The public interest legal community has a gem in Technola, a blog that shares resources and information about the effective use of technology in the nonprofit legal sector. Run by Matthew Burnett and Kate Bladow of Pro Bono Net, the blog serves as a portal to all kinds of public interest law and technology links and issues.
Their blog has gained a following not just from legal aid and public interest advocates, but also from solo and small firm attorneys who use the site as a resource for lowering the costs of their legal services.
"We’ve found that blogging opens the door to opportunities and relationships in ways that few other tools, technology-based or otherwise, can," say the authors. "It also cements existing relationships and builds credibility and trust, which are now more important than ever."
We talked with Matthew and Kate for this LexBlog Q&A to learn more about their @accesstojustice Twitter account and what other nonprofit blogs they admire.
See our email exchange, after the jump.
Lisa Kennelly: Describe how Technola came about and what your goals were in starting the blog.
MB & KB: Technola began primarily as a place for us to share resources and information about the effective use of technology in the nonprofit legal sector. Like private law firms, public interest law firms are interested in how technology can make their services more efficient and effective. There are also a lot of great examples of innovative technology being developed and implemented in the nonprofit legal sector that help to increase access to justice for those that can’t afford a lawyer, such as LiveHelp, LawHelp Interactive, and The Findability Project. We’re both huge fans of collaboration and information sharing, and we were already trying to share this information in other ways, so creating a blog seemed like a good opportunity to put our heads together to create something that we thought would be of value to the public interest legal community.
Lisa Kennelly: How has the blog evolved over time? What one thing (or few things) have you learned through the experience of blogging?
MB & KB: We both read a lot of other blogs about legal and nonprofit technology and have tried out ideas presented by others. For example, we do a round up each month of our best posts, which we started after reading a post by Beth Kanter, a prominent nonprofit blogger, where she reviewed PostRank. This seems to be a natural way for blogs and bloggers to evolve — learning more about what others have found successful and experimenting to see if the idea works for you, your blog, and your readers.
One unexpected way that Technola has evolved is our readership. A lot of our readers are legal aid and public interest advocates, but we also have solo and small firm attorneys who are reading Technola regularly, which makes sense given the similarities between under-resourced legal aid offices and struggling solo and small firm attorneys.
Blogging has been a great source of continuing education for us. Frequently, the topics that we cover are applicable to our professional lives or help solve a problem we encounter at a later date. It’s also a great excuse to learn something new. For example, this year we started a project on Twitter, @accesstojustice, which we use to share news and information on access to justice issues in the U.S. and abroad. It’s amazing that with very little effort we’re able connect with a community of over sixteen hundred people, mostly lawyers, who care about the plight of those who can’t afford legal representation. At the same time, we’re able to blog about what we learn and help demonstrate the value of social networking to the public interest community. We’ve found that blogging opens the door to opportunities and relationships in ways that few other tools, technology-based or otherwise, can. It also cements existing relationships and builds credibility and trust, which are now more important than ever.
Lisa Kennelly: You both have "real" jobs in addition – how do you make time for this blog, or does the blog dovetail easily with your regular work?
MB & KB: We both work at Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit that partners with legal aid organizations, pro bono programs, courts, and others to increase access to justice through collaboration, volunteerism, and technology. Pro Bono Net has been incredibly supportive of our blog, although we do most of our blogging on personal time—at night and on the weekends. Fortunately, we enjoy our work, and we enjoy sharing what we do through blogging. Technola is a place for us to download things that we hear and do every day.
Blogging regularly is never easy, whether it is part of your job or not. Working together helps. In fact, at this point it’s hard to imagine either of us having done it alone. Advice that we often give to folks who are interested in starting a blog is to find others interested in the same issue to partner with. Blogging with others distributes the work and helps to ensure a diversity of topics, expertise, and perspectives.
Lisa Kennelly: What kind of feedback have you received as a result of the blog, and from whom?
MB & KB: We’ve received very positive feedback from both the access to justice community and the wider legal blogging community. Most frequently, this feedback comes in the form of suggestions for posts. Readers will send us questions, ideas for posts, or links that they think that our readers would be interested in. This is extremely valuable and helps us to understand what people are interested in reading about. To a lesser extent, readers also comment on posts. We love getting comments and always enjoy responding to them on the blog.
Lisa Kennelly: How do you feel a blog can particularly benefit a non-profit or public interest group?
MB & KB: Blogs benefit nonprofits in many of the same ways that they benefit private attorneys and law firms. They are tools that people and organizations can use to build community and engage in conversation. As a blog develops, an individual or organization builds a presence in their community, and as more legal aid and pro bono organizations start blogging, the profile of access to justice issues will increase as well.
Several nonprofit legal services organizations are already blogging and successfully using their blogs to achieve these goals. For example:
- The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law uses The Shriver Brief, also hosted by LexBlog, to educate lawyers and the public about issues affecting low-income communities.
- Making Justice Real, a blog from the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, highlights local and national issues affecting local low-income communities as well as their organization’s work on behalf of these communities.
- Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC), an organization that has been blogging since at least 2003, publishes the LSNC Advocate Feed, which covers information, tools, and issues of importance to LSNC and other legal aid advocates.
These are just three examples of how organizations have opted to use blogs. For a more complete list, see technola’s blogroll.
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- A.J. De Bartolomeo of Yaz on Trial [12.22.09]
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- Daniel Clement of New York Divorce Report [12.16.09]
Or, see our full list of legal blog interviews.