Blogging these days is as natural as breathing. Everyone has a blog. My firm has a blog. You’re reading this column on a blog. Heck, if the television shows my children watch are to be believed, even dogs have blogs. So, it takes something fairly special to attract the cynical interest of an over-blogged lawyer such as myself.
Enter Legal Aid Ontario’s (LAO) new blog – the first ever by a Canadian Legal Aid plan.
The blog bills itself as “stakeholder communication meets social networking” and is seeking to walk a fine line, catching the essence of a hipster web 2.0 application while still managing the professional conservative face expected of a Government legal entity. It’s the lawyer who shows up at a conference in a snappy tailored pinstripe suit yet still makes the effort to stand out from the crowd by daring to sport an avant-garde bowtie instead of the company-issued neck ware.
The blog’s design is clean and simple sporting just the right number of pictures and graphics to grab reader attention while still maintaining an easy to read and easy to navigate form factor. The top navigation bar consists of quick links to key sections of the broader LAO website, wisely segregated into distinct units directed at the public and lawyers. The story content is expected to be a mix of GTA stories and posts focussing on LAO’s activities outside of Toronto with a strict “no jargon” policy in place. Topics cover a range of issues including law, social justice, Legal Aid clinics, the legal profession, and technology and the law. The current mix of stories is an around-the-world tour providing short snappy glimpses into legal aid initiatives in Australia, the Netherlands, and Uganda. Posts range from tech tidbits on the integration of tablets and smart phones into Canadian legal practice to a Q&A session with a representative of Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner diving deep into the privacy dangers inherent in an increasingly online world.
The blog taps a number of authors who are primarily internal LAO employees though at least one freelancer appears active. Every post is tagged to a specific writer bucking the trend towards internet anonymity or corporate monolithic authorship that is common with some government blogs. It will be interesting to see whether LAO opens the blog up to guest authors both from the public and within the legal profession. Curated columns from a broad group of stakeholder would go a long way towards meeting the stated blog objectives of building relationships through “open and honest dialogue”.
The blog is currently short on comments though it is still in its infancy. It will be very interesting to watch how LAO deals with the high-probability of controversial and inflammatory commentary that is endemic to the internet. My imagination cringes at the potential for trouble when a dissatisfied LAAO client (be they a member of the public or lawyer for that matter), gets behind the anonymity of a cyberspace identity and begins to spew case-specific commentary online. A high degree of curated moderation is likely to be necessary for the site’s comments but the blog’s administrators would be doing themselves a disservice if every negative comment was automatically shunted aside for deletion. If LAO can walk the fine line between passionate discussion and hyperbolic flame-wars, it will be a welcome entry into the legal blogosphere.