They say blogging is a conversation—and no one knows that better than Dan Harris.
“There’s so many different sorts [of feedback]. People who comment on a post, those who write about our post,” said Harris. “Then there’s the media who contact us. We’ve got really good connections with about 25 of the top 30 journalists writing on China, and they contact us all the time.”
But in nearly the ten years since he started the China Law Blog, his favorites are still the comments that are “so good you do a post on them.”
“Someone will say, ‘you talk about this, this is what happened to me. Have you ever seen this before?’ We actually get leads from our readers all the time,” said Harris. “They want us to see [their story;] they want us to know what was going on…and they send us information so that we can cover the story in a different way.”
It’s that sense of community that Harris loves about blogging. In 2006, when he launched the blog after a friend insisted they jump on the growing outlet, there were ten “really good” blogs all writing on China. When someone wrote on one aspect of China relations, the community could feed off each other, each covering a different angle of the story.
Since then, many of the bloggers have relocated to the U.S., but Harris still holds onto developing that solidarity with readers.
“Sometimes we openly ask questions: ‘What do you think?’ ‘What are you hearing?’ Which is a very important question…if we’re getting three calls on a single issue, we want to know if it’s just three or three out of 3000.”
Consequently, the blog helps Harris and his firm stay in front of what is going on in China. Establishing himself as an expert in China-U.S. law didn’t happen overnight, but now Harris says they have a huge information base to draw from, giving them the background knowledge to wow clients right off the bat and help him better understand what they want.
For Harris and his firm Harris Moure, blogging has been a huge value-add—which may explain why the firm also launched the Canna Law Blog in 2010. As a firm who believes in the power of the Internet, blogging just makes sense.
“It’s an amazing way to be able to get your message out quickly. And it’s great at generating work for us—we get calls all the time from companies, ‘I read this on your blog and I’d like to talk to you about it.’ Or the equally common: ‘I’ve been reading your blog for years and knew at some point I’d need your help, and that point is now.’”
But Harris has always made sure to keep his eye on that double-edged sword.
“Even though [our goal at first] was to get our name out, our position has always been not to worry about that. We’ve always been of the view that if we write posts to get business no one will read us,” said Harris. “People care about China and want to read stuff that’s interesting. So we should make each individual post interesting and helpful, and if we can achieve those two things we can get readership and get business.”
And clearly something is resonating with the readers: Harris recalls early on when The Wall Street Journal cited them and their readership jumped from 50 to 5000. From there, 500 readers stuck around, and it rose from there.
It’s been five or six years since he’s looked at the number of people who regularly read him, but he knows he got a boost when he joined the LexBlog Network around then.
“It’s been a great experience—in fact I did not think it would be as worthwhile as it was, because I thought that the only benefit would be backend support,” said Harris. “I thought we were really well known and didn’t think LexBlog would get us more readers, but it did—and lawyer readers. Because the publicity within the LexBlog community really works.”
Since day one, Harris has always geared the China Law Blog towards the small to midsize business owner or in-house lawyer who are trying to figure out China. Even still, Harris has been surprised to get contacted by some very large companies who are also seeking his guidance.
Often he’s able to help them in some way. But Harris says one of the most important lessons he’s learned with his blog is to know exactly who he is.
“That’s the advice I’ve always given to younger lawyers: You can’t fake anything. You just have to be who you are, and if potential clients or clients don’t like it you can’t worry about it or change it. If you can’t get clients with who you are then you’re in the wrong business.”