On November 13, 2008, I participated on a panel at a seminar sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute in Philadelphia, Pa. The topic of the panel was "Blogging for Lawyers." Appearing with me on the panel was Francis Pileggi, the author of the Delaware Corporate and Commercial Litigation Blog (here). In connection with the panel, I delivered a paper, which is reproduced in a slightly modified form below. Francis has also posted his paper on his blog, which can be accessed here.
I would like to thank Francis for inviting me to participate in this panel, which was a fascinating experience. Clearly, many lawyers (and perhaps others, too) are interested in knowing more about blogging. Here is my paper:
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enshrines freedom "of the press" as one of our nation’s most hallowed rights. Historically, at least, only the few fortunate enough to own a printing press could actually benefit from this constitutional protection.
As a result of technological innovation, it is now possible for everyone in effect to have their own printing press in the form of a blog and to publish their views to the entire world via the Internet. This new medium is both powerful and flexible, and represents and extraordinary new means for personal expression, for the exchange of ideas, and for the advancement of economic interests.
The Benefits of Blogging
Perhaps many of the benefits of blogging may seem self-evident, but my own experience has included many unforeseen and unanticipated benefits that have contributed significantly to the overall value of the enterprise.
1. A Larger Stage: As a professional based in suburban Cleveland, I could be susceptible to isolation, obscurity and even irrelevance. The blog not only facilitates a connection with my immediate professional community, but also with a larger national and even international audience, far beyond the relatively narrow scope of my day to day professional activities.
One of the more interesting and gratifying developments from the blog has been the links my blog has enabled me to form with academics, regulators, journalists, and attorneys from an incredibly diverse variety of contexts and jurisdictions. The resulting dialog has not only been intellectually enriching, it has also helped to raise my professional profile far more than any other professional development activity I have ever undertaken.
2. Recognition: Simply by virtue of having a blog on a topic, others assume you are an expert. Whether or not this is actually the case, I have been quoted, as a supposed expert, in national and international publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, among many others.
I have been invited to speak at or even moderate a wide variety of conferences and other events. I have been asked to lecture at law schools. I have been invited by law firms to speak to their clients. I have been asked by investment banks to share my thoughts about industry trends with their clients. I have been retained by consulting firms, accounting firms and actuarial firms. I have been asked to contribute written work to numerous publications. Virtually all of these opportunities have come my way as a result of the blog.
3. A Voice in the Dialog: In my field as in many others, there is an ongoing dialog about issues and developments. The blog ensures not only that my voice is heard in this ongoing dialog, but it also allows me the means to try to set the agenda. While I would not be so immodest as to claim that the blog has allowed me to be influential, it has at least assured that my voice is heard. Whatever else might be said about my contributions, as a result of the blog, I am not irrelevant, despite being based in Beachwood, Ohio (which, by the way, is a pretty nice place).
4. An Audience is a Great Thing: A blog is a medium of expression. It is also a medium of communication, and many audience members will communicate with a blog’s author. This has proven to be one of the most important parts of my blogging experience, as audience members constantly provide me with ideas, suggestions and questions that have immeasurably enriched my blog. Indeed, I have gotten many of my best ideas from readers and I truly love it when readers communicate with me about my blog.
If there is any downside, it is that it takes time to respond to reader inquiries and comments. I also wish that readers would feel freer to post their comments directly on my blog. It is fine for readers to tell me that they disagree with me, but it would be so much better if they would tell everyone. All of that said, a strong and active readership is one of the important parts and one of the most important benefits of a successful blog.
5. Trend Watching Begets Trend Knowledge: There is an unexpected side-benefit from making a practice of observing, thinking about and commenting on trends and developments. That is, these practices ensure that I am aware of and have thought about all of the latest trends and developments. This has a direct payback for my professional practice, which is that I am fully prepared to speak knowledgeably about most topics that are likely to arise in the typical business setting. This is a substantial asset in many professional and business meetings.
6. The Blogosphere: Another significant benefit from blogging consists of the links I have developed with fellow bloggers. The blogosphere is a congenial and mutually supportive place. Bloggers show each other courtesy and respect. Fellow bloggers helped support and publicize my blog in its early days, and have continued to supply me with information and commentary all along the way. The blogosphere’s conviviality adds a measure of satisfaction and enjoyment to the blogging experience.
The Burdens of Blogging
As a practical matter, just about anything anyone would need to have a successful blog is available for free on the Internet. But even if blogging might be free, that does not mean that it is without its costs. A blog is a harsh mistress, and the demands required ought to be fully considered by anyone contemplating blogging.
1. Time: I am frequently asked how much time I spend on my blog. I usually try to laugh off the question with a joke. The reality is not very funny. I actually spend a lot more time on the blog that I think anyone could possibly imagine. It helps to be a closet insomniac. I spend many, many hours on my blog, hours stolen from time in which I would otherwise be relaxing, enjoying my family, or sleeping. The blog takes an insane amount of time.
2.Blogging is a Lot Harder Than it Looks: I think every blogger starts their blog in a burst of optimism, with a backlog of things they are yearning to express. The early enthusiasm and reservoir of ideas carry the blog for a time. But the real challenge is sustaining the blog after the initial enthusiasm fades and the backlog of ideas is depleted. During the time I have been blogging, there have been many promising new blogs that have dazzlingly burst out, generated truly interesting and impressive content, and then quietly blinked out of existence. Sustaining a blog for the long haul is difficult.
Finding things to write about and finding the time to write them is hard work that requires serious commitment. I have found myself blogging in airports, hotels, coffee shops, beach houses, trains, basements, attics, and spare bedrooms. I have worked on my blog in London, Cologne, Montreal, Quebec City, San Diego, Dallas, Dubuque, Omaha, Tampa, and just about everyplace in between; I have posted blogs from laptops, libraries, Internet Cafes, and hotel business centers, and just about any other location where the Internet can be accessed. I have blogged on my birthday, Christmas Day, my anniversary, on vacation, during the Super Bowl, during rainstorms, during snowstorms, and even on beautiful sunny days.
I think writing a blog is a possibility that everyone ought to consider, but at the same time it should also recognized that not everyone will want to do everything that is required to sustain a blog over time.
3. The Benefits Are Indirect: There may be bloggers whose blogs produce direct economic benefits commensurate with the time and effort required. But for most bloggers, the most identifiable economic benefits are indirect. To be sure, I have developed revenue-producing client contacts directly as a result of the blog. But these developments are the exception, not the rule.
There is of course substantial reputation-enhancing power in having blog. I think the heightened professional profile my blog has helped me to raise will in the long run translate into significant revenue generating opportunities. But others might conclude that there are shorter, more sure-fire paths to business development.
4. Conflicts: A constant blogging concern is remaining sufficiently mindful of the possibility that the views I express on my blog potentially could conflict with the interests of my current or future clients. I try as hard as I can to be circumspect. But I can imagine that this concern about potential conflicts might well discourage some professionals who might otherwise be inclined to blog.
Three Things Potential Bloggers Should Know
1. Technology: It is easy to set up a blog. About two minutes on Blogger.com is enough to get started. But to get a blog set up the way you want and to deal with all of the problems that inevitably arise, a willingness to futz around with technology is indispensible. Fee-based services such as LexBlog reduce – but do not eliminate – the need to directly confront the technological beast. I would not recommend blogging to anyone who is uncomfortable troubleshooting technological issues.
2. The Downside of Owning a Printing Press: I made the analogy above comparing a blog to a printing press. The analogy is far more apt than might appear at first blush. As a blogger, you are in fact in the publishing business. For example, you have subscribers, who will expect you to address delivery problems, subscription questions and complaints, as well as delivery interruption and cancellation issues. Addressing subscriber concerns and questions is an ongoing challenge.
In addition, a blogger has editorial responsibilities. I am frequently called upon to address such issues as faulty or missing hyperlinks, misspellings, and erroneous references. These kinds of concerns can not only be time-consuming, they can also be disheartening. Without editors or fact-checkers, a blogger almost inevitably encounters these kinds of concerns, especially given the time pressure inherent in the blogging medium. Remedying these kinds of concerns is an indispensible but underappreciated part of the blogging process.
3. Plagiarism Happens: I recently participated in a business competition where our team presented directly after one of our competitors. One of the questions the prospect asked in our meeting directly quoted information the competitor had provided to the prospect in the preceding meeting. The information consisted of original research I personally conducted and about which I had written on my blog. I was astonished and appalled not only that a competitor would brazenly plagiarize my original work, but even more astonished that the competitor would even think about attempting to use the information to compete against me.
Call me naïve. I work very hard on my blog to make sure that I credit my sources. Given my own personal practices and standards, the idea that someone would simply plagiarize my work never occurred to me. For the first time, I have experienced serious reservations about the wisdom of sharing my original work with the whole world. I still have misgivings which I have not entirely reconciled. All I can say is that would-be bloggers should be more aware of this issue than I have been.
Some of my remarks here might discourage some potential bloggers. I do not intend to be discouraging, merely realistic. That said, all of the burdens, challenges and concerns notwithstanding, I have found blogging to be enormously satisfying on both a personal and professional level. In the end, while there might be a host of good professional reasons for me to have a blog, I have found the enterprise worthwhile simply because I have found it satisfying. If I didn’t enjoy doing it so much, I wouldn’t do it.
A blog is a wonderful platform for self-expression. The opportunity to express my views knowing they will be read by a wide variety of persons around the world is stimulating and gratifying. I am constantly reminded of the power of the Internet. The idea that I can have my own little corner of the Web that thousands of people voluntarily and repeatedly choose to visit is just so inexpressibly cool. It never ceases to amaze me.
Based on the questions at today’s seminar, I realize that there many additional topics about blogging that I should attempt to address, beyond the issues I discussed above. Topics that came up today included:
How do you get started blogging?
How is the blogging medium different from mainstream media, and why does it matter?
How should a busy professional sort, access and use law blogs?
Time and space do not allow me to address these issues here. But these are all worthy topics, which I hope to try to address in forthcoming posts in the next few weeks.
In the interim, I very much welcome readers questions and comments about blogging. I am very interested in sharing my thoughts and knowing more about readers’ thoughts on this topic.