Biglaw Blawgosphere: Does This Tie Match?

Beck and/or Herrmann at  Drug and Device Law are the exception to the Biglaw types.  They write well and with humility, have a sense of humor, and most of all, blog.  But they have apparently reached a cross-roads in their blogging where they are constrained to wonder why bloggers are under appreciated by their own Biglaw firms.

One or the other (since neither is willing to take ownership of the question) posts:   Why Are Blogs Undervalued?  No, not by you, since you are already reading a blog, but by the management of Biglaw and by the decision-makers of their corporate clients. 

Having crafted the “the most widely read product liability blog on the internet,” they wonder why nobody at work is asking how they did it and how can it be replicated.  They have come up with 4 answers to their question:

First, we’re breathing our own fumes. “Most widely read product liability blog on the internet” is like “world’s tallest midget.” 25,000 pageviews is a drop in the bucket, and there’s essentially no institutional benefit to blogging. If the two of us — Beck and Herrmann, the blogging morons — want to waste our Saturday mornings feeding this beast, we should go ahead and entertain ourselves. But no one should think this has any institutional value.

Second, firm management is too old. Management is basically folks over 50 who start their days sipping a cup of coffee and reading the Journal. Only people under 40 start their days sipping a cup of coffee and checking Above the Law, the Law Blog, Overlawyered, and other blogs. Since firm management has never visited a blog, management can’t believe that anyone else does, either. The power of the blogosphere is simply beyond management’s comprehension.

Third, blogs attract the wrong demographic. The target market for big firms such as ours is the general counsel and C-level management of Fortune 500 companies. With all due respect to our visitors — and we love you guys; really! — you folks are younger and less important. Although a blog can be widely read, it’s widely read by the wrong eyeballs and so not worth the effort.

Or, fourth, blogging is too much work for too little financial reward. It takes many hours of effort each week for the two of us to provide regular, fresh content to this site, and the amount of business generated doesn’t justify the effort. If the two of us get some personal satisfaction from blogging, no one will interfere, but firms do cost-benefit analyses of marketing initiatives, and this one flunks the test. (If that’s the answer, it’s cool with us. We surely aren’t doing this for the financial rewards.) (Come to think of it, why the heck are we doing this?)

As I read these four answers, I could feel the bile welling up in the throats of the Blogs are the new pet rock crowd. As anyone who knows that the blawgosphere exists is aware, it’s a curious place inhabited by people with very different motives. 

Like Beck/Herrmann, I’m a blogging moron.  I can appreciate, though I have no Biglaw masters to please, that there are moments when I wonder why I bother to do this.  There are times when it’s fun.  There are times when it stops being fun.  But since my goal is not to impress clients and gain market share through my blawg, it is not financially motived.  Since my work is not the creation of a commercial blog network, I need not bolster the concept of blogging to encourage others to buy blogs from me. 

But for those whose livelihood depends on the lawyers buying into blogging as a means to get business, a post like this is heresy.  On the one side, marketers are telling lawyers that blogging is the key to success.  On the other side, bloggers are telling lawyers that this is “too much work for too little financial reward.”

As expected, my good friend Kevin from  Real Lawyers Have Blogs was the first to comment.  This is Kevin’s bread and butter, having created the LexBlog group that offers turnkey blogs to lawyers and a network that will make any new LexBlog an overnight success.  There is one condition, a point that Kevin and I has discussed at length: Once he turns over the keys, the newbie blogger has to put in the effort to create some substance of his own to generate organic interest.  Kevin makes the vehicle, the lawyer then has to drive it.  If he crashes it into a wall, there’s nothing Kevin can do to stop him.

In his first comment, Kevin challenges the proposition that blogs are undervalued.  Kevin points out that blogs have come along farther and faster than Biglaw’s adoption of other technology, like email and websites.  In other words, it doesn’t happen overnight and Beck/Herrmann need to give it some more time.  I think Kevin has a point here, especially since the elders rarely buy in to new technologies until it has become so ordinary and commonplace that even they know about it.

But then, a strange thing happens.  Kevin comes back for another bite of the apple and posts this comment :

May be that blogs are being undervalued in your firm because your blog looks so amateurish.

Bloggers may understand Google’s free blogger service and it’s all fun to say we can do this for free.

But what about the lead partners in your firm and huge multinational clients? What do they think when they look at it?

Looks mean a lot. Show up to meet to meet a new corporate client in a suit, shirt, tie, and shoes from Goodwill. Your partners would be less than impressed when you rave about it being fun, the new thing, and free.

Well, that was awfully harsh.  And needlessly personal.  Beyond this being over-the-top as far as self-serving (my blogs look better than your blogs), is that really what blogging is all about, appearance? 

Some blogs show that a great deal of effort was put into appearance, with cool, unique templates and all sorts of bells and whistles.  Others, like Simple Justice, are pretty much amateurish in appearance.  I lack both the skill to make it more “professional” looking, and frankly wouldn’t care enough to do so if I had the skill.  My time is spent writing the posts, because that’s why I do this, and not to develop a blog that is more visually appealing. 

But more to the point, who is the arbiter of whether a blog is visually appealing or “amateurish”?  At Drug and Device Law, they clearly haven’t put much effort into their header, as it’s as basic as could be.  So what? 

My uniform has been a suit and tie for more than 25 years.  Still, I ask the same question every morning before I leave the house:  Does this tie match?  As much as I am renown for being a snappy dresser, it’s never quite clear to me whether I’ve made a good choice in ties or a poor one. 

Of course, my tie bears no relationship to the arguments I will make in court, or the research and writing I will put into my papers.  It’s not substantive.  There’s some argument that a particularly bad choice is distracting, but even those lawyers who wear a particularly ugly tie are able to get beyond it.  I do not accept the premise that any defendant has ever gone to jail because his lawyer wore an ugly tie.

Some of my friends (particularly Gideon) in the blawgosphere have tried to push me to improve the appearance of my blawg.  I don’t disagree with them, but can’t muster the energy to care enough to act.  I believe that substance trumps appearance, and I believe that  Drug and Device Law offers substance.  If that’s not a good enough reason to stop by and read, then the blawgosphere is a failure.  No matter how attractive the tie, it will never be more vital than it’s wearer.

11 thoughts on “Biglaw Blawgosphere: Does This Tie Match?

  1. Windypundit

    I think Kevin’s got a point of sorts: The Drug and Device Law blog looks “amateurish” not because it’s ugly, but because it’s ordinary. It’s a Blogspot blog using what looks like a standard Blogger template. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few other blogs that look just like it.

    There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it is quite clearly the work of a couple of guys who enjoy blogging and not the work of a law firm reaching out to their potential customers. Therefore, no matter how good it is, it doesn’t reflect well on their firm because it doesn’t reflect much on their firm at all.

    On the other hand, I read blawgs for my education and entertainment, so when I stumble on a law blog like the ones that Lexblog creates, my first reaction is “Oh, this is advertising. There’s probably nothing good here.”

    Of course, I’m not here to find a lawyer, so Kevin shouldn’t care what I think. And maybe if I were trying to find a lawyer, I’d pay more attention to the advertising blogs.

  2. karl

    Odd, I think your blog is one of the best designed in the defense side of the blogosphere.

    I do agree, however, that the D&D blog could use a facelift. The same could be said, however, about the Volokh Conspiracy, Ann Althouse, Balkinization, SL&P, and virtually every other major blawg in the blawgosphere. The only blawgs that don’t seem to need a facelift are those like Above the Law that are designed to make money from the blog.

  3. SHG

    Does it reflect poorly on their firms, or just not well?  If the appearance harms the firm, then it’s a problem.  If the appearance is a neutral factor (as I believe it to be), then the content becomes the only material factor, and the content reflects very well because of its quality. 

    On the flip side, if the appearance is spectacular, it generally says to me that there is too much effort put into appearance, and makes me think that it has to be promotional rather than substantive.  It’s a bias on my part, but that’s the feel I get.

  4. Kevin OKeefe

    Thanks for pointing out I was a little harsh and needlessly personal in my second comment over at D & D. Agree with you and felt a little remorse about it yesterday. Posted to that effect on the D & D follow up post that just went up.

    When I see poor design and a few other deficiencies on a good law blog, I’m always envious that LexBlog does not have them as a client. 😉

  5. SHG

    There’s no doubt that you do a better job of making a visually attractive blog than D&D (and SJ).  But since we’re just a bunch of guys writing stuff for free, it’s got to be enough to produce the posts without getting kicked in the pants for using basic and free templates.

    But if you ever want to do a little pro bono, well…

  6. Windypundit

    That’s how I feel too, and I don’t think it’s an unjustified bias. Building a beautiful site is hard work, and adding great content is hard work. Unless the money flows freely, there’s going to be a tradeoff.

    In addition, some of the most beautifully designed sites use a lot of technical trickery to achieve their look, and that trickery has to be applied to all content, which makes it harder and more costly to update the site.

  7. Kevin OKeefe

    “some of the most beautifully designed sites use a lot of technical trickery to achieve their look, and that trickery has to be applied to all content, which makes it harder and more costly to update the site.”

    No idea what you’re referring. Well designed sites take no additional time on which to post content.

  8. SHG

    I don’t know anything about techno-trickery (which should be obvious by now), but Kevin does some great work, whether you want to go crazy or just keep it simple but sophisticated.

    And I’m still waiting to hear back from Kev on that pro bono thing. 

  9. Windypundit

    Kevin, I wasn’t refering to the types of sites you build. You build blogs, which are by definition fast and easy to update. What would be the point of blog marketing otherwise?

    I meant the kind of site that’s very heavy in graphics design: graphic headings, flash animation, background images sliced into 86 pieces. The entertainment sites are some of the worst. Check out the site for the new IronMan movie:

    Do you think that site can push out new content quickly without involving a lot of staff?

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