I was surprised to read that the number of lawyers with legal blogs is dropping, according to the latest American Bar Association Technology Survey Report. For 2014, 24% of the respondents in the annual survey reported that their firms have blogs, down 3% from 2013. Those who reported maintaining a personal blog were 8%, down 1% from 2013 and 2012.
I think it is unlikely that these figures portend the demise of blogging. In fact, I think that blogging is undoubtedly here to stay.
Why? As I reflect on my own time spent following and authoring blog posts, I’d like to share four benefits to legal blogging: (1) professional development, (2) client development, (3) enhancing the public’s perception of our profession, and (4) creating “invisible ties.”
1) Professional development
The internet is a huge source of professional learning. By reading and writing blogs, we are forced to enhance our knowledge and clarify our thinking. When we blog, we have to sift through the plethora of information out there, analyze, synthesize, and then, finally, share our perspectives on what we’ve gleaned. This allows us to strengthen our critical thinking and our analytical skills without the pressure or burden of legal argument or scholarship. It can happen on our own time and with the creative license afforded to personal writing. As legal blogger Kevin O’Keefe puts it, blogging allows us to “test and improve our thinking in real time.”
O’Keefe expands on educator Beth Kantor’s paradigm for using social media for professional learning in the context of three words: Seek, Sense, Share. Seek is keeping up to date in your field. Sense is making sense of it all, including time for reflection. And Share is exchanging with your network and colleagues. Blogging provides a valuable and extensive source of mentorship. We may be able to nurture relationships with people who otherwise would have been out of our reach (geographically) or out of our league (gravitas-wise).
2) Client development
When you put your ideas out there, sharing your perspectives, perhaps simplifying complex legal concepts or procedures, you may reach future clients. Clients increasingly report seeking lawyers through the internet. I agree with what former litigator Rafi Arbel laid out in an article citing 5 reasons lawyers should blog, a blog is your opportunity to demonstrate subject matter competency, an understanding of clients’ needs and concerns, and a commitment to service and professionalism.
Notably, in the same ABA Report of declining blogs, 39% of lawyers who maintain personal blogs reported having had a client retain them as a result of their legal blogging—the same percentage as last year. That is a large number. And 30% reported they didn’t know. That 30% are likely not analyzing the extensive data that is available via the back end operations of the blog.
A regularly updated blog gives readers a reason to keep coming back. Each time they do, you receive another opportunity to interact, nurture and educate them about issues that materially affect their lives.
3) Improve Understanding and Profession’s Image
For 2Civility, educating and engaging on professionalism issues is a huge mission well-suited to blogging. We have over 100,000 lawyers and judges in our state. We have untoward pressures on lawyers, from those just out of law school to those working past their anticipated day of retirement. We have a lot of people who do not or cannot seek help with their legal problems. We have aging courthouses and systems. We have confusion and misconceptions about the requirements of our ethical rules and the impact of professionalism principles. Blogging is a great way to get information out there, invite feedback, and dialogue about what’s important to us.
And this is a concern to those who do not work inside a commission of the court. Again, to quote Kevin O’Keefe, “[b]logging is the perfect vehicle for lawyers, and even judges, to break down the barriers that exist between the average American and the legal system. Rather than hate lawyers and distrust the courts, we may get a few more people to believe in a system that lies at the heart of our democracy. To do so it’s going to take open, frank, and engaging blogging. At times, we’ll need to say what we think, mix it up, and express what average folks are feeling and thinking.”
4) Create Invisible Ties
For those of a certain age, networking was primarily an in-person activity and personal relationships were deemed king (or queen). We tended to nurture those personal relationships by face to face contacts or telephone calls. However, when you write a blog—or otherwise put content out there via social media channels, for example—you are creating a tie with your readers, most of whom you never will personally meet. There is great value in this “invisible tie.”
The term “invisible tie” or “tribal tie” was coined by Michael Simmons in a recent Forbes article, “Why Creating Content Trumps Face-to-Face Meetings.” He explains that weak and strong ties are people we personally know but that tribal ties are people who don’t know us but who follow us. They follow us because they find that the blogs or other useful digital content (such as podcasts, articles, social media posts) resonate with them.
He persuasively explains that creating content is valuable because it is scalable. Each in-person meeting takes time to have and to nurture after the fact. However, one article has the potential of reaching many more and diverse people than we could meet in-person. He also points out that even though content isn’t personal, because it is asynchronous, it allows us time to refine our thoughts for greatest impact. And sharing your insights and personal experiences can be life-changing even if it doesn’t take place in a personal interaction. Simmons also points out that content serves to deepen relationships with people you know and tribal ties sometimes help you more than your closest friends.
This content resonates with me. A phenomenon I have increasingly experienced in my travels is that people feel like they know me because they read my posts or follow me on social media. By building these invisible ties through creating content, 2Civility also is building a new network of invisible ties.
One last tip then. If you write a blog, contribute to a blog, or interested in getting started with a blog, the best piece of advice I could give is to write not just what you know, but what you care about. The more passionate you are about your subject matter, the more you’ll want to read, and the more you’ll have to say. You may change the world.
Brittany Hubbard, our intern from IIT Kent College of Law, contributed to this post.