My column for the OBA this month is part one of a two parter on Blogs, Wikis and RSS. Here is part one, in which Slaw features prominently.
Blogs, Wikis and RSS – barbaric words that sound strange.
What do they have to do with practising law? If you’re not thinking about building Blogs, Wikis and RSS into your practice – you’re not alone among Ontario lawyers. But I think you should be, for these odd neologisms describe new tools within the reach of every lawyer, which for the right practice can expand your marketing reach for minimal out-of-pocket cost.
The three odd words all involve dynamic networked information – blog is short for web-log, and refers to a personalized webpage that’s so simple that you can change regularly using off the shelf tools; wiki (which is a Hawaiian word for quick quick) means a webpage which can be changed by all authorized users, so that instead of it being a one-way message it becomes a conversation or a collaboration; finally RSS means really simple syndication, a technique for delivering to users just the news they’re interested in, a personalized feed of information.
Why blog? Because it is one of the easiest low-cost ways of connecting you with clients and potential clients, by establishing your credentials. More and more web-users are reading blogs, yet the legal profession has been slow to embrace the medium.
For the last six months I’ve been part of a collective blog, called Slaw which focuses on technology and legal research in Canada. What have I learned? Well, just how easy and non-technical it is. My friend and blogmeister Simon Fodden, a retired Osgoode professor, comments “lawyers have this idea that the learning curve is intimidating, but blogs are dead easy to make.”
The tougher questions involve content. Canada is underpopulated with legal blogs. There is clearly space available. But what works? I encountered 3 really useful blogs long before I really knew what this was about. Their content made them valuable. Keeping up with developments on conflicts of interest is something that used to take me a while until I came across a wonderful blog run by William Freivogel entitled Freivogel on Conflicts . Not elegant but really practical, Bill’s blog feeds an encyclopædia of developments in the area. Law Professor Michael Geist has built up a formidable reputation in his field by publishing a daily feed of information about computer and internet law published as the free BNAInternet Law News. It’s delivered daily by email. But even more impressive is Michael Geist’s personal blog which has Michael’s more personal and opinionated take on developments in the sector. Fine you may say, Michael’s an academic with time on his hands. When a young lawyer in Halifax started building his practice in a novel area, he noticed that there was no single place to track new developments in the Canadian law of privacy. Now the Canadian Privacy Law Blog has been running for two years, and David Fraser has become the leading privacy lawyer in Atlantic Canada, with a thriving practice and an enviable presence.
There are certain conventions that guide effective blogging:
• use your own voice
• don’t lie
• be realistic about what you want to cover
• post accurately and stay on topic
• fix mistakes, but don’t delete stuff just because you later find it embarrassing
• link well
• engage in a conversation
• syndicate your content with RSS, which I discuss in a later column.
Blogging can help you to market your expertise, to inform and educate your clients and the public and to inform you in the process. You don’t need fancy hardware or expensive equipment. You can do it at your leisure, anywhere you can get Internet access. While there are free services available at blogger.com, your blog will look more professional (and reach inside corporate firewalls) if you subscribe to a service like typepad which for $18 a month gives you simple functional tools to get started in under an hour. As I said, the challenge is largely one of strategy not technology.
In my next column I will take a closer look at wikis and RSS. Blog on.
Simon Chester is a partner in Heenan Blaikie LLP, in the Toronto litigation and business law groups, with special emphasis on knowledge management, research and legal opinions. He has been a pioneer over the past twenty-five years in the application of technology to the practice of law.