The dynamic relaunch of LawBlogs.ca, designed and administered by Stem’s founder Steve Matthews, provides a snapshot of just how far the Canadian blawgosphere has come in the past few years (more than 200 Canadian law blogs, 20 new entries in the last 11 days alone). Add that to the more than 3,000 blogs now tracked by the ABA Journal‘s Blawg Directory and you can start to see how prevalent blogging has become throughout the legal profession. Blogs, no longer subversive oddities, have moved rapidly towards mainstream acceptance as law firm marketing and publishing tools.
But this is still a new form of communication, especially for lawyers, and it continues to evolve in a number of ways. One interesting development is the steady rise of the collective or group blog: a blog with multiple authors all grouped around a particular theme. The most famous example, of course, is Slaw, recognized worldwide as one of the very best blogs in the legal sphere. But Slaw itself seems to be evolving out of “mere” blog status, and looks to me more and more like the first successful iteration of an online magazine for the legal marketplace. But other group blogs are making their marks: 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, for instance, has become, from my viewpoint, the best law blog out there right now, with three great writers (Lisa Salazar, Greg Lambert and Toby Brown), a series of guest authors, and a steady focus on knowledge management, information technology and law firm management.
Slaw and 3 Geeks, of course, both emerged from the practice support rather than the substantive law side of the profession (both have their roots in the law librarian, KM and legal research areas). But I think the most potential for substantive-law collective blogs lies with law firm practice groups, which come ready-made with both multiple authors and a common theme. Most of the successful AmLaw 100 blogs are produced by practice groups; here’s a very quick random sampling. It’s much easier for a practice group to blog than an entire firm, unless that firm is a very specialized boutique (and even then, boutiques can have more than one blog: take a look at Littler‘s numerous labour and employment law blogs). Practice group law blogs offer the following advantages:
Several authors: Every law blogger who earns a living doing something other than blogging (that is to say, all of us) knows that when the paying work piles up, blogging simply slides down the priority pole. Dormancy for too long a period can be fatal to a blog’s readership and to its author’s commitment. But when you have a few (or more than a few) bloggers contributing, perhaps on a schedule, then you can survive one blogger’s absence during a lengthy trial or closing.
Multiple voices: It’s not just the fact that you can press a lot of bodies into service; it’s the fact that each of those bodies has his or her own distinctive style and touch. As I’ve written before, law firms should give their lawyers as much free rein as is reasonable to develop their own blogging voices and find the approach and focus that suits them best. Meshing those disparate voices into an integrated whole can give your law practice blog an orchestral air.
Subject focus: Obviously, a practice group will be able to zero in much more closely on a given subject matter than can a general law firm blog. Everyone within the group is an expert to one degree or another, and each person will be familiar with a different facet of the practice area. Any law firm practice group that already produces or contributes to a law firm newsletter can go the extra inch and create a blog as well, and get a whole lot more SEO bang for its buck in the process.
Structural alignment: One of the most attractive features of practice group blogs as a marketing and communications vehicle is that they already mirror the way the firm is set up. Practice groups have evolved over time to become the optimal means by which a firm focuses its expertise and service delivery in its chosen areas. Rather than trying to graft an unwieldy boilerplate approach onto the group, a practice group blog flows naturally from the way things already work.
Business development: Every practice group has a balance of members with different strengths and interests; we used to call them minders, finders and grinders. But these days, it’s probably more accurate to say that some lawyers (established partners and ambitious associates alike) will have more affinity for writing and publishing as a means of gaining profile and asserting expertise than others. Practice group blogs present a rare opportunity for both senior and junior members to show off what they know.
The demands on every lawyer’s time will only grow over the next few years — we’re now well into the era of “do more with less” — yet blogging figures to become increasingly important and reliable as a marketing tool. The best way to reconcile these two conflicting imperatives is to go get some help: blog with the other members of your practice group, or if you’re in a solo or small-firm practice, with other lawyers similarly situated in practice size and focus. There’s safety, and strength, in numbers.