When Matthew DeVries moved to Nashville from D.C., he knew he would be competing with homegrown attorneys in the market. What he needed was a way to set himself apart—and he settled on a blog.
He started with a monthly newsletter, but after about six months it was clear to him that a blog would be necessary.
“If I had someone that needed to connect with me, it was only as fast as I could get into the office and send a request of information form and have them return it to me,” said DeVries, a partner at Burr & Forman LLP. “With a blog people can get access to all my resources at any time.”
And so the Best Practices Construction Law blog was born. In the beginning, around May 2009, DeVries remembers writing feverishly about anything related to the field of construction law to raise his profile. He aimed to be publishing about five times a week—not always an easy task for a lawyer with seven kids—covering whatever legal issues he could find in construction; from green building to human remains found in a site.
But after a few years DeVries intentionally slowed down. He was noticing the benefits that come with blogging—solid workload, higher professional profile, and a generous knowledge base to draw from—and wanted to be more deliberate about his blogging.
“I started to look at successful blogs like Cordell Parvin, Daniel Schwartz, and Jim Walker, and started to see that they were blogging about problems that their clients would have, and offer potential answers or solutions,” said DeVries. “[I thought] about what kinds of things are important to the clients I want to represent; what arises in their area? What’s happened out in the world that’s helpful to them for me to help solve. And my blogging became more purposeful.”
Now DeVries blogs about more than construction litigation. In addition to dealing with other issues that may come along with development projects (financing on the front end, regulatory law, and environmental law to name a few) he’s also channeled more of his personal self into his blog.
As the father of seven kids who’s involved in his community, DeVries has started tapping into some of the leadership best practices he’s learned from his own life. He says that he finds a lot of lessons through parenting that business development owners or construction project managers could benefit from; blogging about them is just another way to help those business owners be the best they can be. That authenticity is key, according to DeVries—even if it’s just being honest with yourself.
“This is about content that is relational; you find a lot of my personality in my blog posts. There’s a lot of stuff about what my kids have done or mistakes I’ve made as a parent, and that’s a way to connect with audience members whether it’s through running a big family or a small business,” said DeVries. “I would encourage people to take an assessment of what their passion is, and make it personable.”
In DeVries eyes his blog has grown in maturity, if not in numbers—although he doesn’t know, because he has outgrown checking in on his analytics. He knows the blog’s numbers have held steady, but that’s no longer the most important metric to him.
“I’m not interested in 100,000 hits in a month if I’m not making real connections there,” said DeVries.
And real connections are being made. DeVries can recount a handful of times when reporters have found him through his blog, from Bloomberg BNA, Chicago Sun-Times, and more, including two last month within a week of each other writing on two separate cases. Without his blog there’s no way these reporters would’ve sought him, an attorney in Nashville, for stories about construction projects in D.C. and Alaska. It’s just one way his geographic reach has extended far past the boundaries of Nashville, Tennessee. He counts speaking at national conventions and blogging hand in hand in terms of raising that profile even further.
Which is understandable, given the level of care DeVries puts into his posts. He makes sure they’re personable, but not unprofessional (“If you can’t spell correctly or punctuate correctly just because you want to throw a blog post up there that says something about your professionalism”), and makes sure his posts present the facts in a way people would want to read them. In his mind it’s a lot like exercise: You’ve got to commit to what you can handle, and then make yourself do it. It’s going to suck for a while, but after a while it’ll be much easier.
You may even see unexpected rewards, like DeVries who, though his blog has always been more geared towards clients than fellow lawyers, has gotten some pretty good indications that he has some readers amongst his peers anyway.
“I had opposing counsel in a multi-million dollar trial cite a post I did…all he really had to do was cite the case in the blog post, but he actually printed out the post and attached it to his brief,” remembered DeVries. “But it backfired because it basically made me an expert in construction law.”
Which means the blog is working. Now he says between raising seven kids, maintaining his speaking calendar, and actually litigating, the biggest challenge is time.