Maritime lawyer Jim Walker has been called outspoken, internationally renowned and the “king of anti-cruise tirades,” but he prefers to think of himself as a storyteller.
“I began telling stories. I’m a storyteller, that’s what I do in my personal life and as a lawyer,” said Walker, whose blog Cruise Law News catapulted him from solo lawyer to maritime watchdog.
Walker started the blog in 2009 because he wanted to document some of the more interesting parts of his practice and keep an eye on what was going on in the cruise industry.
“After you practice for 30 years, you begin to accumulate enough stories of remarkable events involving remarkable people that you need to chronicle for history and tell to a wider audience,” he said. “Our firm has had what I thought to be really interesting stories … including five of our clients testifying before Congress on issues pertaining to some very interesting issues on cruise ship law – passengers missing at the high seas, women and children getting molested.”
With cruise law being only a small part of maritime law, Walker didn’t think that anyone was reading when he first started blogging.
“When I first started, I didn’t think that anyone was reading it. It was just a few people, but it’s exciting now that when you write something that resonates that people read and share,” said Walker.
What helped his online footprint grow is that Walker expanded his scope as a blogger to talk about cruise issues that do not directly affect his practice.
“Most of things we blog about have nothing to directly do to my practice or they wouldn’t lead to case. We talk about environmental issues, labor issues, safety issues – things that pertain to the public and would be in everyone’s best interest to know,” he said.
Over the past five years, Walker has accumulated a digital following that rivals traditional news sources with hundreds of thousands of pageviews, 111,000 Facebook followers and 12,000 Twitter followers. With his large following, Walker has become a watchdog for the cruise industry.
“People in the industry will sometimes come to us to ask what is our view on [the news], what is our take on it, and what are the lessons to be learned. The real interesting thing is that a lot of cruise members who appreciate having a job in the industry, they’re the first ones to come to us right as something happens. Quite often they’ll come to us before there’s an official story in the press,” said Walker.
While he does comment on high-profile news (like the infamous Carnival poop cruise), Walker has built up his reputation enough of a blogger and leader in his niche that he’s a source for breaking news. Crew members of the luxury liner SilverSea Cruises anonymously sent him photos of the ship hiding away food to avoid sanitation inspectors from the Centers of Disease Control, which eventually led to CNN picking up the story.
“You think of it as blazing a trail through the woods and then you see the heavy duty machinery – ABC and CNN and traditional newspapers – with a much higher readership push our stories way up there,” he said.
Walker has been quoted in in a variety of trade publications, the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Anderson Cooper 360, and has even found himself in international publications, like the UK’s Daily Mail, The Times of Malta and NB12 News in the Bahamas.
He really does appreciate the media attention and how it helps his promote his firm.
“The blog provides to us with multimillion dollar advertising,” he said. “This year we’ve had over 50 reference in major cable news networks, newspapers and trade magazines. The reason they’re referencing me is because of my blog. It’s been an incredible advertising and publicity angle.”
The media attention is a boon for Walker and his practice, but he still receives a fair share of criticism from the cruise industry and their public relations departments that aren’t too fond of him writing about crime and people missing from ships.
“There’s a pushback to the extent that the cruise fans and the travel agents say that crime occurs everywhere whenever we write a story about crime on a cruise ship or port,” he said. “You can’t really attack someone for complaining that things are not that safe on cruise ships when you have the Costa Concordia sinking a couple of years ago and you have the Carnival Triumph – the poop cruise – floating around the Gulf of Mexico.”
Most of the criticism came when Walker first started the blog, but most of the industry realizes that he’s not going away and just ignore him for the most part. A few of the most angry readers won’t give up.
“They’re reading something that affects their business. They get upset, the cruise lines get upset, government officials get upset. Some of the most hostile comments are from people who don’t understand that you can track their IP address. It’s no secret,” said Walker, who can tell if someone from Carnival Cruises’ front office reads his blog.
As much as he’d appreciate it if they disclosed their affiliations, he enjoys the passion and energy seen in the comments because it mirrors how he feels for blogging. Walker tries to write at least a post a day, and while other solo lawyers may not have the time for that extra work, Walker recommends that other bloggers at least write about what’s really important to them:
“You know when someone is passionate about something. … To the extent that there are people out there who are blogging, and who are blogging in some dispassionate manner and hoping to sound intelligent, they’ll likely sound boring. If they don’t have a story to tell that connects with people, provide lessons you can learn or provide some insight, then passion better be present.”