Most law blogs deal with court decisions. But not all blogs are built entirely around them.
For the writers of The Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog, when the court rules, it’s time to get writing.
“We don’t have a heads up when a high profile opinion comes down—we monitor dockets, run Google searches, and cover anything that comes out,” said one of the blog’s authors, Steve Delchin, who says that no matter what—the deadline looms. “One of the most important things about the blog is that it be timely; we want to get it up there in a few days, at the most. Readers and clients need to see these pieces right away.”
It’s that kind of consistency that keeps readers coming back. In the five years since the blog was started, Pierre Bergeron, partner and chair of the appellate practice at Squire Patton Boggs, has seen more and more examples of the blog’s outreach.
“I’ve had clients and potential clients discuss the blog with me, I’ve gotten press inquiries based on it…I’ve had several judges say [they recognize me from the blog]. Once during an oral argument at the Sixth Circuit a judge even made a comment about the blog,” said Bergeron.
Which wasn’t exactly what he expected when he began the blog in June of 2010. Back then, he wasn’t sure anyone would read it, but the idea of a blog devoted to civil cases from the circuit sounded interesting to him, and it could display the appellate expertise of the firm.
Now the blog boasts a team of seven contributors that covers all things the Sixth Circuit with the faithfulness of a reporter on a beat. In addition to just covering opinions as they come out, the blog team has expanded into analytical pieces that look at trends in law, and follow Sixth Circuit cases to the Supreme Court (when they get there).
“If anything, the blog has become much more sophisticated over time,” said Delchin. “We upped the game, and it’s more time consuming, but I think there’s more quality pieces out there.”
Of course that’s not a burden they’re unprepared to carry: as appellate lawyers, Delchin and Bergeron agree they have a lot of preparation from all the writing they do for their practice.
“You have to be a very strong writer [as an appellate lawyer]; there’s a lot of analysis that goes on,” said Delchin. “So we already know how to write, and writing for the blog is actually easy—it’s informal and conversational, so it’s easier to produce content quickly.”
There are still areas to watch out for though. Plenty of high-profile cases come through the Sixth Circuit on their way to the Supreme Court—which can mean wading into political territory.
As editor of the blog, Bergeron ensures all content is careful not to toe over any lines.
“A lot of them you know the Sixth Circuit is a waystation for those types of cases, and a lot of times those cases are the ones that drive the press inquiries,” said Bergeron. “If you’re a criminal defense lawyer writing a blog, you can say ‘this case is good, this case is bad,’ and never have to worry about it too much. But when you’re reporting on cases at the appellate level, you never know which side of an issue you or colleagues will be on. So you have to be somewhat reserved, focus more on accuracy and reporting on the case, and what issues will emerge in the wake of this case.”
Given that “developing a repository of knowledge of circuit case law has proven to be invaluable” to clients and lawyers alike, it’s important that the Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog doesn’t get into whether a ruling was right or wrong. Delchin and Bergeron say sometimes this forces them to research and write about decisions they otherwise wouldn’t have, all in service of the blog.
“It helps us keep a pulse on what the Sixth Circuit is doing, what the law is, and deliver better client service,” said Delchin. “We’re reaching folks we ordinarily would not be reaching; it opens up new opportunities for us to demonstrate our expertise. You can have a profile on your firm’s website, but people are out there on the net looking for content, and that’s what we provide.”