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Good to Great: Taking Your Law Blog to the Next Level

As a public service, I solemnly swear to write this post without using the word influencer.

Not sure if the backstory helps, but here it is…. I was recently asked if I had any ‘general advice’ or tips on how to get a new blog moving in the right direction. “To the next level.” It was an interesting question, perhaps partly because of the individual from which the question came. The blogger asking had been writing for more than a year now, and at least by my account, was doing exceptionally well on her own.

After getting through some of the structural suggestions we typically advise, my colleague Emma and I started carving out a bit of a sidebar, listing methods where the goal was to embed the blog author within a specific community of intellectual expertise.

Expertise is a funny thing. There is rarely a definitive list of who, exactly, the experts are. Which individuals can even make a viable claim to being part of a particular community? And better yet — who cares?

Really, no one cares, which is a probably the best starting point. Blog authors are their own list-maker and given a blank canvas to start out; and, at least in the legal blogging realm, have mostly chosen a topical direction to guide their writing, be it patent litigation, distracted driving laws, or employment contracts.

So back to this idea of being connected to the experts. If we stop thinking about websites for a moment and only think of the people who write in an area — who would you collect? Every blogger can and should decide this for herself — so image you’ve been handed an empty bucket and told to start putting people in it — who you got?

Most of us could come up with a handful of names, or maybe even a bullet list of 20-30 names. Which is great, but then we would hit a wall. That’s because, at least in my mind, this kind of list will always be in flux. The initial list we come up with will include those who have the highest profile or the highest volume producers. But obviously, no matter how well read you are, there will always be new voices as possible ‘adds’ to your bucket. The challenge is to identify those individuals and get them on your personal radar.

So with that context, here are some suggestions I would offer any legal blogger who is looking to combine authoritative writing and building their influence:

  • Build a list of digital publications in your jurisdiction that cover your topic — Who is the editor? Who are the regular writers?
    Actions: follow these individuals on Twitter; add contact credentials to a DB or spreadsheet
  • Research relevant stories in newspapers (city, province/state, national) — create a running list of the journalists names.
    Actions: follow these individuals on Twitter; add contact credentials to a DB or spreadsheet
  • Do some searches on SSRN and create a list of academics that cover relevant topics. Try to come up with 5 or 10 to start; try to be focused on who you choose.
    Actions:

    • Summarize a research paper periodically on your blog: write a mid-length summary 3-6 paragraphs, linking back to the Academic’s profile page on the University website.
    • Email the academic directly to ask permission beforehand; and again after you publish to let them know it’s live.
  • The same cycle mentioned above could also work with an Amazon search looking for authors. Many book authors are constantly looking for methods to get the word out about their book. As a publisher, you have something to offer. University presses are also a treasure trove for fascinating new research and commentary.
  • Leverage Twitter — Identify all the people (above) who influence your blogging area who are on Twitter. Follow them; but also create a list & add them to that list. This is an example of how I track our Slaw authors with a Twitter group:
    https://twitter.com/slaw_dot_ca/lists/slaw
  • Canadian lawyers can open an account on CanLII Connects and publish their case summaries and better blog posts. Submissions have to cite at least one decision listed in CanLII, but that’s rarely difficult for most bloggers.

I also can’t overstress the importance of reciprocity. Be generous and thoughtful with comments on your colleagues’ blog posts. Send a quick email note of feedback or appreciation following a published article. Retweet or use the quote function to add commentary to their tweets. Get involved in discussion — don’t just push things out one way. Remember the saying, “To be interesting, be interested”.

It doesn’t take long to establish relationships when you’re willing to invest in a little genuine, personal contact. Referrals, guest posting requests, and other opportunities to collaborate will naturally follow. But truth be told, the relationships you establish are often satisfying and rewarding enough in and of themselves.

One of the recurring themes that we often discuss at Stem is the idea that digital influence is frequently connected back to the same smart actions that any lawyer would do in the offline world. Cultivating one’s image as an “expert” isn’t much different. Professional reputations are built by demonstrating: the quality and depth of the work the lawyer does; having a cumulative body of substantive publishing (a track record), and the respect of one’s peers.

Arguably, that last item is the piece that legal bloggers (and lawyers generally) have the least control over. While you can influence or have direction about the people you connect with, you can’t force them to write testimonials or say nice things about you. That part of the equation must be earned. But for me, it’s here where being an active blogger has repeatedly paid off. One of the most notable benefits of blogging is the friends that you make along the way. If I had to wager between a non-blogging lawyer vs. blogging lawyer making an impact on the profession? There are few circumstances where I wouldn’t put my money on a dedicated blogger.

And in many ways, that’s a key reason why lawyers write a blog in the first place — it’s a personal wager.

Comments

  1. Steve:

    Great advice. Wish I had read it years earlier! I would only add one thing. Find your (own) voice. Speak from the heart and from the mind. Learn to gauge your writing. If you find it interesting, chances are others will as well. It has to resonate within you first to resonate with someone else.

    I have kept an article by Gregory Poirier in my desk for decades. The ultimate paragraph is as follows:

    My advice to aspiring writers is always the same: If there is anything else you can see yourself doing with your life, then please, go and do that thing. This is not a road to take if you have doubts. but if this is it for you, if this is what feeds your soul, then jump in and work hard. Struggle and cry and sweat it out onto the page. And don’t forget to love it, even when it starts paying off.

  2. This is very helpful Steve. Thank you.

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