Appellate lawyer Kirk Jenkins writes two analytic blogs that cover two different states, California Supreme Court Review and Illinois Supreme Court Review. Senior Counsel at Arnold and Porter, Kirk joined This Week in Legal Blogging with Bob Ambrogi. Kirk’s practice focuses on antitrust and constitutional law, as well as price fixing, class certification, and more.
Kirk discusses what exactly appellate analytics entails and how this niche can be so incredibly helpful to his clients. He then delves into why he decided to start his blog, who his audience is, how blogging has impacted his career, scheduling and marketing his blog, and more. The conversation closes with Kirk offering some advice to individuals who are interested in blogging or just getting started in the blogging scene.
Here’s the full episode and, down below, we have a selection of the best exchanges.
How did you decide to launch a blog as a way of bringing this data and information to your readership?
I believe that blogging is in a lot of ways taking over what was once the place of law reviews, by bringing authoritative commentary to a wider audience. Law reviews take a fairly long time to get them into print, require a lot of review, and generally entail a very formalized process. One of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of my posts begin with me musing, “I wonder if…” and then a question follows. I go to the data and figure it out. A lot of people are doing that, talking about conventional wisdom. The thing you can do on a blog that you can’t do in a law review is still go on to publish your article if you find out that the answer to “I wonder if” is no rather than yes.
Who are you writing for? Who do you see as your audience?
Fundamentally, this is a tool to assist my practice and people like me. I made a decision in dealing with the data early on to divide it between civil and criminal. My definition of criminal cases is idiosyncratic because it is basically that the law firms that I work for wouldn’t necessarily handle. A lawyer will tell you that habeas corpus, for example, is a civil proceeding, but I’ve got it on the criminal side because if you put it on the civil side, it then corrupts the database. Ultimately, it is to put me in a position to tell my client step by step, based on the data, what is likely to happen. It’s also so that I can help us to focus in on the best way to get to the majority of the panel.
How does your audience use the information you’re giving them? Does it inform the arguments they’re presenting to court?
Lawyers would use it in assembling case to better understand the record of a particular judge when they’re going to one of these appellate courts. We all have a general idea that Justice A is more conservative than Justice B, Justice C. We treat judges in appellate courts a bit like politicians do, as if they’re completely independent decision-makers and what A does has no effect on what B does, etc. The scholarship demonstrates that this perception is completely wrong. For example, a holding concept for ideology in gender-related cases, is that male judge will hold in plaintiff direction more often if he’s sitting with women on the panel. That kind of thing needs to be taken into account when estimating your chances. There’s a cohesion problem. For example, in Illinois, one of the reasons that it hasn’t moved in a more left direction is because the Republican judges vote together more than the Democrats do. A lot depends on panel cohesion, and not a lot of people are talking about that.
You were an appellate lawyer before starting these blogs. Has starting these blogs had any impact on your practice or career?
Absolutely. It has made a lot of what has happened over the 8-10 years possible. I get calls fairly frequently from people, including corporate folks, who have done Google searches looking for expertise in a certain area, either a geographical area or an area of the law. We have exited the time when all you needed to do was make a deal on the golf course. You have to be able to have your expertise on display now. If someone googles your name and doesn’t know your area of expertise within three minutes, you’re doing something wrong because you frequently don’t get any longer that. Corporate clients have told me that it didn’t take them long at all to figure out who the expert on appellate law is when they needed one.
How does marketing and building up a readership for your blog work? Have you had to do a lot of work on that end, or has it been mostly organic?
It is crucial for blog writers to cross-promote their work on other social media platforms. Everything I do, I cross-promote over onto LinkedIn. Both statistical blogs have Twitter accounts. About a year and a half ago, I took a very close look at the Google Analytics, and it turns out that the people who come in through social media actually outnumber those who come in straight through the URL, 20-1. That’s the crucial stuff to understand that you’re not done by a long shot when you hit Publish on the blog.
What have you learned? What advice do you have for others who are considering blogging?
It’s imperative that you find something that you feel strongly about. Ultimately, what you’re doing, if you’re fortunate enough, is something that will benefit your practice and clients. But the first step to doing that is getting excited about the subject. It’s going to take time, and if you do it as an obligation, it won’t go anywhere. Find something that you can use as your niche. “This is why I’m not just another accomplished appellate lawyer. I do this.” There’s some truth to that cliche, “Find something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
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