bLAWgs: Fad or Future?

A blog, short for ‘web log’, is an online journal consisting of postings set out in reverse chronological order. Blogs typically link to other websites and blog postings, and many allow readers to comment on the original post, thereby allowing audience discussions. Technorati, a blog search engine, was tracking 57 million blogs as of November 2006.Within this massive blogosphere, the genre of law-related blogs, also known as “blawgs”, has emerged. With lawyers being trained to research, analyse and write, it seemed only natural for lawyers to make the jump into blogging.

Some may view blogs as merely an online journal for lawyers to make rants (often anonymously and often humorously) of their working life or of the legal system in general. This is partially true, as shown by successful blogs such as Anonymous Lawyer or BabyBarista (I read the latter on a daily basis, I highly recommend it).

However, a number of law firms and lawyers have started to harness the power of blogs to market and publicize themselves.

Marketing Power

The blog is now attracting over 3,000 hits per day, in contrast to its newsletter predecessor which was reaching 3,000 people per month.

Blogs provide lawyers a platform to showcase their knowledge and expertise to the whole world, including prospective clients. Instead of waiting for months, or even years, to be published in a legal publication, lawyers can immediately blog on a certain legal point or discuss and link to other blogs.

It is becoming an industry standard for law firms to market themselves through client newsletters. However, you rarely, if ever, read a citation from a law firm newsletter in any online publication or blog. All the content you send out via e-mail or worse, through hardcopy newsletters, disappears off the internet grid very quickly.

Back in March 2005, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, a large American law firm, converted its monthly client newsletter on antitrust developments into the Antitrust Law Blog. This blog is now attracting over 3,000 hits per day, in contrast to its newsletter predecessor which was reaching 3,000 people per month. In only a few months, this blog has established the firm’s reputation as the source of information on all international antitrust issues.

A blog acts as a content depository. It is searchable and archiveable, allowing visitors to look up articles of interest without having to wade through pages and pages of content. Since it is easy to link to blogs or specific blog articles, a lot of successful blogs gain prominence through links and discussions by other blogs; think of it as the internet word-of-mouth.

A case in point is Martin Schwimmer, an American IP attorney, who used his blog to market his solo practice. Setting up his own practice in 2001, and with no budget for marketing, he decided to launch the Trademark Blog to generate interest and publicity. With interesting posts discussing domain name hijacking or ambush marketing, Schwimmer successfully promoted his expertise which in turn generated new business. In 2006, half of his referrals were generated through his blog.

If people are reading what you are writing on a daily basis, and you are writing interesting things that are helping them understand how their business works, it is natural that they will want to contact you and harness more of your expertise. Similarly, a poorly maintained blog with infrequent posts will have the opposite effect in that the blogger will lose credibility and his audience will lose interest.

…Sentencing Law & Policy Blog has been cited in more than a dozen cases, including a dissenting opinion in a 2005 landmark decision by the US Supreme Court.

Judicial Recognition

Legal writing in blogs has also permeated into judicial opinions.

Professor Douglas Berman’s Sentencing Law & Policy Blog has been cited in more than a dozen cases, including a dissenting opinion in a 2005 landmark decision by the US Supreme Court (United States v Booker). Berman has been blogging about advancements in federal sentencing since 2004, and his blog is his most-cited work, and more widely read than any of his traditional forms of published scholarship.

Writing a blog encourages succinct and clear expressions, where ideas are expressed in a few paragraphs or even a few sentences. A blog further mitigates against having to trawl through footnotes and citations, since references are easily provided through hyperlinks.

This development of judges citing blogs can be explained by the fact that most judges, when they see carefully articulated logic in whatever form, whether in a law review, a publication or electronic form, are inclined to evaluate it and if relevant, cite it.

However, critics highlight that it is difficult to ensure the accuracy and credibility of such blogs since they are not peer-reviewed publications in which ideas must be qualified. The flip-side to this is that because the blog medium allows for exposure to, and scrutiny by, a wide international readership, it does not take long for inaccurate information to be found out. There is still the legitimate concern that a blog is too easily changeable or may cease to exist, and hence the reference would no longer exist.

However, critics highlight that it is difficult to ensure the accuracy and credibility of such blogs…

Blawg-ing in Malaysia

Will blogging take off amongst the Malaysian legal fraternity? I think it inevitably will, albeit at a very slow pace. The law blogging community is still predominantly American, with the United Kingdom following very slowly behind. However, with the huge marketing potential of blogging, it is anticipated that lawyers in Malaysia and around this region will start using blogs as a tool to promote themselves.

Only a small fraction of law firms here maintain a website. Not every firm or practitioner can afford to hire a company to design a corporate website for them. However, anyone can set up a blog in a matter of minutes, and with services such as Blogger, it is free to set up and maintain a blog.

Malaysian lawyers will still need to ensure that they do not fall foul of the Legal Profession (Publicity) Rules 2001 (“the Rules”) which covers publicity through the electronic media. A fine line may lie between merely setting up an informational blog covering the latest legal updates, which arguably does not fall under the Rules, and that of publicizing an advocate and solicitor’s practice or the practice of his firm. Client confidentiality will also have to be maintained.

I end off by listing out some recommended blogs, specially selected to demonstrate the variety of law blogs out there:

China Blawg: The Chinese law firm, Lehman, Lee & Xu, set up this blog focusing on Chinese law and business. It has 2 Malaysian lawyers sitting on their blog panel.

Corporate Law UK: It combines light-hearted humour with the latest developments in corporate law in the UK.

Human Law: One of the best UK law blogs, written by a solicitor, Justin Patten.

Adam Smith, Esq: This blog examines the continuing changes in the management structure of today’s law firms.

LexBlog Blog: Focuses on how to use blogs to market your law firm.

Impact: UK’s Freeth Cartwright LLP set up this exciting Intellectual Property and Technology blog.

Video Game Law Blog: Davis & Company LLP’s speciality blog covering all international issues arising from video game law.

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