Thank You, ABA Journal!

Thank you, ABA Journal for generously including At Counsel Table in the 2013 Blawg 100!

I was pleased to see the familiar names of some great blogs on the list this year, including Max Kennerly’s Litigation and Trial, Popehat, FMLA Insights, Careerist, Philly Law Blog and Jonathan Turley.

But I was disappointed to see a slew of really great law blogs were left off the list. These include Associate’s Mind, What About Clients, My Shingle and the reliably irascible Simple Justice. I can only think these blogs have become simply too rich and famous for inclusion in the Blawg 100. But I highly recommend each of these sites; visit them often.

I also encourage you to register and vote HERE for your favorite blogs, which could include At Counsel Table.

Thanks, again, ABA Journal.

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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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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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