There are a lot of ways to know when your blog is making it. D. Todd Smith’s favorite indicator was when a Texas Supreme Court judge asked him about it.
“One time I had a Texas Supreme Court justice comment to me in a social situation about a blog post of mine that this person had read. The flip side, which is also good I suppose, was another Supreme Court justice made a comment to me in a social situation that I hadn’t been writing much lately,” said Smith. “It was almost like I was being held accountable by the people that I do write it for—judges, and other lawyers—[and] the people I was writing it for were largely taking notice, even holding me accountable when I slipped a bit.”
His blog, the Texas Appellate Law blog, has been around since 2007. Smith had just left a big firm and was starting his own solo practice, which meant he needed some way to differentiate himself from the herd. An early adopter of social media and a general tech-minded person, Smith saw blogging for the opportunity it was.
“People were starting to sit up and pay attention to blogs. It wasn’t too long after that we discovered that judges were reading blogs,” said Smith. “When it started getting attention it just developed its own momentum, and I’ve just tried to keep it up since then.”
Texas Appellate Law has undergone some changes over the years; as Smith’s firm has grown and changed he’s added some contributors to the blog. It’s also changed its primary content: When he first started Smith wrote mostly case studies, but overtime that wasn’t as sustainable. He got busy enough early enough that he didn’t have as much time as he wanted to write, let alone write content that would set him apart from all the other sources with the same information.
And so he started focusing more on what he, as a lawyer and a blogger, could bring to the table. Namely, his own insight into what he was reading and seeing, and how that was affecting the area he was practicing in. As it turns out, it was a lot more interesting for him too.
“What I noticed was, putting [a case summary] up every Friday, only changing one little piece of data in the headline, was kind of monotonous and boring,” said Smith. “And so I decided what I really wanted to do is focus on things I found interesting, which gave me more flexibility with respect to frequency; I didn’t have to post every Friday, I could post in greater depth about one specific case rather than writing about every case.”
Almost ten years later in and Smith still finds blogging to be a worthwhile experience. Looking back on his time building up and maintaining the blog, it’s an exercise he would recommend to anyone—if they can stick with it.
“You don’t just become a blogging success by just establishing a blog and suddenly the phone rings off the wall,” said Smith. “The longevity factor is important in long-term development of a specialty or a niche. Readers see you as an authority in that area; you’ve been around, writing about it not only last month but five years ago…it gives you a shelf life or a tail, so people can look you up and see you’re not a flash in the pan on whatever your issue is.”
Smith views blogging as central to his development of his reputation in his practice area. The world is, after all, consuming more and more information online, it’s a natural fit that this is how his marketing and representation would develop.
That’s what helped him through the years when it felt like maybe he was just writing for himself—well, that and determination to make it work. He always knew that there would be ways to use that content—on Twitter, Facebook, or just as a conversation item—and never saw the work as a waste.
“If a young lawyer wants to become an expert what better way than to research and write about it? Even with a 500 word blog post, just understanding the issue enough to talk through it in 500 words is an educational experience. Even in the days when you’re only really writing for yourself it’s not true; I still get inquiries from posts I did in 2008,” said Smith.
It’s that grit that has helped the Texas Appellate Law blog catch the eye of everyone from clients to justices. As Smith moves forward, with more posts and bylines popping up on the blog, he’s just working to make sure readers get a sense of his sensibilities. In terms of letting people know who you are, what you’re doing, and where your interests and expertise are, he finds it really difficult to replicate the reach and personality of a blog anywhere else.
“I think anytime you can have someone sitting on the high court commenting on you is a pretty high point,” said Smith. “You hear so much about taking these online conversations into the real world, and this is a good example of that…It reinforces that online conversations are personal conversations and vice versa.”