Real lawyers don’t blog

August 31, 2003

I have to laugh when I read of corporate mainstream lawyers speculating about the “commercial possibilities” of legal blogging. The idea seems to be that an interesting law blog will attract site traffic; and that this increased hit rate will somehow result in new clients.

Is it possible to be any more wrong? This is a fallacy built on an impossibility.

The fallacy is that a popular site is a driver of new business. Nonsense. A well-designed site, whether it’s a blog or a static HTML site, gains you very little. It’s nothing more than having pleasant and courteous front-office and reception staff – competent ones will not gain you business, but surly or sloppy ones may well lose you business. A professional Web site won’t make you rich, but a cack-handed, typo-ridden, unnavigable one will lose you money hand-over-fist (see my blog on rubbish law firm Web sites). You need a good site just to stand still, but don’t expect a site to gain you the clients that you can’t gain by yourself. A strong site is a convenient way for potential clients to research you, provided you yourself have made a favourable impression. But blog-sites/web-sites don’t win clients. Lawyers win clients.

The impossibility stems from the flawed assumption that po-faced law firms, even the self-consciously “wacky” ones (drop the act, guys – golf is about as wacky as you get) are capable of producing interesting blogs in the first place. That’s why they’re lawyers instead of journalists/newspaper columnists.

Navel-gazing blogs aside, there are only two kinds of blogs:

  • News-feeds/compendiums
  • 2. Entertaining/educational opinions

1 is pointless – law firms such as Masons, Baker & McKenzie and Eversheds already do excellent e-commerce news feeds. There are only a finite number of newsworthy legal developments each week / month; and there is no point in reading synopses of the same old stories on umpteen different sites. If you’re intending to eclipse Baker & McKenzie on that front, you’d better be Reuters; and you certainly won’t have much time left for conventional client-facing lawyering.

This leaves us with 2, the blog-as-opinion route. Blogging is nothing more than columnist-journalism – strip away the razzle-dazzle technology, and it’s nothing more than the DIY online equivalent of a newspaper column, with some new techie bells and whistles (try having an RSS-feed from a paper newsheet!). Opinions are the essence of good columnist-journalism – we return to our favourite columnists, not because we agree with them, but because they challenge, even infuriate, us. Problem: lawyers choke on the kind of glorious polemicism that is the essence of a good blog/column. With their professional hat on, lawyers are no use at having stimulating opinions. We are encouraged to defer to precedent, and always to “check our sources”. Essentially, lawyers interpret other people’s opinions/source materials and apply them – the ingenuity is in the patient, grainy application. That’s a serious practical skill; not a discursive one; and I’m not convinced that it makes for compelling content for a blog. Lawyers simply don’t do unsupported opinions; they don’t do speculation; and they certainly don’t say anything that might be libellous. By instinct and training, lawyers err towards blandness and anonymity, “just in case”.

It gets worse. Not only are corporate mainstream lawyers uninterested in/incapable of producing pithy opinions to order, anyone who starts blogging for commercial reasons is an impostor. And, in the blogosphere, impostors fade out – they simply don’t have the stamina for it. This is a crucial point – don’t start a blog unless you have something to say today, tomorrow, next year and next decade. Most people have enough opinions to blog for a few months before the well runs dry. Unless you have a soapbox mentality that impels you towards continual publication, stay out of the kitchen.

And as for an ability to let third parties add comments directly to your site – have you ever tried that? Technically, it’s simple (the software is freely available to be added to even the most vanilla pre-Google Blogger site); but, in commercial terms, what exactly do you achieve? Nothing more than an administrative headache, weeding out cranky and libellous opinions from every head-banger who chances on your site.

No, blogs are for writers. They’re not for lawyers. If you are a lawyer, and you find that you’re blogging more than you’re lawyering; you’re mutating into either a legal academic (so write a book) or a legal journalist – and that’s another career.

I blog on about once a month. I blog on my personal (non-legal) blogsite about once or twice a week. Originally, about two years ago, I used an HTML site (very unwieldy); before moving onto Userland (full of unnecessary features, painfully slow upload times) and eventually settling for cheap and cheerful Blogger. Ultimately, a blogger engine is nothing more than a database with some tweaks – once I get my own server, I’ll do my own. But Blogger, especially Blogger Pro, is as good as any amateur needs.

I’ve been blogging for two years now. It hasn’t earned me a cent, naturally – but I never expected that it would. I blog because I enjoy it. Ultimately, that’s the only reason for doing it. If it makes you rich in some unexpected way, so much the better. But if money is your primary motivation for blogging, you’ll be blogging through gritted teeth. I wish you luck.

Copyright © Seán Mac Cann 2003. All rights reserved.