Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Lawyers who blawg

originally published in Lawyers Weekly

Is your firm looking for fresh marketing ideas? If so, consider a blog. Web logs are the personal journals of the new millennium, public pages where your grandmother, your pre-teen, and everyone in between posts thoughts on the Internet.

Lawyers of every stripe are getting into the act. Take Rob Hyndman, Toronto technology lawyer and principal of Hyndman | Law. Hyndman sets a prolific pace in Canada’s legal blogosphere (www.robhyndman.com). He started his blog shortly after he set up Hyndman | Law in 2004. He figures he’s up to about 1,700 posts now.

The relationship between a new blog and a new business isn’t as direct as it might seem, particularly since Hyndman blogs more about the business of technology than law. While potential clients can discover Hyndman through his online writings, referrals and direct marketing have generated more business for him. “The blog is more about branding than business development,” he says.

“I like Rob’s approach. He took his own name and ran with that,” says Sander Gelsing, a Red Deer, Alberta intellectual property lawyer. Gelsing, though, took a different tack with his blog name: “Now, Why Didn’t I Think of That?”.

JasonCherniak.com, or Jason Cherniak, as his name was read when he was called to the bar this past July, operates one of the leading Liberal blogs in the country. (Coincidentally, he blogged support for the provincial Liberal candidate in this writer’s Ontario riding during a September by-election. The NDP took it in a walk.)

“Blogs have very high advertising potential for a law firm,” Cherniak notes. “I have over 1,500 individual readers a day. 25% of them are new readers.” Among those, Cherniak counts members of the national media.

Timing and links with the right blogs boosted Cherniak’s brand. He started blogging in January 2005. The election call later that year steered readers his way, particularly since influential bloggers linked to his site. “My credibility came from links from well-read bloggers like Warren Kinsella and Andrew Coyne,” he says.

If your firm centralizes its marketing and PR efforts, though, maybe blogging isn’t for you. Hyndman notes: “It’s hard to control the brand when you have lawyers blogging.”

A blogger’s brand depends on, among other things, writing style. Hyndman says his written “voice” was a combination of reading and imitating good role models, then simply writing. “It took a long time to figure out how to present ideas that were interesting to me in ways that would attract others to the writing,” he says.

Blog maintenance is roughly equal to writing a regular newspaper column. Cherniak spends at least an hour a day blogging, “two during the election.”

“It takes a fair bit of time,” adds Gelsing. He notes that some more frequent posters may put up a paragraph at a time.

Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law for the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, has had a web site for ten years and a blog for three. Geist has acquired a wide audience, of which he says: “As the number of readers has grown, I want to reach those readers, so that all the various perspectives are heard.”

Cherniak’s political blog has already served his nascent career. “Liberal lawyers knew who I was,” says Cherniak, adding: “Many Conservative lawyers seem to enjoy reading it.”

Greater awareness on the web brings Gelsing different, but equally welcome, results. “As a patent and trademark lawyer, we get business from foreign firms filing in Canada,” he says. “I got more foreign clients after I started blogging than before.”

Blogs aren’t the place for professionals to let loose. “When you’re writing a blog, you must remember not to put something down that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page the next day,” warns Cherniak. “People take you more seriously because you’re a lawyer.”

Comments, the blog equivalent of letters to the editor, could be valuable or a headache, depending on the situation. It’s still a grey area, but Gelsing’s opinion runs like this: if the blogger moderates or filters comments, the blogger is ultimately responsible for all the content in the blog, including that posted by others, regardless of any disclaimers the blog owner may post. (Gelsing turned off comments on his blog, but for another reason: “comment spam.”)

All four bloggers admit their technological leanings, but Geist contends: “If you can use a word processor, you can blog.”

Blogs evolve and spur changes for their creators on the way. Hyndman credits his blog for introducing him to like-minded people and helping spark other projects, notably MeshConference.com, a recent gathering of Web 2.0 thought leaders.

Cherniak’s non-law blogging expanded when he started a non-profit called liblogs.ca, a portal of sorts to blogs Liberal. As for Gelsing, he plans to cover case law in more detail. But he may occasionally let it slide. “Sometimes I’m too busy, since all this marketing effort is paying off.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.