Five years ago the Consumer Financial Services Group at Ballard Spahr were searching for the right idea for a blog. And on July 21, 2010, they got it.
That was the day Congress enacted Dodd-Frank, ushering in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The new bureau opened up a lot of questions for businesses—exactly the sort of place where a blog could step in and fill a niche. Over the next year both the CFPB and Ballard Spahr developed their next step, and on July 21, 2011, they both hit the world.
Since then, the CFPB Monitor has only exceeded expectations. Subscribers have continued to grow since day one—they hear it even makes its way around the CFPB itself.
“I’m told by people that everybody there reads our blog,” said Alan Kaplinsky, partner at Ballard Spahr and lead of the firm’s Consumer Financial Services Group. “I met CFPB Director Richard Cordray for the first time earlier this year when I got selected by the CFPB to be an industry witness…I told him ‘this is the first time we’ve ever met,’ and he said ‘it may be the first time we’ve ever met but I hear your name about 50 times every day.’”
But that level of success is more than just being in the right place at the right time. From the beginning their goal was to be the best resource available for clients and industry members about anything and everything CFPB-related. And time and time again the team behind the CFPB Monitor have proved their commitment to covering the CFPB with all the fervency of a reporter on beat. And a lot of that initiative falls, uniquely, to Barbara Mishkin.
“Our firm recognized that the way our blog is successful is if the information is very current. So we try to get information on the blog as quickly as possible—but the firm has recognized that it’s a time-consuming thing to do, and attorneys who are much more involved in hands-on client work can’t just drop that client work. So I’ve been assigned to that role, which really allows us to be on top of the developments,” said Mishkin, who already had experience sending out client e-alerts.
Under this model, Mishkin is the primary person in charge of the blog is able to write a first draft of a blog entry, and then send it around to get comments from other people in the group who are experts in the specific area she’s writing on.
“I think it’s pretty unique for a law firm; law firm’s holy grail is billable hours. And in Barbara’s case, we don’t want her billing time to clients. Her job is principally keeping our blog current, interesting, and analytical,” said Kaplinsky. “We’re very fortunate that we have Barbara, because she is as much of an expert on certain areas of consumer finance law as the other lawyers in our group.”
Both Kaplinsky and Mishkin have been in consumer finance law for most of their careers, but using this system of checks and balances helps them gain insight into any angle that might fall through the cracks of one lawyer.
In addition to staying on top of issues (sometimes posting a few times in one day) that means digging deeper, and analyzing beyond the surface: insight for why something is important, or when to be critical of the bureau’s actions.
Given the workload the blog demands, it’s certainly helpful that there’s such high returns of generating work—and with that, a substantially growing team.
“We have over 100 people now in the Consumer Financial Services Group. I don’t remember what the number was when we started but it was probably about a third of that. We just keep hiring and hiring,” said Kaplinsky.
For those writers, the only subject that’s off limits is a case that involves a client (“what we have to live with as a law firm,” says Kaplinsky). Aside from that, Kaplinsky and Mishkin welcome anything that would help readers stay on top of all the issues. And given that the CFPB has had such an enormous impact on their clients, it seems like they won’t be running out of material for a while.
Neither Kaplinsky nor Mishkin is aware of too much competition in their blogging field. Given their mastery of their domain, that’s not really surprising. But they both agree that the narrowing of their focus was an important step to creating a successful blog.
“Focus is critical,” said Mishkin. “I think a blog that is really specific and covers that topic well, as opposed to trying to be all things for all people, ends up leaving quality behind, and not really having an identity at the end of the day.”