When Sheppard Mullin first started looking into blogging 13 years ago, the blog landscape was fairly scarce.
Legal bloggers were starting to come up, but even then they were on the rare side. It was unusual to come across a law blogger in your area, let alone a blog backed by a firm. But Sheppard Mullin saw the opportunity. All they needed was someone to buy-in.
“We had to convince them to; it seems obvious now, but before blogs were commonplace it was a concept that needed to explained and understood,” said Vickie Spang, the firm’s CMO, who says she singled out the antitrust group to start as they were already “prolific hardcopy newsletter writers.”
“It always takes people time to adjust to something new—we first implemented the blog in February 2005, so it was definitely a new concept. Not anymore of course; now it would seem obvious, no issue whatsoever. It was hard to let go of paper but we convinced them, and that got us out of the gates.”
And now that they’re out of the gates Sheppard Mullin’s blog network has only continued to expand. They now boast a stable of 31 blogs, covering an assortment of topics. Spang is strict when attorneys want to get a blog off the ground; she wants to make sure they’re serious, and that they have a plan to maintain it. But after that she finds her office doesn’t have to monitor them as closely. Once they have the marketing department’s guidelines they mostly run themselves, with Spang only stepping in if a blog seems like it’s on its way to stale.
“There’s no one size fits all in a law firm; everyone is an individual, and comes at the thing their own way,” said Spang. From her point of view it’s up to the lawyers to know themselves well enough on how they can keep a blog going in their practice group, let alone if they’ll even want to. “I would say don’t force it. Find the person who naturally gravitates towards it, who likes to write, and is committed to writing frequently, [who is] also practical.”
But if you talk to the attorneys who blog it’s not quite as hands off as Spang described—and they love that.
“It’s way too difficult for me to keep track, but [marketing reviews] will sometimes come and say ‘Hey, the IP group or trade secrets group is blogging on this as well; let’s make sure this is consistent. Maybe you guys want to get together or link to the other one.’ So we’re able to offer the prospective client a view on a different blog,” said Marlene Nicolas, partner and co-editor of the Labor & Employment Law Blog. “As far as topics to cover and style of writing they leave that to us. But they definitely add value.”
Part of that is by creating a culture where blogging is encouraged among the lawyers. Sheppard Mullin was early to that idea, but it’s managed to keep that energy moving forward. Likely because the firm had a clear vision of what the blogs wanted to do.
“A lot of mistakes other firms make with their blogs is having a blog simply to have a blog. That’s where it falls apart…it certainly makes it easier to get involved in something if you’re going to be acknowledged for it,” said Kayla Page, an associate at the firm and co-editor of their Intellectual Property Law Blog. “Sheppard has always been really dedicated to having a significant social media and blogging presence, both from an educational perspective internally, and as a resource to clients.”
Sheppard’s strategy of having clear point people for the blogs has also made it easier to reach across the group divides and collaborate. While on the one hand it helps drive blog content, it also helps attorneys get to know each other and other practice areas while putting their best foot forward on the internet.
“We felt it was really important to be on top of what’s going on out there in the daily world,” said Nancy Ly, another labor & employment associate and Page’s co-editor on the blog. “Internally there’s very much understanding that you’re never going to get an eyebrow raise because you’ve spent your non-billable time writing for blogs.”
And then attorneys can point to new clients who found them through the blog. Nicolas, Ly, and Page all say they’ve found success in that realm from their blogging, which—like the antitrust group’s initial success in that area—creates a chain reaction about blogging.
That helps keep the energy going, while Spang and the firm’s marketing team make sure that the guiding principle is still in sight and at work in all these blogs. And, of course, keeping the email lists fresh.