Blogging Is Alive, And Aggravating

When everybody went nuts about twitter all of a sudden, the next generation folks started screaming that this was the future of blogging.  “Microblogging” was immediately coined, to suggest that the two unrelated mediums were somehow connected, and that people who lacked the stamina to blog could become overnight microbloggers since it took almost no effort at all.

There’s a perverse pride amongst technophiles in predicting, both the death of the last newest, greatest thing, as well as the birth of the next.  Talk about 15 minutes of fame.  But the predictions in this case have been wrong, on both accounts.  As Kevin O’Keefe argues at Real Lawyers Have Blogs, blogging is on the rise even as twitter begins to finally find its proper level. 

I couldn’t agree more with [Google’s Rick] Klau (also a lawyer) that “Microblogs are complementary, not competitive, [they are] a driver of attention and engagement back to the blog.”

While the statement is bit too techno-politically correct for my taste, there’s merit in the assertion that twitter is a fine way to alert others of new blog posts, and is complementary in that sense.  But calling it microblogging is like saying a car commercial is a microcar.  A flawed analogy for sure, but it makes its point.

The problem is that while blogging as a medium continues to grow, it also matures.  There is no possibility that the blogosphere can sustain all the blogs created.  It’s unclear how many it can sustain, 100 or 200, maybe even 500, but thousands?  Not a chance.  Even if they’re good, they simply have nothing new to offer.  We don’t need ten blogs repeating yesterday’s news.  We surely don’t need a thousand.

Most new blogs are doomed to death from the outset, created for the wrong reason and certain to fail to achieve their creator’s purpose.  Most offer neither insight nor viewpoint, as their creators are scared to death that taking a firm and clear position might offend a reader, a potential client. After all, the vast majority of blogs are born solely as a marketing vehicle, even if the creators follow the sound advice not to make them look too “markety”. 

There’s no middle ground of being substantive but inoffensive.  Say something and someone will disagree.  It’s time to realize that there are all sorts of folks cruising the internet, reading blogs, looking for fights and dumb as dirt.  And the less they understand, the more assertive they are in their ignorance.  It’s the Dunning-Kruger Effect at work, and nobody is going to be able to stop it.

While this blawg (and notice that I’ve changed the word from “blog” to “blawg” on purpose) is written with the assumption that the reader will be a lawyer, and more particularly a criminal defense lawyer, many readers and commenters are lay-people who are either interested in criminal law in general, or have a specific interest in a particular case.  Some come here to express a strongly felt view.  Many hold extreme views, and will pound the keyboard day and night because someone on the internet is wrong and they must correct the tragic mistake. 

And some are just nutjobs.  A lot are just nutjobs.  The blogosphere is one of the few places without a barrier of entry for nutjobs, which makes it a wonderful place for them to hang, since they aren’t wanted elsewhere.  Nutjobs never realize they’re nutjobs.  And will stay up all night to prove that they are right; that they aren’t nutjobs.  Every morning, when I turn on the computer, I get to see what all the nutjobs were doing the night before.  I have my doubts about the viability of SSRIs.

Over time, blawgers tend to become rather brutal in dealing with readers.  While I’ve never been particularly tolerant of stupidity, even the nice guys learn that you can’t explain life in small words to everybody who asks.  The demands are too great, the time too short, and the ignorance too vast.  Potential bloggers fear this facet of blogging.  They should.

When I did a CLE with Kevin, who was busily promoting blogging as the way to expose lawyer to the world, I responded to his enthusiasm with a caution: Anyone can have a blawg.  Everyone cannot.  I’ve watched as friends in the blawgosphere faded away.  I’ve watched as their enthusiasm waned, their efforts failed to bring in the eyeballs they hoped to gain.  The sad truth is that the blogosphere is maturing before our eyes.  It’s also a wondrous truth, as it’s separated the wheat from the chaff.

My fellow curmudgeon, Mark Hermann at Drug & Device Law, pondered the life expectancy of blogs.

What’s our conclusion?

Legal blogs are like small businesses : Half of ’em fail in the first year, and 90 percent of ’em fail in the next five.

Maybe that’s a little precise, given that we didn’t actually do any empirical analysis. But you get our drift. Legal blogs don’t last.

They require a ton of work; they gather readership only slowly over time; and they’re not the gold mine of new business that blogolaters say they are.
Of course, given the focus of his blog, Hermann doesn’t have nearly the level of non-lawyer interest and discussion, including the nutjobs, that criminal law blawgs endure.  And lest I be unclear, sometimes the nutjobs are lawyers.

But those that have survived, that have endured, have become fixtures in a community that is very much alive.  Dare I say it, thrives.  it’s not a huge community, and frankly it’s not all that easy to become a member, mostly because so many have come, hit critical mass, and disappeared, and we’re tired of promoting blawgs with great promise that close their door and disappear without warning one day.  And don’t expect us to accept you into the community when your obvious purpose is self-promotion; it’s not our job to build your brand so you can get rich quick, and we’re frankly offended by it.

The barrier to entry into the blawgosphere has increased dramatically.  It’s not one of cost, or concept, as much as one of merit, focus and purpose.  If you have the desire to write, the guts to write something worth reading and the stomach to deal with the constant onslaught of stupid and crazy readers, there’s a place for you in the blawgosphere.  If you think it’s the path to success in your law practice, you will be sorry and your blog will fail. 

Forget the unprovable anecdotal claims of blogolaters.  You cannot build a successful law practice based upon blawging, with the exception of a few highly specific niche practices that can’t be located any other way and really low level bottom feeder practices that will take any fool with a few bucks in their pocket.  These are the exceptions that prove the rule. 

So if you want to start a blawg, by all means do so.  There are any number of social gurus out there with a top 10 list of how to be a successful blogger.  Almost all of them are ridiculously wrong, because they are fundamentally misguided in their focus on marketing, which is why so many blogs fail.  But the good news is that the failure of so many blawgs has served to strengthen those that remain and the community that has grown around them. 

The blawgosphere is neither dead nor stagnant.  It is maturing.  For the rest of you, there’s always twitter.  Don’t be offended, but that’s probably where you belong.  Like I said, anyone can have a blawg. Everyone cannot.

41 thoughts on “Blogging Is Alive, And Aggravating

  1. Kevin OKeefe

    Never cared much for the term microblogging either, but like a lot of things it’s become a catch all term for Twitter, Facebook, & Friendfeed, where by sharing a quick news headline or a blog post you can engage your audience. Like you’re handed a phrase in criminal procedure, I’m thrown a phrase here that I’ll use to communicate on the subject.

    You and I will never agree on the impact blogging can have on one’s practice and client development. That’s okay as our discussion is a learning experience.

    But during my work hours I talk to hundreds of lawyers and law firms about social media, including blogging. I do it because I am driven by helping lawyers get legal work in a tasteful and effective manner. Many lawyers do start blogs for client development, they continue to blog for years, and they do get clients as a result. Enough clients that blogging has markedly changed their practices and lives.

    Hermann is totally off base in his numbers. No idea where he gets them. We’re seeing 90% of law blogs continue year after. Tom Mighell, who’s meausured it for years, has seen about 85% of law blogs continue.

    Don’t get me wrong, blogging is not easy. It takes time. It’s not having a clerk paraphrase an AP story linking keywords to your website like we’ve seen from the bottom feeders.

    In addition, the best lawyers who blog for client development blog for additional reasons – much like your reasons in fact. They enjoy it. They have a passion for offering insight and commentary. They like mixing it up with their peers and others, no matter who they are and where they be. They like the learning experience of blogging.

    The opportunity for blogging for client development, fun, and for learning isn’t going away anymore than the opportunity of being a good lawyer and engaging others as a means of getting work is going to go away. Blogging won’t be for everyone. Too many lawyers are lazy and aspire for too little.

  2. SHG

    Many lawyers do start blogs for client development, they continue to blog for years, and they do get clients as a result. Enough clients that blogging has markedly changed their practices and lives.

    I know it’s changed my practice and life. Now I have to field 50 calls a week from guy from Phoenix for free DUI advice, Queens wife beaters who want to know why they have to pay a lawyer if they’re innocent, Sacramento child molestors who want to know how much extra for a guarantee, etc.  It’s not that there aren’t people out there, but it’s all according to who you are seeking to represent.

  3. Kevin

    Always the cynic Scott;) If that were happening to me, I’d work at a clear navigation scheme on blog itself that made it clear what type of work you do and who you do it for as opposed to a link to ’email me’ with more links that require jumping to another site to investigate what you do and for who.

    There are ways to limit the problems you mention as I do not here lawyers complaining of them. We don’t have lawyers on our network doing commercial bankruptcy work getting calls from debtors soliciting advice on consumer bankruptcy issues.

  4. SHG

    Are you kidding?  They don’t care. Don’t you know every criminal lawyer is available for free advice?  Avvo says so. 

  5. Mike

    We’re seeing 90% of law blogs continue year after.

    Depends on how one defines the terms. I clicked on a bunch of blogs beloning to people who paid to have blog consults; blog set-up; hosting; etc. Many (most?) haven’t been updated in a month or longer. I got bored. Maybe a full audit would reveal something different. The pattern I saw, though, revealed blogs that still “exist,” but that are rarely updated.

    In one sense, a blog that is rarely updated still exists. After all, the page still exists. The blogger is still paying server fees, and still posts every now and then. I guess.

    Then again, Scott quoted the word “failure.” It seems that a rarely-updated blog (and it’s not like these infrequent updates are blockbuster posts) is most definitely a failure.

  6. Venkat

    As always, good, thought-provoking stuff from you, with a bunch of great one-liners thrown in for good measure. You hit on several worthwhile points.

    1. It’s tough to blog without being opinionated and being opinionated is tricky as a lawyer. Counterintuitive, but true in my opinion. I’ve noticed that bigger firm blogs are much less effective because they are often written from a much more risk averse perspective and they can’t afford to be opinionated. Most tend to be sterile. (I also struggle with this personally, but I’m more politically correct, and a lot less outspoken by nature than you.)

    2. Blogs take a boatload of time. Good blogs do. Law bloggers are constantly battling against this. Some people seem to find time to crank out good quality posts. Others just throw a few links up there and are happy with this. This is no different from lawyering. Some people put a ton of energy into what they do, out of a sense of pride, or ethics, or both. Others just throw something together. There’s no reason to expect this to not be the case in the realm of blogging. To each his (or her) own, I guess.

    3. There’s definitely two blogging camps. One blogs to potential consumers. The other blogs to engage in a dialogue and b/c they enjoy writing. There is a third camp, which blogs to reform the legal profession, but these folks must enjoy it or are out to fulfill some altruistic impulse, b/c I can’t imagine clients really care too much about this. I could be wrong about this!

    4. Some blogs (usually consumer facing) tend to blog to tell potential clients “the sky is falling, here’s a new legal rule/case that just came out…call me (and pay me money) if you want me to tell you how to avoid/minimize liability.” To each his or her own, but I tend to try to avoid these blogs. If you are looking to engage the consumer, you are going to have a tough time engaging your peers. (Lots of grey in-between, but this is something to think about.)

    5. The lifecycle of a blog is nasty, brutish, and short. None of the blogs I regularly read five years ago are blogging with anything approaching the same level of consistency. In fact, with two or three exceptions, I don’t read any of the blogs I used to read five years ago.

    6. I’ve notice a tremendous benefit from blogging. (Connections to journalists, potential clients, conversations with peers, the ability to demonstrate that I’m interested in the area of law I practice in, etc.) However, if I sat down and actually did the math, from a purely client-dev/marketing perspective, I’m almost positive the costs outweigh the benefits. I could have taken the time I spent blogging and written longer articles, made a more concerted effort to speak at targeted (non-social media related CLEs), done client pitches, etc. I’ll probably continue to blog for some time. Why? Because it’s fun, it’s on my terms, and it feeds the opinionated/critical/inquisitive beast.

  7. Ron Coleman

    Along the lines of Venkat’s comments: The most honest thing we could do would be to differentiate between blogs written by lawyers with something to say, which by and large are clearly the work of people interested in ideas and who have some of their own. Those blogs, if they are pursued diligently, end up being contributors to debate on topics within the profession and do to some extent demonstrate mastery of the given topic to prospective clients. They also raise the name recognition of the writer in general.

    Other so-called blogs are written _for_ lawyers who pay others to do the “blogging” for them so that they can “have blogs.” You can tell these blogs by the fact that they only link to each other; that blogs in the first category have no particular reason to link to them, and don’t; and that no one really cares about them.

    Some bloggers in the first category are, of course, less than idealistic. They will not link to blogs or sites that they believe show them up. They’re human, after all. But still they are motivated more by ideas and ego than by commerce, and their posts demonstrate some degree of iconoclasm, originality and, yes, genuine expertise. And… personality.

    There will be a shakeout, as Scott says. And the second kind, while they seem like a perfectly decent business proposition, will not surive. Because they suck.

  8. Jay Parkhill

    I agree with Venkat with a couple of quibbles:

    -> I have a hard time distinguishing camps 1 & 2. I know that potential clients and other contacts will search me shortly before/after they meet me and my blog is one of the best ways to show people what I do (along with my firm’s web site, Linkedin and Twitter).

    I like to write, so this works pretty well for me, but the liking to write and the attracting-clients items are bound up together.

    ->On the ROI point, I put blogging in my passive marketing activities column. If I blog instead of writing longer articles that’s ok, but I make sure the passive marketing time doesn’t come at the expense of active marketing- speaking, meeting people, etc. They need to work together or the whole system gets out of balance.

  9. Tom Mighell

    Like Kevin indicated above, I’ve been tracking all the blogs I’ve featured as “Blawg of the Day” on Inter Alia. Right now I have 2,419 on my list, and out of those just over 49% are still active. Now I define “active” pretty liberally – having posted within the last 30 days – but even if you defined it as within the last week, I doubt the numbers would go below 40%. I will say that most of the inactive blogs on my list are those that were created in 2006 and earlier – but I think that’s to be expected. I do agree with Kevin, that for some reason Lexblog blogs tend to be longer-living/more regularly updated than others.

  10. SHG

    Well, this has turned out to be quite an interesting discussion, with a rather illustrious bunch of commenters.  But one thing occurs to me Tom. I can’t recall, of your 2,419 Blawgs of the Day, Simple Justice having ever been included. 

    I’m not dead yet.

  11. Ron Coleman

    Stop me from naming the other supposed “blawging evangelists” who have never — never — linked to the majority of the most popular and influential blawgs by any objective measure…

  12. SHG

    Dammit, Coleman, if you’re going to say something like this, you have to give up the name.  Give it up already!

  13. Tom Mighell

    Actually, Simple Justice was featured on October 21, 2007:

    Likelihood of Confusion back on February 21, 2005:

    Ron, not sure if your comment referred to me – but I certainly don’t consider myself a “blawg evangelist,” whatever that is. I’m just a guy who likes to direct my readers to different types of legal blogs. I also have an obsession with keeping stats – thus the numbers.

  14. SHG

    On a more serious note, you’ve got me thinking about what makes a blawg active. Is it posting frequency? Eyeballs? Authority?  If a lawyers blogs and nobody reads it, does it count?

    You’ve got 2,419 blawgs of the day. I certainly haven’t read that many different blawgs, and most of them never come across my screen in one form or another.  I’ve read a number of Kevin’s Lexblogs in my niche, and there are very few I’ve ever gone back to a second time.  Some are absolutely awful.  So what does it mean to be alive in the blawgosphere?

  15. Tom Mighell

    Interesting how your word went from “active” in the first paragraph to “alive” in the second – I think the two can be very different. To me, being alive can mean simply having a pulse – publishing enough to say you publish a blog. Active could mean something more – engaging more with the legal blogging community, having lots of subscribers, being recognized as an authority on the subject.

    For my purposes, “active” or “alive” means the bare minimum – have they posted within an arbitrarily pre-defined time period? It would take too long to make broader judgments about all 2,419. But your question is a good one – there are definitely hundreds and thousands of blogs (legal and otherwise) that are just taking up space and not making much of a contribution in terms of content.

  16. SHG

    I switched words because I really didn’t find either sufficient to capture the idea.  A few other words came to mind, but they were pejorative and I was trying to keep my question as neutral as possible.

    There are a ton of blogs. There are a relative handful of blogs that anyone gives a damn about. If we’re going to talk numbers, or success, or viability, we need to know how we’re defining things.  Thus far, we haven’t really come up with much of a way of distinguishing those that provide a significant contribution in terms of content from those that merely exist, or marginally exist.

  17. Thorne

    I just checked the Technorati rankings a dozen of blogs operated by Lex Blog.

    If no one’s reading your blog, why bother to write for it?

  18. Kevin

    Geez Thorne, have you been waiting for Technorati to get their cash infusion last week so they could turn the lights back on to take a cheap shot like? Technorati has proved to be unreliable for much of anything and has become irrelevant to the publishing and new media industry. I also can’t think of a more meaningless method of determining the influence of your law blog – at least as far as client development.

    This whole debate of whether blogs work for client development is silly in light of all the lawyers who are experiencing success.

    And not sure about any of you, but it’s very hard to discuss something with someone who fails to disclose who they are. I’ve always thought someone taking pot shots at another while hiding behind anonymity is chicken sh.. on their part.

    Got me sucked into this Greenfield, well done. Think I’ll bow out now. 😉

  19. Mike

    There’s only one name I don’t recognize; so I don’t see who is “hiding behind anonymity.” Not everyone posts using first and last names. Some of us just use initials. Doesn’t mean anyone is anonymous or hiding out.

    Anyhow, what’s anonymity have to do with whether anyone reads LexBlog’s clients’ weblogs? Either a statement is true or false. There’s no one arguing from authority.

    If someone had said, “Most LexBlogs aren’t very good. Take my word for it,” then we’d like to know the person’s name. If a person is not making an argument from authority, what the Hell does it matter?

    In fact-based arguments, it’s usually people who fear the facts who resort to the “anonymous coward” argument.

  20. SHG

    Don’t quit just yet, as Mister Thorne raises an interesting point. If Technorati means nothing for client development, what does?  How does anyone outside recognize that a blog with no apparent interest as a contributor to the blawgosphere (as shown by links) is successful in client development?

  21. Thorne

    RE: “And not sure about any of you, but it’s very hard to discuss something with someone who fails to disclose who they are. I’ve always thought someone taking pot shots at another while hiding behind anonymity is chicken sh.. on their part.”

    What are you talking about?

  22. Ron Coleman

    Vanity. Or a “consultant” who tells you it’s gonna hit, you’re gonna be great… just add Twitter… and Furl… and Shmurl… and Curly… and Moe…

  23. SHG

    Maybe Kevin is exactly right, and guys like Hermann and me are wrong, giving a misimpression that persuades lawyers to forego blawging when it might well prove beneficial for them. While we don’t see it, that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t.

    There are two aspects to Kevin’s claim, that they are achieving client development and doing so to an extent that makes blawging worthwhile on an ROI basis. It’s not that I don’t believe Kevin when he tells me that hist customers report back to him that blawging is fulfilling their goals, but that it’s all hearsay, it’s externally unquantifiable and it’s contrary to my experience and that of many others I know who blawg.

    So if we’re wrong, in whole or part, we’re doing a disservice to others. Neither Mark nor I want to do anything that wrongly hurts other lawyers.

  24. Bryan

    There are many reasons to write, not all of them requiring a current audience.
    You might write to work through some idea you have, hoping to understand it better by putting “pen” to “paper.”
    You might write to contribute to the greater collection of thoughts. After all, you might not have readers now, but that doesn’t mean it will be the case forever. Perhaps you will place something into the stream that someone will be looking for a year or two from now.

  25. Marc J. Randazza

    The only thing I don’t like about your post is that you’re too nice.

    To be honest, when I started the Legal Satyricon, I didn’t know I was starting a blog. For its first few months of life, it was a way for me to deliver materials to my students — updated reading, classroom changes, etc. Then, I figured I would open comments so that the students could continue the discussion outside of class, and so that those who were verbally shy might be able to shine.

    Next thing I know, I’m getting comments from people outside the class. I’m responding, I’m writing posts about issues raised in comments, and boom…. I see that my traffic far outstrips my small class.

    I continue… it grows… It is now a “publication.” Like yours, Ron’s, Venkat’s, etc… these are publications that happen to be written and edited by lawyers. They are about sharing knowledge and opinions.

    The other species is the “brochure blogger.” The fool who sees our traffic success and thinks that such power can be harnessed to get themselves clients. It does NOT WORK. I have not ever gotten a worthwhile client from the Legal Satyricon. Sure, it has helped me brand myself — and that probably hasn’t hurt my income any, for the most part, I would make more money if I spent my blogging time either billing or speaking at conferences.

    Of course, I don’t necessarily mind the derelict and dead blogs out there. More information and more opinions are always nice… and just like some fish squirt millions of eggs to yield a couple of adult offspring, the blogosphere must spawn the same way.

    But the bottom line is this: if you’re a lawyer who is waving his arms around saying “I have a blog! Hire me!” then you’re wasting your time. Better to ask an established blogger if they’ll grant you some guest space. On the other hand, if you’re a writer who happens to be a lawyer, then the ‘sphere needs you, wants you, and likes you.

  26. Venkat

    [Marc: I have not ever gotten a worthwhile client from the Legal Satyricon]

    you mean the state of Florida hasn’t hired you for anything? You’re so complimentary to them and their typically well thought out legislation 🙂

    Good comments/interesting discussion all around!

    Scott: you should consider a community building webinar. 🙂

  27. IPTAblog

    Blawg Review #240

    or, An Exercise in Narcissism. Blawg Review’s Editor asked me to host today’s Blawg Review because today, November 30, is St. Andrew’s Day. And given the speed with which Blawg Review’s Editor forwarded along this list of other law bloggers…

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