What makes a good blawg?

First published in Legal Executive Journal, April 2008

Law blogs (aka “blawgs”) are still unfamiliar territory for many lawyers. Though not a new phenomenon, blogging itself and even reading blogs is definitely not yet normal for lawyers. Space does not permit coverage of basics such as what a blog is and the mechanics of blogging; for this see the articles on my blog Binary Law. Following is a quick summary of why you should blog, with some examples of great blawgs and tips on effective blogging.

Why blog?

The blogging “platform” is a simple, cheap, efficient, effective way to publish and update time-sensitive 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.

Blogging is good for business. If you have something contribute in your field of interest, simply by showing who you are on your blog, 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.

Blogs are not just a publishing format, but a networking tool, a means to reach out and engage with an audience; and blogging is not just about publishing, but about conversing and contributing.

Blawgs of note

It is inevitable that many new to blawgs will ask “Which are the best?” to get some benchmark against which to assess the medium. But there are no “best” blawgs, just as there are no best law articles or best law books; it all depends on your field of interest and what you, the “user”, want from them. There is already a great diversity of blawgs, ranging from the incompetent and inane, through various shades of competent but pedestrian, to the engaging and the professional. There are blawgs for every taste.

I have been a member of the “blawgosphere” (the world of law blogs) since its early days; I have read – at least in passing – almost all existing law blogs and have commented on many on my own blog Binary Law. A standard feature of all blogs is the “blogroll” – a list of links to other blogs one follows. Most blogrolls expand over time; mine does not. Although I keep track of them all, there are only so many blawgs that I rate highly and even fewer that I read often. Here are some of my “blawgs of note”: established blogs that have made their mark – for the reasons given – and stood the test of time. Each also illustrates a particular genre of blog.

The free spirit: Charon QC

Though not the first law blogger, Charon QC is in many ways the father of law blogging. By his own admission, he does not cover much law. But he posts frequently and engagingly on a wide range of topics from legal education (his business), through all things legal and political, to sport and his other extra-mural interests and vices. His sheer energy shows through in his incredible output: he not only blogs a few items a day, but also produces numerous podcast interviews with the great and the not-so-great in the legal arena and produces the Consilio online magazine (www.consilio.tv). He is generous in his linking to and praise of other blawgers. An all-round star performer.

The thoughtful independent: Nearly Legal

Nearly Legal is a mature entrant to the legal profession who started blogging while trying to secure a traineeship. Eighteen months on and with the traineeship in the bag, he blogs mainly on his professional concerns – the joy of housing law, legal aid, justice and human rights – but also insightfully on law blogging, webbery in general and “whatever”. He is innovative in his use of his blog space, with features such as LawSearch and a Housing Law Feeds page. He has a considered opinion on most matters legal and comments frequently on others’ blogs.

The small practitioner: Family Lore

John Bolch of Kent firm Winch & Winch works almost exclusively in family law, covering primarily divorce, ancillary relief, private law children matters and cohabitee disputes. He blogs frequently, knowledgeably and informatively on all these topics and more besides. All is well classified and attractively designed and the blog is livened up by images attached to most posts and by the humour John injects into many. This is a great example of a niche blawg displaying expertise and providing a very useful resource for prospective clients and for others involved in the field.

The law firm group: IMPACT

IMPACT is a good example of a law firm group blog with several contributors covering a particular area of practice. It is from the intellectual property and technology team at Freeth Cartwright and covers all things to do with IP and IT law, with practical tips and thoughts on the news and stories discussed. Again this niche blawg displays expertise and provides a useful resource for prospective clients and for other external readers; as a group blog, it is also, of course, a medium for communication within the team and a useful resource for others in the firm.

More notable blawgs

For reviews of other notable blawgs you can do no better than refer to the following UK Blawg Reviews (Blawg Review is a “carnival of law bloggers”):

Effective blogging

Achieving the full potential for a blog is about how you blog; it’s what you put into it that counts. Here are some brief top tips for effective blogging.

  • Write for yourself. Don’t write for or expect an audience, just show who you are and what you know.
  • Keep it fresh. Post a few times a week; anything less and you’re unlikely to make the cut.
  • Don’t let blogging become a chore. Blog about what interests you; your blog will be the better for a narrower focus.
  • Keep on topic. Don’t use your business blog to post about your family, pets or other personal interests!
  • “Blog smart”. This is a term coined by Microsoft meaning think of the consequences of what you are posting and rein yourself in where necessary.
  • Link, link, link. Links to other blogs and other sites are helpful to your readers and beneficial to you in developing your network.
  • Credit your sources. Whether quoting directly from or rephrasing and commenting on something you picked up elsewhere, credit the source; don’t claim ownership.
  • Converse. Don’t just talk to your audience; ask questions, venture opinions, stir things up!
  • Respond (or not). By blogging you are inviting comments. Respond to the constructive; take criticism on the chin; ignore the hostile.

As to generating traffic for your blog, you can take steps to publicise it such as:

  • Adding other bloggers with like or overlapping interests to your blogroll.
  • Submitting it to specialist directories such as infolaw and Blawg.org, a US site with a World Blawgs section.
  • “Claiming” your blog at the specialist blog search engine Technorati.

However, the best way to promote your blog is to write frequent and useful posts, so readers keep coming back, to link in your posts to other blog posts that interest you and to add comments to others’ posts. This will gradually get you recognised in the blogosphere, earning you inbound links and improving your position in the search engines.