procedures, to such an extent that the client may sometimes wonder whether she’s really dealing with a single firm. When asked to describe the law firm brand she’s experienced, she might well respond, “Which one?”

Very few law firms train their personnel to deliver a consistent client experience, and few of those that do could claim great success in enforcing such consistency, especially among their lawyers. Never mind consistency of work quality and client communication: today, in some of the most esteemed law firms in the country, you could find two partners who don’t even bill their work to the same client the same way. To add to the challenge, law firms undergo an unusual amount of churn, through entrenched associate attrition and growing partner mobility, such that the lawyer who served you today might be gone tomorrow — and might even be calling you to see if you’d like to follow him to his new place of business.

This is why I think that in the near future, the brand champions among law firms will be those that can ensure a high degree of consistency in the client experience. And what will set those firms apart will be the degree to which they rely heavily on automated systems, predictable processes, and dedicated client liaisons to deliver their services more so than on lawyers. These firms will figure out that decision trees don’t bolt the firm for greener pastures, that intelligent systems deliver the same experience regardless of practice group and billing rate, and that client protocols don’t vary according to how many hours they’ve docketed so far this month.

If a firm’s brand is fundamentally rooted in its clients’ experience with the firm, then every unnecessary variance in that experience is going to shake clients’ confidence in and undermine the brand itself. Lawyers are, by nature, deeply resistant to conformist behaviour: if they’re the ones delivering your front-line service, you can count on your clients receiving mixed messages (and on remembering the negative ones far more than the positives). To improve your brand, start thinking about ways to solidify and upgrade the client experience — and to what extent your lawyers should or can play a critical role therein.