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Six worst practices in lawyer blogging

Federal Energy Regulatory and Renewables lawyer and author, Carolyn Elefant, shared her top ten blogging peeves last week.

In spite of how much has been written about blogging, including my own posts here and here, I still see many lawyers blogging in a way that at best is highly annoying and at worst, is downright unprofessional and potentially unethical. That’s why I’ve decided to share my top twelve blogging peeves, or tips on how NOT to blog.

Despite Elefant’s thinking that business development and marketing folks may not agree with her, I agree with each and every one of Elefant’s ten blogging worst practices.

Here’s six of Elefant’s worst practices. I’ve liberally lifted, annotated, and edited Elefant’s points.

  1. Recycling undated blog posts and content. Some lawyers fashion themselves too busy to sustain a blog, even though many lawyers do so in four to six hours a month. They still wish to blog so they’ll republish old blog posts or re-cycle old articles and portions of book chapters that were never written to be a blog posts. Republishing old blog posts is a breach of your audience’s trust in you as a publisher. Recycling articles or book chapters is pushing a square peg through a round hole. Blogging is a conversation that engages your target audience by demonstrating that you are listening and responding to what is being said. The tone, conversational style, and linking to relevant people and information that a blog requires is foreign to articles.
  2. Pimping to Search Engines. Ever see those blog posts that repeatedly weave in how a “Boston employment lawyer” or “San Francisco bankruptcy lawyer” can assist you? That’s not content; it’s preening for search engines and it’s annoying beyond belief. I agree with Carolyn that I’d “never hire a lawyer who mucks up posts with sale-sy subtext…” Influential bloggers, reporters, association leaders, and conference coordinators who can do business development wonders for a lawyer publishing a good blog know such lawyers are pimping to search engines and have little or no legal expertise to offer.
  3. Ghostwriting. When lawyers blog in first the person, they create a relationship between themselves and a reader, just as they would if they met a referral source at a party or a client at their office. Lawyers betray this trust by faking one’s voice and one’s words through ghostwriting. When blog posts are merely summaries of case or regulatory updates, perhaps there’s a place for hiring out, but otherwise not. And if another lawyer in the firm is doing blogging ‘for you,’ give them the credit in the byline.
  4. Running feeds of disaster. Some lawyers, mostly my brethren plaintiff’s trial lawyers blog ‘running disaster feeds’ of accident reports to fill posts with keywords and to grab the attention of family and friends of victims injured in accidents to induce them to call. I’ve blogged about the practice before and agree with Elefant that “It’s a disgusting and sleazy practice…”
  5. Lack of Attribution. Many lawyers who blog fail to realize that blogging is closer to a conversation than publishing and distributing content to grab attention, gain traffic to a website, or achieve search engine optimization. Such bloggers write about topics without referencing other related posts. They don’t use an RSS Reader to listen to what bloggers, reporters, and associations in the ‘community’ (locale or niche) are writing. Worse yet, as Elefant says, they will lift an idea from a colleague without attribution.  A good blog post engages its audience. This requires listening to what your audience is saying and giving attribution to their point by naming them as your source and linking to their name and what what they said.
  6. Google ads on law firm blogs. Ads on your blog can look sleazy and make you look like you need an additional source of revenue because you’re not cutting it as a lawyer. I’ve blogged about the shortsightedness of law blogs running nascar-like ads and how law blogs with ads diminish a lawyer’s reputation. I do agree with Carolyn that if your law firm blog is so popular that a well respected company is willing to sponsor your blog, it may add to your blog’s cache.

Good lawyers have so much to gain from blogging — from both a professional and a business development standpoint. Good blogging by members of the bar can make the law more accessible and improve the image of our profession.

To achieve these goals lawyers need to blog in a professional, tasteful, and ethical fashion. We need to blog in a way that’s befitting of our profession and the public we serve. Many lawyers can do better.