Recently, we discussed law firm blogging. It was a great discussion, and Deb Dobson (@debdobson on Twitter) led the discussion. Many of us had war stories and helpful insights to share. Here are our key takeaways.
A partner has come to you, all fired up about starting a blog ("our competitors have one!"). What to do?
What do they hope to gain? If the answer is simply "new business" then this may not be the vehicle. A blog is more of a long game, and anyone who expects to start capturing new clients with every blog post is mistaken. Blogging can do many things - position your practice as a thought leader in an area of law; increase attorney visibility so that journalists call when needing input on an article; put attorneys on conference organizer's radar so they get more opportunities for public speaking engagements. All these things will hopefully lead to new business, but it is a marathon and not a sprint. Set expectations accordingly.
Without a fully committed practice champion, most practice blogs will quickly wither. Between billable hours requirements and other administrative responsibilities, finding time to write for a blog will slip to the bottom of an attorney's priority list. Make sure the practice leader(s) are vocal about their expectations, and that they follow through on requiring content creation.
Once the blog has been designed and launched, many of us hand the reins for ongoing management for the blog to the practice, where (typically) associates are assigned responsibility for coming up with topics and posting them to the blog platform. If your practice pushes back and wants marketing to manage this role, but your marketing department doesn't have the not-insignificant resources required to do this piece of the program (apologies for the double negative), think hard before agreeing to create a practice blog.
Even in situations where the practice handles the day-to-day blog management, one area that most marketing departments are still involved in is shepherding the blog posts through the conflicts process.
On your firm website or elsewhere, such as LexBlog? There are different schools of thought on this, neither is "the right answer". Some firms want the traffic that a blog can bring to their website, plus the opportunity to cross-sell the visitors on other website content. Those are good reasons to host a bog on your website. The usual thought behind hosting a firm blog offsite is that you want the appearance of independent thought leadership that a site such as LexBlog provides. If you host your blog offsite (often branding the blog differently from that of your law firm), it can create a more personal feel, like the attorney is speaking directly to you; less like just another page with marketing copy put out by the faceless law firm.
Find a way to show personality. Maybe this means a blog that looks at otherwise-boring employment law issues through the lens of the TV show The Office, such as That's What She Said, a blog put out by the firm Ford & Harrison. Perhaps an antitrust law blog written from the point of view of a baseball enthusiast, such as attorney Dan Schaefer's Living Competition.
Look at the blog landscape of other firms in your area of law. Try and find subject matter that no other law firm has already taken on. If you are going to go head-to-head with a competitor on the same topic area, be sure you have something additional to say, or a better way of saying it.
Lawyers have a tough time not writing as though for a brief. One of the biggest hurdles they have is learning how to write as though speaking to a friend at a cocktail party.
"How would you describe this issue if you were talking to a friend over a beer?"
A good trick I've learned is to encourage an attorney to record his/her (rough, unvarnished) take on a topic. Listen to that recording, and use it as a starting point for drafting out the blog post.
Training attorneys on how to write for a blog is an ongoing effort. It won't happen all at once. A good starting point, I've found, is providing them with a list of types of blog posts. (I will put up a new blog post next week on 9 blog post types for attorneys.) Update: here is what I just wrote on types of law firm posts.
And don't forget to leverage free coaching tools such as LexBlog resources. Lexblog founder Kevin O'Keefe is a lawyer, and I often find attorneys respond better when they hear writing advice from one of their own.