There’s a reason blogging is so prevalent in the legal realm compared to other professional services fields. It’s just that writing has always been a big part of both being and becoming a lawyer. From law reviews to briefs to formal complaints, there’s all kinds lawyering that takes place via the written word.
Of course though, every medium warrants a different style of writing—but sometimes relics of one might sneak over to another. Like a little bit of peanut butter getting in the jelly jar
Or, in the case of footnotes on blogs, like a little horseradish sauce from 1998 ending up in your raspberry preservers.
Why not use them
A big part of blogging is understanding the medium for which you’re writing and tailoring your content to match it. People glean a lot from a post before they actually read any of it. The first decision any reader makes is whether or not to read a post—especially as most online readers come across content passively, like via email or social text.
And a lot of that decision is based on how a post looks. Does it look like a post the reader will be able to make it through? Will the be able to quickly glean information from it? Or does it look like it’s more for a narrow audience—one that doesn’t include them?
If your blog post includes footnotes—something that will pop off the page if there are enough of them—how many people will think “Well, this might be a little denser than I’m looking for” vs. how many will think “Ah yes, perfect. This is exactly what I’m going for!”? You know the answer.
Nobody will ever not read your content because it’s too understandable, too easy to get through while still covering the necessary points. A lot of people will not read your post if it looks like you need a law degree to read it, even if the people about to read it do have a law degree.
What to do instead
Write like people normally do on the Internet. With links.
It’s really that simple. The tools are all built in, even if you do write in Word or Google Docs or someplace else first.
Here’s an example:
Varun Sivaram makes this point exceptionally well in his book from MIT Press, Taming the Sun: Innovations to Harness Solar Energy and Power the Planet.
And there is no exact rule on where a link should begin or end—just, it should be clear to the reader in advance. If you want to click, they will. If they don’t, they won’t.
The same applies for case law. Nobody’s making you use long citations and link to complex documents. If you want people to read your stuff, make it feel readable. One more example:
The Supreme Court strayed far from recent precedent in their 6-3 decision rejecting limits on harsh criminal penalties for youths, ruling against a Mississippi juvenile sentenced to life without parole.
It’s that simple. And really, it should be simple.
Simple to write, simple to read, simple to understand.