Should a law student blog now? Yes, yes & yes, writes veteran law blogger and successful niche practice solo lawyer, Carolyn Elefant.

In the big picture, something law students may not appreciate today, prosperity and a sense of direction may be the best reasons to blog.

A blog is your precedent; a picture of you as a law student, at a place in time where your profession lies in front of you and where you’re still excited and eager — maybe naive or at least, not yet jaded. Blogs capture the insight and curiosity and passion and yes, stupidity of the soon-to-be-lawyer and serve as a True North that you can look back on and use to re-orient yourself if you ever lose your way as a lawyer.

Elefant also offers five practical reasons to blog, whether you’re looking to hang out your shingle or find employment in a law firm.

  1. Blogging on a regular basis (at least twice a week for the first six months) about almost any law related topic shows commitment to the profession, interest and most of all initiative. Those traits will catapult you to the front of the line when it comes time for interviews or referrals from colleagues.
  2. A blog will open doors by offering an online introduction to lawyers in distant communities where you hope to wind up or to role models whom you’d like to emulate or meet.
  3. Blogging will make you money while in school and on graduation. Law schools don’t necessarily prepare you to get hired as a clerk or on graduation. Instead of waiting passively for your law school to help you find a job, put yourself out there with your blog and you may find lawyers approaching you, asking you to take on short research projects or help them research blog posts.
  4. Blogging improves your analytical and writing skills. Since readers have short attention spans and many RSS readers only pick up the first sentence of what you write, blogs require you to get right to the point with a seductive headline, strong lead and cogent analysis.
  5. A blog can serve as the centerpiece of a broader presence on the web by disciplining you to produce content that you can repurpose in multiple sites. You can include your blog along with other briefs and papers you’ve written in an online portfolio, a concept recently recommended in the New York Times for job seekers.

New York Attorney and Legal Tech Evangelist at MyCase, Nicole Black wholeheartedly agrees with Elefant.

Law students should consider blogging, and more broadly, should also use social media to establish a professional presence during their law school years. Interacting strategically online is a great way to jumpstart your legal career and make connections that can last a lifetime.

Black, who’s been blogging for twelve years, is right there with Elefant on the benefits of blogging as a law student.

  1. Demonstrate your substantive knowledge.
  2. Showcase your writing and analytical skills.
  3. Convince prospective employers that you are on top of changes in your chosen practice areas or career path of choice.

Ignore the naysayers and scare tactics, says Black.

Don’t let the fact that the internet is forever deter you from taking advantage of the opportunities that social media and blogging offer.

These guys offer some advice on where to start blogging as a law student.

From Black:

  1. Determine what your post-law school objectives are. Identify a niche, practice area, or career goal that interests you and make it yours. Learn everything you can about it.
  2. Subscribe to blogs about your chosen focus and identify the influencers in that space, whether it’s a specific area of law practice or another career path in a different field.
  3. Connect with those people online and learn from them. Read their articles, blog posts, and social media posts and interact with them online.

And from Elefant:

  1. To get the most mileage out of your blog in the legal community, you need to blog about legal or law related issues. Sounds obvious, but I have students blog about their life as a law student or other random matterss
  2. I’d avoid blogging about topics obviously aimed at prospective clients – stuff like “Why You Should Incorporate Your Business,” or “Ten Ways to Avoid Liability When You Fire An Employee.” A law student blogger would have to include so many disclaimers as part of these posts that they wouldn’t have much value.

I know Niki and Carolyn as friends and as professionals. They are as passionate as I am, if not more, about helping law students use the Internet for learning, networking and getting a job. Follow their advice over the advice of law school administrators and professors who do not blog and use social media.

Remember, as a law student, Lexblog’s platform is free to you as part of the Law School Blog Network. Take advantage of it.

Our Law School Blog Network is coming alive with a good number of blogs by law professors and law students.

Here’s ten points to mind for a more successful blog for law students yet to go live or not even started with their blog.

  1. Focus on a niche. Blogs are very much “if you build it, they will come,” so long as you focus on a niche. For example, tax law is way too broad. Tax law for income property owners in your state rocks. You’ll get noticed, you’ll have people cite you as a resource and you’ll be pumped about blogging. Broad topic blogs get little love and attention, thus make blogging a chore – so much so you’ll quit and lose an opportunity to build a name and realize your dreams.
  2. Blog on a substantive legal subject, industry or social issue. Don’t blog about yourself and your situation. You don’t want to blog about your life (lifestyle blogger), unless you are big time championing an issue such as discrimination against women or people of color in the law.
  3. No long articles attempting to cover a lot of ground. This is blogging. You blog as you would talk in a conversation. 350 to 400 words, or even shorter is great. One point and you’re done.
  4. At least one image in every post. People read blogs on mobile devices and on social networks. Pictures are attractive in these settings and are expected by users.
  5. Cite other people (and their stories/blog posts) with whom you want to connect to in your niche. They’ll see you, you’ll get to know them and grow influence as a result of others “seeing” you hang out with the leaders.
  6. Make sure you use social networks. Blogging is a all about listening and engagement. It’s the same with social networks. Even when you’re not blogging, you’re still a blogger.
  7. Learn how to use the news aggregator, Feedly. Your blogging will remain focused by who and what you follow and you’ll grow your network by engaging those you read from Feedly.
  8. Don’t be clever with titles. A title should briefly and clearly describe your blog post. Titles are how people find content on Google and social media.
  9. Share your posts on social media, but make sure you’ve established a little “social media equity” by sharing others’ posts and articles first. No one likes people who share only their content all the time.
  10. Post a couple times a month to start with and work it up to once a week. A good blog post can take as little as twenty or thirty minutes. It’ll take a little longer to start, but as you get the hang of it and begin to get recognized blogging will be easy and fun.

Blogging is an art and a skill that is acquired over time. People’s styles differ. One thing to know when you start is that you can blog bad, but for only so long.

If you’re a law student and want to blog on a great platform, check out LexBlog’s Law School Blog Network. All free and a great way to build a name for yourself.

One of the most rewarding things I have the honor of doing is visiting law schools.

I get to go into large law school classes or open sessions and tap into the existing passion these young people have. It’s incredible.

When I talk about the Internet providing each and every student the ability to make their dreams come alive, eyes open. You can see the fire.

When I share the story of Pat Ellis going from an average student at Michigan State Law School to Honigman in Detroit to inhouse counsel and business planner for the General Counsel and EVP of Public Policy at General Motors, all in a couple years, on the back of a blog, Twitter, drive and a dream, you can see students thinking, “That’s me.”

Students come down and engage me afterwards. They tell me where they’re from and where they want to go.

Some students have niches they’re passionate about. My being there got them to realize they really could do the type of work they dream of and for the type of clients they want to serve.

Other students almost apologize that they haven’t figured out their niche. I tell them that’s absolutely okay, most lawyers never figure out what fuels their passion. “Just figure out what would be fun to learn and who’d like to meet in the field. Now make it happen with the effective use of blogging and social media.”

What’s sad is that career services in many schools isn’t prepared to help their law students realize their dreams.

People communicate and connect on the Internet today. A working understanding of how to use the Internet for professional development and getting a job is critical for law students.

Yet career services is often led and staffed by people who have never used the Internet to build professional relationships nor to build a name for themselves. Their knowledge of using the net professionally often comes from misguided peers.

Facebook is the most widely used communication and connection medium in the world. Smart business professionals, including most of the legal industry leaders I know, use Facebook to engage and share on personal and professional matters.

Yet I recently heard that one career services professional advised law students not to engage professionally on Facebook, and if they do to keep two separate Facebook accounts. That’s nuts. Made me wonder what other bum advice they may have shared with students.

Blogging, Twitter and networking on LinkedIn are powerful tools. Those law students who use them strategically and effectively for learning, networking and building a name are going to have opportunities to do the things they dream of when they graduate.

But who’s teaching law students how to use social media? Where are the role models and mentors in their law school when it comes to blogging? Who is career services reaching out to for help, being vulnerable by acknowledging they don’t understand it all?

Law students are paying $150,000 or more to their school, many going into debt, and all forgoing income for three years.

The students are told to use career services. “We’re here to help you.”

But are you? Can you fuel the passion of your law students? Or might you drown it out?

There are exceptions, career services teaching and empowering law students to use social media to build a name for themselves. But I fear they are the exception.

Michigan State University College of Law is hosting their second annual Social Media Bootcamp this Saturday (Feb 4). I couldn’t be more honored to be leading the workshop. We had a great time last year.

The workshop is open to law students, lawyers, academics, judges, court staff and all other legal service delivery professionals.

The interactive workshop is designed to help law students, lawyers and legal services providers improve their professional use of blogging and other social media, whether you are beginner or a pro.

You’ll learn how to effectively utilize social media to build a personal brand, establish expertise, and build an online community. You’ll also learn how social media can be used for learning, advancing the law, and networking as a law student, lawyer, law professor or other legal professional.

If you’re a practicing lawyer, you’ll leave knowing how to really use the Internet to get the type of work you want from the type of clients you want to represent.

We’ll cover, among other things:

  • Use of a news aggregator (Feedly) for listening to the influencers and identifying items to share
  • Blogging on a niche to build your name, a network and advance the law
  • Twitter for listening, establishing yourself as an intelligent agent, building social media equity, and building relationships
  • Facebook for building solid professional relationships and sharing personal and professional information and insight
  • LinkedIn for more than just a profile, but to engage, to build a name – and in the case of lawyers how to get work

Law student, professor or law school administrator and looking to blog, ask me about the LexBlog sponsored Law School Blog Network. You’re entitled to a blog on our comprehensive blog publishing software and related services – for free.

Complete details:

  • Date: Saturday, February 4, 2016
  • Time: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
  • Event Address: 648 N. Shaw Ln, East Lansing, MI 48824
  • Room: Castle Boardroom (3rd Floor)
  • Parking: Free on weekends in the parking ramp next to MSU Law
  • RSVP

Questions? Contact Amy Krieg, Assistant Director for Career Development, kriegamy@law.msu.edu or (517) 432-6830.

Big thanks for Michigan State Law for having me back again. This may be the third or fourth time in the last couple years. You’ve opened my eyes to the passion of law students looking to do great things – often, for other people.

Hope to see how this year’s social media contest is going too. past participants have ended up at with positions at Honigman in Detroit, General Motors, London law firms (internships) and West Coast companies in the agriculture/food business.

I am heading back from a day and evening with the students, faculty and administration at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

So many people to thank for such an enjoyable and rewarding time. Dean Jay Mootz is leading a heck of a team. I am learning a lot from him as to how a law school works and how to work with law schools.

I am also becoming a little more relaxed talking with law school deans. Being a kid from a small town and a very average student, I hadn’t hung out much with deans and wondered if I could keep up with them on the knowledge front.

Thanks to Mindy Danovaro who introduced me to Jay, kicking off what we hope will be a relationship that can benefit McGeorge students, professors, snd its grads.

And a big thanks to Professor Dorothy Landsberg, who after practicing law for twenty years returned to become a driving force at McGeorge in too many areas to count. Her questions, counsel and enthusiasm left me awfully inspired.

As a lawyer, if you ever get the chance to teach or work with a law school and its students, especially your law school (mine is McGeorge), jump at the opportunity. You’ll find in the decades since you graduated that you have accumulated wisdom and practical know how that the students with drive will be enthusiastic to absorb.

If you can help the school on something unique that showcases the law school, so much the better. Law schools are having a bit of a tough time and find themselves in a highly competitive environment. An edge helps.

In my case it’s helping students, professors and administrators understand how they can leverage the power of the Internet through blogging and social media — for learning, networking, advancing legal scholarship and building a name.

The opportunities that await law grads have never been greater than today — so long as they know to use the net to realize their aspirations.

Fortunate for McGeorge students, the school is going to give them the opportunity to learn how to use the net. Based on discussions yesterday, the school is going to be part of the Law School Blog Network offering students and professors LexBlog’s comprehensive platform and services for free.

We’re also going to work on ways to teach campus representatives the ins and outs of using blogging and social media strategically. They’ll in turn be able to pass on their knowledge to students and professors.

McGeorge, part of the University of Pacific, is an incredible school with a smart, dedicated and caring faculty and administration.

And as far as the law school itself? 13 acres of classrooms, apartments, a fitness center with pool, clinics, learning centers, and a courtroom, all surrounded by lawns with palm and eucalyptus trees in sunny California is tough to beat. And you can get a California license to boot.

Thanks McGeorge. It’s off to Fordam and Michigan State law schools in the coming weeks. What an honor.

Reading  “WTF is AALS,” in an Above The Law post by the Anonymous Law Professor last Tuesday was enough to catch my attention.

Turns out AALS is the American Association of Law Schools, an organization I hadn’t heard of before. They were having their annual meeting last week in San Francisco, including a Thursday morning session on how law professors were blogging for professional development.

Short notice, but LexBlog’s starting the Law School Blog Network was enough to get me to jump a flight down the next day.

The session on blogging, which took type form of three discussion groups of about fifteen was excellent.

My findings on law school blogging from the session (excuse the length – my notes for working with law schools):

  • Each of the law professors who were blogging felt they were making a strong name for themselves from blogging.
  • At least one law professor would not have gotten her job as a professor without blogging. She was practicing law, had not attended a tier 1 school, but whose goal in life was to be a law porofessor – her blog got her in.
  • Their networks were growing among influenential legal and business professionals worldwide.
  • Blogging professors were getting invited to speak at events worldwide.
  • Law professors view favorably the free and open legal publishing that blogs bring.
  • Concern was expressed about LexisNexis’ acquisition of SSRN, an historically open body of scholarly publications, because LexisNexis is now limiting some open access. Blogging provides an alternative.
  • Media loves law professors blogging as evidenced by blogging professors regularly finding themselves being contacted and quoted by reporters.
  • Law schools look favorably on blogging professors. Deans and administrators like the media coverage, court citations, advancement of legal scholorship and readers, including judges and alumni.
  • Law professor blog posts, like law reviews, get cited by the courts.
  • Judges read law professor blogs as a form of legal scholorship and dialogue on the law.
  • Law professor blogs influence the ABA’s committees, rulings and policy making.
  • Conensus of professors in the session was that 10% of the professors at their law schools were blogging,
  • Law school deans like their law professors blogging because of the notoriety it brings the professors and the schools.
  • Blog posts need not be a thousand words or more. Though some posts may be longer in nature, 400 hundred to 600 words is fine.
  • Law professors, like practicing lawyers who blog, like to follow stats and traffic. Who’s reading, how many are reading and where readers are located.
  • Law professors were in 100% agreement that blogs belong separate and apart from a law school website – a blog is an independent publication and a law professor needs to maintain ownership of their blog.
  • Being recognized as a top 100 legal blog in the annual Blawg 100 by the ABA Journal is valued by law professors.
  • The blog publishing platform, TypePad, not used by many professionals, was used by some of the professors, by virtue of Professor Paul Caron’s Law Professor Blog Network using Typepad.
  • Law professors use other social media as an adjunct to their blogging, just like practicing lawyers who blog – Twitter and LinkedIn, more than Facebook.
  • Law professors who do not blog and use social, but whom show an interest, are as lost as to what it’s all about as practicing law students.

I enjoyed attending, met a professor or two who is interested in blogging with LexBlog’s Law School Blog Network and will make it a point to attend AALS in the future.

Through efficiency brought by technology and a law school’s commitment to introduce its students to more effective business models and technology to improve legal services, LexBlog is moving forward with a Law School Blog Network offering law students, professors and administrators its blogging platform and services at no cost.

A year ago I was talking with Michigan State University Law Professor, and then Assistant Dean for Career Development, Daniel Linna, about the possibility of some day having free blogs for law students. What seemed like a pipe dream to me then is now a reality — and then some.

I was back in East Lansing teaching at a social media bootcamp for students, professors and administrators. At that time, Linna was launching The Center for Legal Services Innovation, LegalRnD for short, to study and introduce students to technology and innovation to make legal services more available to moderate income Americans and less expensive to businesses.

Part of the discussion concerned the power of blogging for learning, for building a name for yourself, building a network and making legal services more available through young lawyers with niche expertise. Let alone the contribution to advancing the law via open publishing.

In only the way Linna can put the subtle pressure on you, he says, “Gee, that would be pretty cool if you could make blog software and services free to law schools.” He had me.

One problem. A year ago, a project (blog site) at LexBlog took fifty hours of time – intake, design, development, quality assurance, content about the publisher etc. Free is pretty expensive at that rate.

Fast forward to today and LexBlog has become fifty times more efficient. What used to take 50 hours takes an hour. My tech team, led by our CTO, Joshua Lynch, is looking to push it further – maybe get it to 15 minutes in some situations.

This efficiency was brought about by moving the company from an agency to a software company.

Rather than design in Photoshop (.psd’s), developing sites and making modifications to sites separately as website developers and marketing agencies do, LexBlog has developed its own publishing software on WordPress core.

Think of software as a service such as Salesforce or Clio, except with a custom front interface. Bottom line we’re disruptive to the industry and able to do more for people.

With this increased efficiency we realized we could build a “Law School Blog Network.” LexBlog would offer the most comprehensive blog publishing software in the industry as a service to law students, law professors and law school administrators. All for free – blog publishing software, mobile design, hosting, SEO, marketing, free ongoing support and syndication across the LexBlog Network, including a forthcoming Law School Blog Network.

Blog software is free – in theory. But it’s not tailored for the law, folks don’t know where to start, their blog cannot be found, they don’t know how to maintain it and don’t know good blogging from bad. If you’re putting in the time, we want you to build a name for yourself in an area that you love.

To see an example of a blog on the Law School Blog Network blog, check out Dan Linna’s LegalTech Lever. Michigan State Colors and logo – everything Sparty (school mascot), the law school and the alumni could love.

Linna owns the content, title and domain name. He is free to move the content to any other branded site, whether part of the Law School Blog Network, or not, at any time he chooses. No strings attached.

For an example of a law student’s blog, see Miguel Willis’ Innovative Law Student. Seattle University Law School colors and logo.

Law student? Law professor? Law school administrator? Want to start blogging or are already blogging on a less than professional software without accompanying support, let us know. It will be our honor to help.

You can use the contact form on this blog or on LexBlog, and we’ll get back to you. You can also reach me via social media or email.

University of Arkansas property law professor, Steve Clowney (@steveclowney), who teaches property law has put together a list of the most “cited” property law professors in the country over the last five years.

Although Clowney does not make clear the purpose of his list, it appears to being taken as recognition of the top scholars.

Law schools, including Notre Dame, are sending out press announcements of the prowess of the scholarship being conducted by their law professors on the list.

The list was arrived at by running searches across Westlaw for the number of times that a professor’s law journal articles had been cited in other law journals.

Is such a list an accurate assessment of a law professor’s influence and level of scholarship today?

What about their blogging? How often do they blog (evidence of their research)? How often do they cite other blogs (demonstrates their network)? How often are their blogs cited on other blogs and shared on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook?

How does a professor use other social networks for collaboration, learning and networking? Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Law journals can be very insular and slow moving when it comes to legal scholarship. Most are not read by anyone other than fellow academics. This leaves the academics penning journal articles out of the legal discussion being driven by blogs published by practicing lawyers, law students, other law professors and media commentators.

At a time when law schools are scrambling to make themselves relevant and prepare their grads for the world ahead, why would law schools reward their law professors for nor engaging with the real world?

Law journals are also very slow in developing and advancing legal scholarship. With the advent of the Internet, and with it blogs and social media, thought leadership moves quickly. Professionals in other arenas are learning and advancing knowledge at speeds far greater than ever before.

Courts are citing blogs and many law journals written by law professors are citing blogs. One law professor tells me off the record that they are looked at as a leading scholar in their field, in substantial part because traditional law review articles are citing their blog, boosting their citation count compared to many of their peers.

It makes little sense to say that professors get hired, promoted and make tenure based on traditional legal research so only law reviews and law journals must be how scholarship is measured. That’s a hamster wheel and sounds similar to what newspaper publishers argued.

Including blogging as a measure of scholorship drives needed change. The vast majority of law professors and law firm administrators have no idea of what blogging and the use of social networks really mean when it comes to professional development and the advancement of the law. Make blogging and social networking a measure of one’s scholarship and you’ll see a move towards the future.

It seems to me the measure of legal scholarship today would include a lot more than law journal and law review articles.

Am I missing something?

It’s appalling talking to law professors and law school administrators and finding out how little they know about the benefits of blogging and other social media, let alone knowing how to use them.

A career development person at a major law school acknowledged to me that neither the dean nor anyone in the school’s administration used any form of social media for professional development or alumni or student relations. He wasn’t aware that any of the professors did either and said that though though he didn’t think any of the professors blogged, they had many professors who read blogs.

Read blogs. That’s like saying we have professors who read books and articles, have a cell phone and use a computer.

Social media strategist and frequent university lecturer, Lina Duque (@LinaDuqueMBA), writes at the Harvard Business Review this morning that in today’s digital age social media competence is a critical communication tool for academics.

Whether you’re looking to engage students, increase awareness of your research, or garner media coverage for your department, engaging in social media will give you a competitive edge.

Duque cited the case of a University of Toronto professor doing a study on the impact of air pollution on cyclists. She turned to Twitter to begin her survey work. That led to a cycling magazine blogging about her study, which was picked up by the major Toronto metro newspaper which then led to appearances on Global TV and CBC Radio.

There’s simply no way a professor not understanding social media would have that type of reach. Their research would suffer, the quality of their work product would be inferior and their career path would be limited.

Duque shares a good few tips that I’ll elaborate on.

Build a targeted profile. Get focused in a niche area you in which you want to learn more about, to network with people with similar interests and build a reputation. Generating and sharing targeted content will attract a targeted audience. Let people know the value you offer by what you share and how you describe yourself on profiles on social media networks.

Engage your audience in meaningful conversations. Speaking up about things you are passionate about will, in time, get you positioned as a thought leader in your space. When you see a blog post or news story that you agree or disagree with, speak up. The publisher of the post or reporter of the story will hear your views. So will others with an interest in the area. People love knowledgeable and informed people sharing information and insight with a little conviction.

Duque shares the story of Imogen Coe, a cell biologist and Dean of Science at Ryerson University in Toronto who took to Twitter last year to express her views on a sexual harassment story in the science community.

She… respond[ed] to Science magazine’s career column, which advised a post-doc researcher to look the other way when the latter complained that her male supervisor was looking down her shirt. Appalled by that advice, Coe e-mailed Science magazine, offering alternative advice on how to deal with harassment. She then tweeted a screenshot of her e-mail, which was quickly retweeted and supported by scientists around the world.

A reporter with the Washington Post saw the tweet and contacted Coe to get her thoughts on the story. The next day, Coe’s comments appeared in the Washington Post. The dean’s social engagement has amplified her message and helped her garner media attention as a respected source in her field. More importantly, her voice and that of others resulted in the original advice column being removed and replaced with crowdsourced advice, including Coe’s, that helps the person being harassed.

Make social engagement a habit. Make social media a daily habit so that you can stay up to speed in your area. Some professionals use a news aggregator, some Twitter, some LinkedIn and some Facebook. Not listening to what is being reported and shared on social media today is shirking your responsibility to stay abreast of developments in your field.

Engage other leaders in the field by blogging what you are reading and sharing your insight. Share with a quick comment a post or article you have read.

The Internet and social media and blogging, in particular, are a conversation. They’re not broadcasting content. These conversations lead to growing a network of knowledgeable, passionate and trusted colleagues from around the world.

“I don’t have enough time” is a lot of bunk. It’s as if you’re saying I don’t have time to be good at what I do.

Santa Ono, president of the University of Cincinnati who has over 69,000 Twitter followers, told Duque “Social media really doesn’t take that much time. I tend to use it mostly in the evenings before bedtime and in between meetings.”

Law schools and law grads are struggling. It’s become a national pastime to discuss on social media declining law school enrollments and the struggles grads are having in gaining meaningful employment.

Not only do schools have an obligation to use the communication and engagement mediums of our day, but law schools could help themselves in process.

The vast majority of law schools do not have professors, administration members or students using social media and blogging for learning and professional development. Start a social media initiative that will start getting results and you’ll shine so bright you will receive national coverage.

Get word out that your grads, as a result of being encouraged and taught to blog and use social media are getting jobs and you’ll have picked up a big time differentiator. The stuff works. It’s why a Michigan State 2L is clerking in London this summer and a recent grad of theirs is working in the general counsel’s office at General Motors.

My COO, Garry Vander Voort, mentioned in a meeting this morning just how easy it is to learn from and connect with people through blogging and social media. Rather than newspapers and periodicals for news and information, we use the net and social media, he continued. He smiled in saying it’s surprising just how many people don’t understand that times have changed.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Samir Luther

This January, Emory Law School started a class devoted to blogging in the legal profession. It’s a great initiative that’s getting law students thinking about how to best communicate themselves through blogging early.

I spoke with Jennifer Romig, the teacher behind the class, and she was kind enough to answer questions about the class and blogging strategies students can get started on now. For people looking for more, check out the article she wrote on legal writing for the public.

How did this class get started—what was the impetus and ensuing support for it?

The administration was very open to my proposal for a class on blogging and other forms of “public legal writing.” By that I mean legal writing for the public, not any one client, ranging from tweets to blogs to bar-journal articles. Emory Law has always offered the foundational 1L course in legal writing and analysis, as well as a popular class in advanced legal writing and editing, research seminars, advanced legal research, and a variety of courses for litigation and transactional skills. Now it is also offering a set of smaller, targeted upper-level classes such as time-pressured legal writing, motions practice, and law-practice technology.

The blogging course fits nicely into those offerings. When the law school’s Assistant Dean of IT, Ben Chapman, signed on to co-teach the course, it became even stronger because of his technical strengths and our collaboration on the course content.

My own personal impetus was the experience starting Listen Like a Lawyer. For years I had wanted to start a blog but was focused on traditional legal writing. In 2014, I searched for an open niche and launched Listen Like a Lawyer. It’s a modest lawyering blog, yet it has taught me a lot and opened up some great conversations and opportunities both online and in person. That experience reinforced for me that law students can learn and contribute by blogging, and build marketable skills in the process.

In your own words, why is this class important? Why should law students know blogging?

Years ago as a summer associate, I was assigned to write a magazine column about a particular legal question, addressed to non-lawyer professionals in that field. Today’s variation on that assignment is writing blog posts. Even before that, as they go about their job search, law students may be interviewing with big, medium, or small firms that have a blog or want to start one. One friend who is a solo asked me if the students in this class could set up a blog for his practice. So I think the class will position students to respond to employer requests to write a blog post on a topic, find a topic and write about it, or even develop a strategy for starting a blog.

On a more personal note for students, blogging provides a creative outlet. I know from teaching 1L legal writing for many years—which I still do—that learning to write a traditional legal memo can feel highly formal and uncomfortable. Blogging is a nice change from that. Students definitely need to represent themselves well in their blogging and write clearly and grammatically. But they can write about what they want. They can use contractions. They can ask rhetorical questions.

They can embed videos and long block quotes and link to non-traditional sources. I have a theory that blogging will help students’ other writing skills as well. The ABA Journal opened up a conversation on this several years ago by asking “Has Social Media Tightened Your Writing Style?”

How do you go about teaching and framing the class? What are the classes and activities like?

The class is structured to start with foundational concepts of ethics and the history and methods of blogging. As part of that we invited several guest speakers: Paula Frederick, General Counsel of the State Bar of Georgia; and Keith Lee, a practicing lawyer in Birmingham who blogs for Associate’s Mind and Above the Law. We will also be hosting Professor Alexander Volokh, a colleague on the Emory Law faculty and longtime blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy.

The middle of the class is a writing phase where students study how legal bloggers communicate their legal analysis and how they use voice and style. We have a class blog where students are posting and commenting on a variety of assignments such as a case update, analysis of a recent legal development, highlights of a law-review article, and an authentic yet professionally appropriate personal reflection.

Students also work in small groups to change the WordPress theme of the class blog and then explain to the whole class how and why they selected that theme. The small groups are also doing group presentations on topics such as citation and linking practices, writing for non-lawyers, using visuals effectively, and so on.

At the end of the semester their “final exam” will be revising their work and creating individual WordPress blogs. They can make these public or semi-public and show them to potential employers if they would like.

What sorts of trends do you encourage students to keep in mind in your class? Where do you see legal blogging headed?

One theme that I have emphasized and students have recognized for themselves is the crucial importance of writing well. I read a ton of posts leading up to the class and found—not surprisingly—that law bloggers are very, very good writers at the technical level. When they break grammatical rules, they know exactly what they’re doing and they do it for a reason. My co-teacher, Ben Chapman, has kept coming back to the social aspect of social media. Law blogs don’t always have a lot of comments in the comment sections, as Real Lawyers Have Blogs has pointed out. But if a blog is effective, it should be generating conversation on other platforms and/or through personal networking and connections (ideally both).

In terms of trends, Ben and I are encouraging students to add visual components to their blogs and to carefully attribute their use of images. We want to touch on different styles lawyers tend to use on the various social media platforms. And one of the broadest goals is of the class is that students will have the skills to follow trends on their own and adapt to new ways of using social media. If you were to leave prospective students of this course—or law students who don’t have such an opportunity—with one piece of advice when it comes to blogging, what would it be?

They need a healthy mix of caution and creativity. In terms of caution, it’s best to listen first. They should follow blogs and really study what great legal bloggers are doing. And when they’re just getting started, I would recommend practicing on a blog behind a password, in a small supportive community of friends and writing mentors.

But the great thing about legal blogging is the opportunity to be creative. The short format of blog posts lets them explore different angles on their areas of interest and try different formats such as using visuals, quotes, or embedded social media. And they need to figure out what legal issues are interesting and motivating to them. If they were in a room of lawyers talking about law and lawyering, what would they want to discuss? They will write well about issues they care about.

Photo Credit: Kate Tomlinsoncc