Marketing has given blogging a bad name.
I say that not to offend the legal marketers of the world or the lawyers who blog to market their practices.
But I fear that, at least in the legal profession, blogging has become so tightly equated with marketing that its inherent value as a medium of expression has been obscured.
Wanting to market yourself and your practice is a perfectly sound reason to start a blog. In fact, it is a compelling reason to start a blog.
My belief, based on years of experience and observation, is that there is no more powerful way for a lawyer to build up a practice than through blogging.
I have seen the success stories play out so many times. Stories like Tom Goldstein, who as an aspiring Supreme Court litigator started SCOTUSblog and today leads one of the nation’s preeminent Supreme Court law practices. Stories like Dennis Crouch, who as a young associate just a year out of law school started Patently-O and achieved prominence that fast-tracked him into a law school professorship.
But for these lawyers, I believe they’d tell you that blogging was never just about marketing. They wrote because they had strong interests in the topics they covered, and out of that interest and writing, they honed their expertise. Their blogs were powerful as marketing vehicles not because they were designed to be such, but because readers saw the value in what they wrote, and soon more readers came, and then more still.
The curse of marketing is that many legal professionals have come to view blogs as something they should do or need to do. They blog not out of interest, but out of obligation. Perhaps their marketing department is pushing them or management is pressuring them to bring in more business. Their heart isn’t in it.
The curse of marketing has had an even darker impact on legal blogging. It has spawned a whole industry of spam blogs – of blogs written purely for search optimization, blogs littered with clickbait language, blogs written not even by the lawyers whose bylines they bear, but by outsourced content factories that may have little actual knowledge of the legal topics they cover.
Yes, marketing is an important and valid part of blogging. But if that is the only motivation driving you to blog, then I’d say don’t bother, because it will soon become a slog, and your readers will know it.
Let me tell you what I see as some of the value of blogging that has nothing to do with marketing.
Blogging is a creative outlet. I’m not going to pretend that, as legal bloggers, we’re writing the great American novel. I get that. But blogging done right is a form of creative expression. It is a way for you, the blogger, to share with others your passion for a topic, and maybe help them see why it should matter to them too. The best bloggers, I’ve long believed, let something of themselves show through in their writing. That is sometimes hard for lawyers to do, because they’ve been taught to write dispassionately and objectively. The longer you blog, the easier it gets, and the more your personality and passion show through.
Blogging makes you smarter. I can’t cite any scientific evidence to back this up, but I’ve heard any number of bloggers say the same thing. The discipline of blogging forces you to keep up with your subject area (or practice area) in ways you might otherwise not do. You find yourself spending more time reading other blogs by lawyers in your field. You follow news developments more closely. When that new case comes down, you read it right away rather than filing it away for later. You engage more often with others in your field. No, blogging won’t change your IQ. But it will expand your mind.
Blogging opens doors. Out of blogging come opportunities. If you have knowledge and expertise to share, others will see that through your blog and they will come knocking. Reporters will call for comment on breaking news. Conference organizers will call for you to speak. Publishers will query you about a book. Potential employers will seek you out.
Blogging builds relationships. I started blogging in 2002. As I write this 18 years later, I have a network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances that is literally worldwide. It is safe to say that the majority of those people have become part of my network as a direct or indirect result of my blogging. Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t reach out to me over a post I wrote, and I connect with others in the same way. Many of my closest friendships came about through my blogging. There is a power and immediacy in sharing your words and thoughts with others that brings you together like nothing else does.
Blogging improves your writing. The more you write, the better the writer you become. That is true in general and it is true of blogging. But blogging, I believe, improves your writing in ways other than by dint of frequency. Let’s face it, law school stifles creativity in writing. We are taught to be formal, rigid and objective. The last thing we want in a brief is for our personality to show through (or at least that’s what we’re told). Blogging is a completely different medium. It can free you from learned constraints and enable you to experiment and even play a bit with your writing.
Blogging also loosens your writing by teaching you that the perfect is the enemy of the good-enough. Because you can’t spend forever on a post, because you are sometimes under deadline with a post, you learn to let go and hit the “publish” button even when you’d rather let it marinate for another day. As a former journalist, that is easier for me. But for many lawyers, it is a lesson that is hard to learn.
Blogging is a service. When you blog, you help others. By openly sharing your knowledge and expertise, you are enabling others to better understand the law. Maybe your blog is directed at an audience of clients or potential clients. Maybe it is directed at readers who are other lawyers in your field. Either way, you are providing a service by providing information and insights that they can use to better understand their own situations. Ultimately, that is why people will read your blog, because it is helpful and meaningful to them.
So by all means, go ahead and start that blog in order to market your practice. But don’t let that be your only motivation. Blogging takes effort and commitment. If your heart is not in it, it will soon become a slog. And if you focus too tightly on marketing, you may miss all the other opportunities blogging offers you.