Legal bloggers are frequently told to blog in a more conversational manner, with less legalese. Harry Cole, telecommunications lawyer for Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth and one of the masterminds behind CommLawBlog, agrees – but adds his own twist.
“What I try to get all of our writers to do here is to write as if they’re talking to a client at the bar in McCarran Airport in Las Vegas,” explains Cole. “They’re all coming back from the National Association of Broadcasters Convention, they’re socked in by fog so they’re having a couple of drinks and all of a sudden a question of law has come up. They have to explain that to a client, in a bar, drunk. The reason for that is that you have to be able to be speaking and writing, at that level – at the conversational level – not the law review level but down to one-to-one.”
While Cole’s advice may sound bizarre on the surface, he believes that bloggers should be able to explain a topic – and explain it well – regardless of the situation.
“In order to have that conversation, you have to know your materials so that it can go through the beer filter and still come out ok,” he said.
That’s one of the philosophies that Cole and Kevin Goldberg apply to the CommLawBlog, which combines their animated personalities with serious discussion of communications policy – like drone regulations or Aereo before the Supreme Court. They are also expanding into live versions of their blog, which is a webinar-meets-roundtable discussion.
“Part of the philosophy of CommLawBlog is that we want it to be fun to read,” said Cole. “We don’t want it to be a law review, and we don’t want to discourage people from reading because they think it’s going to be humorless and dry.”
After seven years of blogging, the duo have hit on their own solution that includes nicknames (Cole is the Blogmeister as the head editor, Goldberg is the Swami for predicting court cases, and there’s even The Contracts Guy) and giving the multiple other writers freedom over their posts.
“When it first came up, I was actually charged with creating beats for people to follow .. and that really didn’t work that well,” said Goldberg. “We realized that not everyone wants to be an active writer in the blog. Now we have people who write more often of their own volition.”
The blog publishes nearly every day and underpinning it are practical purposes.
“The blogs serves not only the promotional function of getting our name out to the great unwashed, but it also allows us to have an in-house repository of materials that review, explain and have useful links to other documents,” said Cole, who also explained the blog enables the writers to spread information on issues and agencies that they already have to stay on top of for their clients.
Despite the daily publication, there’s no shortage of post ideas, which they find via Twitter, questions that they frequently get asked, and by actively following the Federal Communications Commission.
Writing about the FCC has gained them some high-profile readers. The majority of their audience is made up of clients, other communications lawyers and industry people, but they’re fairly certain that FCC commissioners are reading, too.
While at a recent conference, Goldberg said he introduced himself to an FCC commissioner as CommLawBlog’s Swami. Even though they never met before, the commissioner knew of Goldberg on that alone.
“He could have been the nicest guy in the world and played it off really well,” said Goldberg. “We’re reaching a pretty high level in terms of readership at the agency that we’re trying to serve.”
Cole added, “We’re reasonably confident that that particular commissioner knows us because he referenced one of our posts in a speech he gave a year or two ago. We know that another FCC commissioner reads because he linked to one of our pieces in a blog that he posted on the FCC website.”
Taking into account their readers and the ability to editorialize, the authors see the the blog as a powerful medium.
“There are times that we can put things up that are quite pointed against the FCC because they’re screwing up or doing something stupid. [In the blog,] we’re more free and open to say things that we firmly believe,” said Cole. “Maybe some people will be pissed at us from the FCC. If you’re right, just be sure that you’re right. If you’re careful about how you write something, it can be very effective.”
While Cole and Goldberg do want their writers’ personality and distinct styles to shine through in the posts, they work very hard on organizing the blog and its editorial standards.
“It can be fun and games, but it’s not all fun it games. It really is a lot of work and a lot of planning required. It’s not something I think you can dabble in especially if you have a full-time job,” said Goldberg.
Goldberg said that he and Cole spend hours discussing individual topics and how they’ll tackle them for posts. He recommends that lawyers who are serious about blogging consider how much time they need to invest to make it successful:
“What you’re not seeing here is the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes – not only in term of writing, but planning, organizing and editing. Overall, if you do it right, it can really be worth it. I think we know and can clearly identify business that we’ve generated through the blog. I think that outweighs any non-billable time that we put into the blog.”