Navel gazing

There’s too much navel gazing by bloggers – blogging about blogging; but, as my business is legal information publishing and blogs are a key part of that now, I think I’m entitled to gaze deep into my navel.

Following my interview with Rob La Gatta at Lexblog, I’ve been thinking more about the questions he posed. Why aren’t there more law bloggers? and why hasn’t law blogging taken off in the UK as much as in the US?

Not surprisingly, LexBlog has come up with some more great insights which go some way to help me answer these questions ex post facto. In a LexBlog Q & A with Greg Storey, LexBlog’s Creative Director and principal at the California-based web design and development corporation Airbag Industries, Greg has this to say about what it takes to run a successful blog:

It is a commitment to run a successful blog. You have to be committed not only to writing your blog, but to keeping up with the conversation that’s happening online within whatever peer group or interest group you want to be a part of. It’s one part writing, one part observing, and one part reading. And you’ve got to have time to do all three of those things. If you do those three things, I think that’s the start of what makes a good blog.

So far, so good. Don’t just write; observe – read – write. But what is the biggest misconception people have when they blog?

If you’re a blog author, you don’t want to write for an audience or expecting an audience. You need to write for yourself. … when I write for Airbag, it’s very rarely that I’m caring about anybody who is reading it. If I can make myself laugh, then I’ve hit the mark. And if I can make myself happy with what I’ve written, then that’s all I care about. Anybody else who comes behind me and thinks what I’ve written is good? That’s just icing on the cake. The thing that people need to remember is, this isn’t your college essay. This isn’t a business memo. This isn’t a sales presentation. This is you, writing as you’re thinking.

And what can blogs do for lawyers?

You may be very intelligent, you may be the best at what you do within a particular legal vertical, but your name is not big enough and there’s no reputation. I think the best way to hone your message and to get out there is to blog about yourself: showing that you are intelligent about this subject, that you do have the tenacity to get things done, that you’ve got the eloquence to represent someone in a way that no one else does. Blogs in the legal world are a way for individuals to come out and say, “Hey, I’m here.” and I think that blogs can go a long way in helping in that effort, in a way that a bus ad or a yellow page ad or a directory listing cannot.

The difficulty in putting one’s finger on what’s good about blogging is that there are two parallel benefits which need to be considered separately – and only the first is a given:

(1) The blogging platform. It’s a simple, cheap, efficient, effective way to publish and update information, particularly in constantly-changing fields such as the law. Blogging puts in your hands publishing “power” even greater than that which was the preserve of only large, established publishers with fat wallets not so long ago. Content management, feed generation, discussion forums, subscriber management, search engine optimisation: all is built in for free. That’s reason enough for almost everyone and every organisation to consider blogging.

(2) The act of blogging. It’s you talking. As Greg says, “This is you, writing as you’re thinking,” not writing for or expecting an audience, but saying “Hey, I’m here.” If you are a stand-up guy/gal and really do have something to contribute, simply by showing who you are, you will engage with your peers and your market; and by showing what you know, you will promote yourself without the need for glossy brochures, calculated networking or other self-promotion that may not sit easily with you. This benefit is not unique to the personal blogger, but there are few group blogs and even fewer corporate blogs that will do the same trick; quite simply they lack personality.

How does this help me answer the questions Rob posed?

Why are there not more law bloggers? The law is not unique here. Why are there not more sportsmen blogging? more entertainers? more accountants? more bankers?

(a) You have to have something to say and want to publish it. 99% of people do have something to say, but don’t judge it worthy of a public airing, or prefer to say it in other ways (on Facebook, down the pub etc). Blogging is journalism; you have to want to do it.

(b) It’s a commitment. 99% of people will commit their time in other ways.

And why hasn’t law blogging taken off in the UK as much as in the US?

This is more difficult to answer. Proportionately, we’re not far behind, but I stand by what I said to Rob. By virtue of the smaller scale of the profession, it’s not yet normal for UK lawyers to blog. We don’t see it or yet engage with it in sufficient numbers, so we don’t do it. For the “internet generation” – shall we say the less-than-30-somethings – exposing oneself on the web is the norm; but for most of those who grew up without it, it’s still an alien world yet to be investigated or to be treated with caution. And all this talk of “social” and “sharing” may still ring familiar bells:

And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.

(For the benefit of the internet generation, this was Margaret Thatcher in 1987 – 8 years into her term as PM.)

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