Shawn Collins at Pollution Law Watch knows he has his work cut out for him. Luckily, he has a blog.
“Many of the polluters [we are bringing a case against] are large companies with big budgets who can afford the very biggest and best law firms in the world to defend them. For anybody who does the plaintiff’s side, you know going in that your clients can’t afford to pay you what the polluters do,” said Shawn Collins, who says it’s that fire that keeps him practicing and blogging, even when he feels like an “endangered species.”
“My point of view in blogging is that I’m trying to not only impart information, but also capture the sense of outrage, betrayal, and disappointment that my clients and I both feel when we get involved in these situations.”
Often the cases Collins handles involve a very serious environmental problem that has been known for years, but ignored. He sees families in polluted communities that are the last ones who have been told, who’ve seen their government abandon them or ignore them, and has taken their health for granted. Given how disappointed and frustrated that makes him feel, he’s not surprised when his blog comes across as more passionate than others.
“I’m writing for the kinds of people who are the first ones to reach out for our help; typically a mom who’s been raising kids in a house she thought was the place where she could protect her children. Along the way she is crushed to find out that the water coming into the home is contaminated and has been for many years…then she finds that others knew it but didn’t bother to tell her, and she may have been unwittingly exposing her children to something dangerous. That’s the person I’m thinking about when I’m writing, because that’s who has the most at stake in these kinds of problems,” says Collins, who also founded The Collins Firm.
After more than 15 years of practicing and four years of blogging, Collins and his team are familiar with the emotional content in cases such as these. For them, the blog is more than just a way to impart some guidance to families like these, but also convey that someone out there understands what they’re going through. In that time, their goal of helping people and having an impact on the world haven’t changed much—even if they always know they’ll be outgunned.
“My firm, and the lawyers I work with, will always lose the resource battle. We will always have less money to fight the battle than the company we’re up against. But that’s alright,” said Collins. “At some point in this process that becomes a part of why you want to do it; you realize that if it weren’t for us the families that we’re helping wouldn’t have any lawyer to help them. If we can prevent that then being underfunded up against a big company and big law firm is a small price to pay—and a badge of honor.”
In a relatively small law firm like Collins’, he knows that business judgements have to be made. He also knows that their blog is an important part of that.
“My favorite response is ‘can you help me?’ Always,” said Collins. “When someone has read our blogs, find out they’re in trouble and pay us the ultimate compliment by asking can you help us, that’s who you want to reach.”
He admits that it can sometimes be a bit of a hangup for him; taking more drafts than he needs to make sure it’s absolutely perfect before it’s published, polishing it so that it doesn’t seem like a “cookie cutter” blog post from just anybody.
His goal is to make it seem that it’s written with real care by someone who does care, which means he can’t just assign a day of the week to post.
“Sometimes the way I want to write things doesn’t come to me easily on Tuesday,” said Collins. “I want it to be perfect for the audience I’d like to find, and I want them to be able to get through it and not only find it informative but interesting. That takes work.”
But in other ways, it’s easy, according to Collins. The blog is who he and the three other authors are, imparting their sense of outrage over the cases they work with. Each member brings their own fresh take to the case; some heavier on the science, others heavier on the human-aspect. But no matter what, Collins hopes they never lose their sense of outrage.
“Blogging is just another part of what a lawyer does. If you’re going to take cases and serve clients about things that are important to you, blogging should be about things thate are important to you,” he said.
“If you’re blogging about something important to you the audience will sense that as they’re reading about what you’ve written, and they’ll want to reach out and talk to you. Write about things you care deeply about. Any lawyer who does that will automatically be an effective blogger.”