If You’re Going to Blog, Skip The Gimmicks

I came across an unfortunate recent post on the Lawyerist (aka “the Puddle”) entitled, “5 Tips to Draw Readers To Your Blog.”

I say unfortunate because, at least on my reading, the post seemed to suggest that, if your legal blog is not getting sufficient readership based on quality writing about compelling topics, perhaps you can “juice” your stats a bit by employing one or more of the following gimmicks (my term):

1. Frame everything in a “top 5” list format;

2. Attack conventional wisdom;

3. Make it funny;

4. Bash law schools;

5. Write about Apple.

6. “Bonus” gimmick: blog about celebrities and sex.

Two of these “tips” are completely legitimate suggestions. Attacking issues from an unconventional angle and weaving in some humor (assuming you’re actually funny) are terrific ways to improve blog posts and enhance readership. But, in my view, the others are bollocks.

The author, Andy Mergendahl, freely admits that it’s only necessary to resort to this gimmickry when all else fails:

“But how to attract readers? Sure, you can . . . strive to write well on topics you’re knowledgeable about. I’ve tried that. I’ve combined my experience with my own independent study to provide a lot of sober advice on good lawyering. Almost all those posts were greeted with a yawn, followed, I suspect, by an immediate click over to Buzzfeed.”

Clearly if your “sober advice on good lawyering” is greeted with a yawn, the solution is to “go blue” or, if even that fails, do some law school bashing.

A couple of other solutions come to mind: blog about something else, or (gasp) don’t blog at all.

I’ll freely admit I crave more readership. I recently had a conversation with my good friend Mark Suster about his blog. Imagine my awe, or was it shame, as I learned that his esteemed blog garners almost as many views in a single day as I boast in an entire year! Talk about blog envy. (No, it’s not always that small. It shrinks when I swim in cold water. I swear it does.)

But regardless how desperate we get for readers, gimmicks aren’t the answer. Leave the racy pictures and stories to Above the Law or The Superficial or whatever. Don’t get controversial for the sake of being controversial. Write what you think and you feel. If it flies in the face of conventional wisdom or raises eyebrows, great. But don’t adopt a pose just to boost your numbers.

Sure, I’ll bust out the occasional “top 5” post. If I’m feeling especially saucy, I might quote Neil Young or pop out some particularly pure alliteration. But not to get more readers. If I use gimmicks at all, it’s because I blog as much for my own enjoyment as anything else. And you should, too.

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Getting In Touch With My Inner Associate

If anyone reading this blog has not read–and read often–Associate’s Mind, you must absolutely begin following it. Every post has some nugget of brilliance.

Before I  actually read the blog, I assumed from the title I would encounter either (1) ranting about the misery of being an overworked albeit overpaid BigLaw associate à la the old Greedy Associates message boards;* or (2) posts like “Five Easy Tips To Bill 2,700 Hours Before October!” I couldn’t have been more off-base. Instead, I’ve always found thoughtful, well-written posts offering insight on topics ranging from the profession to litigation strategy to Eastern Philosophy.

And, now that I’ve been a partner in an AmLaw 150 law firm for almost 10 years, I feel qualified to endorse the following observation by the blog’s author, Keith Lee:

“Although frequently people speak of always thinking like a “partner” or “partner-level” thinking when in regards to how one should conduct oneself inside a firm –  reject the notion. Just as in the mind of the master there are few possibilities and in the Beginner’s mind, infinite – most partners have fixed ways of thinking and conducting their practice and processes.

An Associate’s Mind should be flexible and open to new ideas and processes, while being mindful of the guidance of those who have tread the road before him.”

I recognize this tendency in myself to “have fixed ways of thinking and conducting [my] practice and processes,” and I don’t like it. When he refers to the beauty of the “Beginner’s mind,” I think I may know what Lee means: I love to watch how my 4-year-old approaches any new issue, problem or obstacle. Her thinking is always “outside the box” (or whatever cliché you prefer) because she hasn’t yet been trained to think inside the box.

As we gain experience and, hopefully, wisdom in our profession and our life, we should strive to retain the infinite possibilities of the Beginner’s mind.

*Note: I have not read Greedy Associates in many years, so I don’t know if such ranting still persists, though I expect it does.

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Driven To Fits Of Reckless Alliteration

Honored. Humbled. Happy.

The ABA Journal’s inclusion of Atcounseltable.com in its annual Blawg 100 pretty much made my week. Thank you!

But I worry. What will happen if I go “Blue?” If I “sell out?” If I stop writing about depositions and post-it notes, and start covering Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan? Probably not something to worry about any time soon . . .

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Why I Blog

This is my second blog.  I first blogged when my wife and I took a sabbatical to travel throughout Asia from the Fall of 2006 to the Spring of 2007.  I really enjoyed my blog, even when we were in China and I had to figure out workarounds to enable me to publish posts despite government internet censorship, or while in more remote parts of India where just getting on the net was a challenge. I tried to post everyday and it allowed me to keep in fairly immediate touch with friends and family.  I even remember rather vividly pounding out a post from an internet cafe in Nepal and glancing out the door to watch a painted elephant stroll by.

More satisfying than the ability to immediately communicate our amazing experiences, though, I found the blog to be a really great creative outlet during those months.  Like many lawyers, I always dreamed of being a novelist.  When I hadn’t found my voice by the end of college, I figured I better find a more . . . er, reliable way of making a living.  (This was obviously a different era, when becoming a lawyer still seemed like a reliable way to earn a living.)  But I’ve never let go of that longing to write, though I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon.  Thankfully, blogging–even if only to a small audience–provides a great creative outlet.

Maybe I was destined from a young age to enjoy blogging.  When I was around 8 or 9, I used to hunt-and-peck on the typewriter to create a small newspaper, covering such gripping topics as our cat’s health.  Using carbon paper, I’d make several copies, which I then delivered on foot or by bicycle to many of our neighbors within roughly a 2 mile radius of our house.  (I also went door-to-door offering to shine shoes, so it’s not clear that I was really any more destined to write a blog than to shine shoes or sell vacuum cleaners.)

After the Spring of 2007 and the purpose for my first blog evaporated, I flirted for a couple of years with starting a new blog, but didn’t do it.  I couldn’t think of anything that interested me sufficiently to write about it several times a week (and it’s just lame to start a blog, publish a couple of posts, then let the thing wither and die).   Then, one night I had dinner with one of my wildly successful college buddies and he suggested I start a blog as a business development tool.  At that point, I knew about a few interesting law blawgs, but I didn’t follow any religiously. I also had my doubts about whether blogging is a good business development tool.  Still, I enjoy writing, and I respected my college buddy and decided to give it a try.

I struggled for months with what kind of blog to write.  Since I really focus on employment issues in my law practice, should my blog simply track employment law developments or best practices? There are tons of these already out there, and not every new or changed law is interesting enough to write (or read) about. I also wanted some flexibility.  There are some really excellent blogs with a really narrow focus, but my interests, even within the profession, tend to drift.  After trying on a few different hats, I settled on the blog you’re reading now.  It marries my appreciation for litigation that is practiced ethically and practiced well, with my interest in the business side of the profession.

Now, re-reading the last two paragraphs, I see that I need to clarify something.  While it was a suggestion from a friend (who writes an enormously popular blog) that got me to revive my then-dormant desire to start a blog, I don’t write this blog for business development purposes, or even consider blogging a particularly good client development tool (perhaps a subject for a different post).  In truth, I use business development as an excuse to maintain a blog, which is itself just an excuse to write.

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A Scarcity of Solo Practitioners and Independent Bloggers? I Don’t Think So.

In a recent post on My Shingle, legal blogging rock star Carolyn Elefant laments the demise of the solo physician.  Among her chief concerns are an anticipated lack of physicians available to care for patients in rural settings and an erosion of physician autonomy.  However, she suggests that both the legal profession and legal blogging face similar concerns.  She writes:

The same concerns that flow from the gradual extinction-by acquisition of solo doctors in the medical profession are evident in both law-related blogging and broader legal profession.

I’m not sure I agree that this is a valid concern on either front.  Is there really a risk of large-scale migration from would-be solo practitioners to law firms? Doubtful.  While many students enter law school with an expectation of at least starting their profession at a law firm, the news I read suggests that firms are actually hiring fewer new lawyers, meaning more are, by choice or necessity, opening a solo practice.  Those same news reports warn that, even if the economy shows signs of long-term improvement, law firm economics have changed permanently, particularly with respect to the practice of staffing cases with newer, untrained lawyers at high rates.  We are unlikely to witness a mass exodus of solos in favor of law firm life any time soon, simply because there is a shrinking demand for them.

Additionally, from my admittedly unschooled understanding of the overhead of running a medical practice, I hold the opinion that it is increasingly easier for lawyers to start and maintain a solo law practice, while it is increasingly difficult to start and maintain a medical practice.  While I presently practice in a Big Law environment, replete with layers of infrastructure, there is no question in my mind that technology has made it easier than ever before for a lawyer to open and effectively operate a solo law practice.  A computer, printer/scanner, some key software and a place to work is about all that’s really required for a bare bones practice.  (Though this presumes the practitioner has both clients and skills.)

I presume that the infrastructure required for even the most spartan medical office (not to mention the cost of purchasing an ongoing practice) has, if anything, become more expensive with advances in technology.  I know my own health care providers always have several pieces of squeaky-clean, cutting-edge machinery, each of which probably costs more than my car.  As Ms. Elefant correctly points out, while the costs of medical school and other expenses continue to rise, the amount health insurers pay for procedures  has remained constant, if not declined, making it more and more expensive to be a solo physician.  It’s no mystery solo doctors are fleeing to hospitals and group practices.

I share her view that our profession benefits from solo and independent lawyers, and would definitely lament any sign of their demise.  But, unless I misunderstand Ms. Elefant’s argument, I don’t see sufficient similarities between maintaining a solo medical practice and a solo law practice to make me concerned that solo lawyers will become scarce anytime soon.

Are quality independent law bloggers becoming extinct? I’m not sure I  share this concern, either.  Purely by virtue of her tenure in the blawg community, I trust Ms. Elefant both when she describes the “independent voice” that characterized legal blogs a decade ago and when she suggests that group blogs lack the spark or edge of the early legal blogs.  My feeling, however, is that the business of practicing law has changed so substantially due to the explosion of technological tools and the recent turbulent years of the economy (What’s that overused catch phrase? Oh yeah, “the New Normal.”) that what was considered edgy a decade ago really is “normal” now.  Perhaps the “New Normal” should morph into “What are we supposed to do now?” or “Where Do We Go From Here?”

I suspect also that, beyond the proliferation of group and corporate-sponsored blogs which might not have the same spark and edge of early solo-written blogs, there is still a strong community of independent voices out there who write what they personally think, without the group dynamic or corporate “dilution” effect.  They might just be harder to hear amidst the louder noise around them.

Ms. Elefant’s underlying message is valid.  Our profession and clients need solo and independent lawyers, and the legal blogosphere benefits from ample  solo and independent voices.  The question is, do we really need to worry?

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