The concept of a legal blogging community is inspiring to me. Always has been.

Back in the day, when law bloggers were bloggers, we got to know each other.  Virtual as it was, we had a bit of a community going. 

We followed each other’s blogs, often with a news aggregator, commented on other’s blogs and “commented back” from our blog by saying our thing in response to what the other blogger wrote. 

Blogging was how got to know each other. Blogging was how we learned about ourselves. Blogging was how we learned to be better lawyers.

Blogging was how we connected with people. Who knew – real authentic conversation from the heart connected us with folks – in many cases, prospective clients. 

Sometimes these virtual legal blogging communities formed around areas of practice, but often they formed by who we got to know as bloggers. No matter that a lawyer was doing energy law, they got to like the style of a white collar criminal defense lawyer and started to follow them, to read their stuff.

We took our blogging communities offline. We met for meet-ups before there ever was a MeetUp site. We got together for beers, some of the get togethers when I traveled and announced on my blog, come to this Irish pub and I’ll buy the beers – the advent of Beer for Bloggers. 

The value of our growing blog community wasn’t missed by the traditional legal publishers.  

More than idle conversation, as many unknowing lawyers looked at blogs back then, legal bloggers were advancing legal dialogue. They were reporting on the unreported. These legal bloggers had first hand experience with what they published. They cared deeply about the subjects of which they wrote. 

In November 2004,  journalist and entrepreneur, Lisa Stone, later a co-founder of Blogher, a blogging community and media company founded on the blogging of women, picked up on legal bloggers while at ALM in launching ALM’s Legal Blog Network as part of ALM’s Legal Blog Watch.

ALM’s blog network may have been small, but Stone had a good eye for legal bloggers –  Elefant and Ambrogi among them. Each still blogging and each leaving a significant mark on the law through their blogging and the podium blogging provided them.  

I shared Stone’s post on Twitter over three weekend, citing legal blogger, Eugene Volokh, that legal blogs were often more authoritative than traditional publishing:

To which Stone responded:

“Still do.” Kind of says it all.

Not long after ALM’s and Stone’s recognition of the publishing power of law blogs, Ed Adams, then editor and publisher of the ABA Journal, reached out to me. “What’s this legal blog network you’re blogging about?”

Adams wanted to see if the ABA could be apart of what would come to be LXBN (LexBlog Network). The ABA saw the journalistic integrity and had already started to recognize the best legal bloggers in their Blawg 100.

Fast forward fifteen years and we have thousands more legal blogs, offering legal insight and commentary on the law from experienced, caring and passionate lawyers.

Admittedly, there are spam blogs just trying to garner some SEO love and non-lawyers selling “blog content” to lawyers, but that doesn’t diminish the blog publishing of real lawyers. 

But it’s hard to find of all these lawyers and their blog publications. Bloggers aren’t often engaging each other. Some because they don’t care to and others because they don’t know who’s around them blogging.

The lack of community prevents collegiality, inspiration, learning and the attaboys and attagirls that bloggers deserve from time to time.

The lack of community into which the consumers of legal services (company or consumer) can look into impedes selecting the best lawyer in an informed fashion. 

LexBlog is taking a hard look at framing what we do as empowering a global legal blogging community. What it means. What it requires. How we use what have (it’s close to a community). How we measure success.

What do you think? Is a legal blogging community possible? Is it worthwhile for lawyers and the people we serve? What would it take? 

A community after all is about the people in it.

I was exchanging notes with a professional in the marketing, communications and publishing field who’s carved out a national reputation for her work.

She’s blogged some in the past, but as she began again, she felt intimidated by that next post – you know what do I say, what do I teach, what’s the message, how do I get beyond looking at this blank screen.

I suggested something that’s worked for me the last sixteen a years – as well for a lot of bloggers I learned from. Getting vulnerable, and to get comfortable in being vulnerable.

Getting vulnerable in blogging works. Just share what you are reading/seeing, why you are sharing it and what you learned from it.

You will “meet” the people whose items you share and draw a following of people who are attracted to an authentic voice who is sharing what they are learning and experiencing.

Everyone wants to tell the world what they know. Especially lawyers. 

But people want to see what you’re learning, what you’re thinking and who you’re meeting along the way. People want to see someone who’s different.

The world is full of bloggers “teaching” and “reporting,” all good, but it’s rare to see people blog today the way blogging began and thrived – as a conversation.

Listening to what and who interested you and entering the conversation by sharing what you thought, what it means and what you learned. The party on the other side – the person whose copy you shared and upon which you commented in your blog post hears you. Conversation and engagement – the stuff that life is made of ensues. 

Blogging then becomes easy – after you get the hang of this style – you’ll feel the desire to share as you read things. You’ll crank out your thoughts, including what you don’t know, in about 20 or 30 minutes. 

If you want help on this style of blogging, just holler. One of the things I miss today as we’ve grown is not talking with as many lawyers about how to connect with people through blogging.

As painful as it may be, and with the move comes declining ad revenue, eliminating a print edition may be the long term answer for most newspapers.  

Today, as reported by the New York Times’ Monica Davey and John Eligon, The Chicago Defender, the newspaper, that told the story of black life in America, will print its final edition.

“It took note of births and deaths, of graduations and weddings, of everything in between. Through eras of angst, its reporters dug into painful, dangerous stories, relaying grim details of lynchings, of clashes over school integration and of the shootings of black men by white police officers. Among a long list of distinguished bylines: Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks.”“

The Defender will continue its digital operation. Per Hiram Jackson, chief executive of Real Times Media, which owns The Defender, the move allows the organization to adapt to a “fast-changing, highly challenging media environment that has upended the entire newspaper industry.”

“It is an economic decision,” Mr. Jackson told the Times, “but it’s more an effort to make sure that The Defender has another 100 years.”

Unlike the Defender, the Youngstown, Ohio daily of 150 years, The Vindicator just announced that it is closing its doors after 150 years. No print copy. No digital copy.

Margaret Sullivan, for the Washington Post, shared word of her story on the paper’s closing on Facebook. 

”The Vindicator, is about to shut its doors after 150 years. It’s been family owned for 132 of those years, and the family struggled with the decision, but ultimately felt they had no options. Years of losses and no end in sight — and then not a single interested buyer when the paper was put up for sale. It’s not only sad but something we’re going to see a great deal more of in cities across the country.”

I commented on Facebook that if newspapers like this one accepted disruption early on and moved more rapidly to a business model of digital only, it may give them a fighting chance.

Mark Brown, The Vindicator’s general manager spent $23 million to cover losses and to buy a new press in 2010. Admittedly the press was in hope of bringing in new revenue through outside printing, but by 2010 the handwriting was long on the wall that print was on the steep decline.

Investing in an outstanding digital publishing platform, perhaps a cost effective SaaS solution (WordPress?), and eliminating print may have been a better way to go. 

Ask the generations running the world today where they get their news. It’s on their phone and more often than not, on social media.

Ditching the print, realizing the declining revenue, and getting to digital built for social media may be a possible answer. Newspapers may even need to look to the aggregation of blog coverage and contributions from citizen journalists. 

Heck, I don’t have all the answers and have never worked for a newspaper, except for being a part-time paperboy, but holding onto paper as if it’s the primary means to share news is not working.

Newspapers were invented when we only had paper and ink. If iPhones existed, paper never would have been used.

Reading a post from Ms. JD’s Sonya Rahders announcing the winners of the 2019 Public Interest Scholarship Competition, I wanted to give a shout out to the law student winners and Ms JD for recognizing women in this regard. 

After all, the passion and commitment to public interest careers of these four scholarship recipients topped a large pool of highly competitive applicants.

But I did not. The reason being that the scholarship winners did not have Twitter handles. At least the first two I looked for when I was ready to give them all a kudos in a tweet. 

I pointed out the problem of legal professionals not having a Twitter handle when I was recognizing, via Twitter, the leading lawyers, and their message, on a conference panel.

Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel at Microsoft, agreed and found it amazing many legal professionals were still not using Twitter.

Sure, you can tweet someone’s name without their Twitter handle, but it’s awkward – at best.

They don’t see the tweet, they don’t see the ongoing twitter thread – others recognizing them or a discussion about what they said, others cannot look up who they are by clicking on their twitter handle and what have you.

My response when ready to tweet something and finding the legal professional doesn’t use Twitter or make their Twitter handle readily available is to conclude the legal professional doesn’t use the Internet for learning and networking – they are far behind the curve or just don’t care.

I am not alone, LexBlog often does not share posts for which the source does not have a Twitter handle. LexBlog is not alone. You’ll never really find out who else thinks you are a little lame for not using Twitter and, as a result, doesn’t share your items or recognize you when recognition is due.

Sound harsh? Not really.

Journalism and media has changed with the net. If you are going to be out dialoguing and putting yourself in a place where you’ll be recognized – on or offline – others need your Twitter handle – bloggers, reporters and just other Twitter users.

“You can tell a lot about a person and how they think about their work based on whether or not they use “content” to describe what they do. A photographer who says that he is creating “content” for his YouTube channel is nothing more than a marketer churning out fodder to fill the proverbial Internet airwaves with marketing noise.”

This from longtime and widely respected, digital publisher, Om Malik in his newsletter this week. 

I’ve been thinking again about the word “content” as it refers to what we do as people – our art, our work.

“Content” seems an ill-chosen word for all net publishing. Do we call an artist’s work, content? A musician’s? An author’s? A columnist’s? A reporter’s?

A lawyer’s brief or memorandum their content filed with the court?

To refer to this work as content cheapens the person’s work. 

Om’s right:

“My website has my words, my interviews, my photos, and my identity — what it doesn’t have, as far as I’m concerned, is “content.””

When I started blogging and, shortly thereafter, LexBlog, I thought what a wonderful form of writing, of publishing, this blogging thing.

Our thoughts, insight, learning, passion and engagement on display for all the world to see.

We talked to each other, blog to blog. Never did we say, post some “content” to the web, we’ll lob some “content” back.

No gatekeepers as with magazines and journals. No where near the energy and stamina required when writing a book. But like a book, lawyers and I could learn, meet people and make a name for ourselves.

Whatever blogging was, it was different than writing articles. Certainly, no one used the term, “content marketing” back in the day.

Heck, why would we? We were giving of ourselves to help people and connect with those with whom we wanted to gain trust and get to know. Much more than “content” was in play.

Om’s hypothesis “content” relates to how the Internet has evolved into a highly quantifiable entity. 

Page views, eyeballs, social shares, comments, and ranking. Marketers and communication professionals, many producing good work, needed a word to tell customers what they were measuring. “Content” it was.

“But words matter, and we can choose which ones we use to talk about what we produce and the things we admire and cherish. I encounter so much imaginative work on the web, and I guess I just can’t help but be peeved when I hear it discussed (often by the creators themselves) as if it is essentially marketing copy.

And call me old fashioned, but I am happy to keep writing even if no “eyeballs” are watching!”

I guess I am old fashioned as well. I enjoy writing having no idea whether anyone is watching via stats, eyeballs et al.

What can legal bloggers and other professionals learn from a 97-year old retired nurse who recently took up blogging? Plenty.

After leaving the UW School of Nursing, Doris Carnevali, wanted to share what she was learning about aging. Rather than aging being a bad thing, she found it to be a learning experience, and a time for growth.

“I had been ranting about the fact that I thought aging had gotten a rotten deal. That it was much more pleasant, exciting, and challenging than I had been led to believe.”

The Dean of the UW Nursing School told her rather than to hold back on what she had to share, she ought to write about aging.

Her granddaughter suggested blogging and set up Carnevali on WordPress. Almost two years later, ‘Engaging With Aging’ has over 70 posts.

Some may call the blog more of a diary, but by sharing her experiences and what’s she learning Carnevali is publishing a lot of useful information for others. Inspiration as well. 

My hands don’t pick up things the way I used to, do I say I’m losing my hands? No, I’m changing how I use them and that way I don’t get down in the dumps.”

“I’m still growing, I’m green, I’m inept, I’m clumsy, I’m learning every day, but I’m green, and I’m growing,” she told Ted Land of KING 5 News in Seattle, my source for this post. “I thought of aging as being grey, no, it’s green.”

Legal professionals can take a few things from Carnevali. 

One, blogging is for those who want to learn – to get better at what they do. Blogging, per Carnevali, keeps her sharp.

Two, blogging is about letting the knowledge and passion you have on your niche flow. Each morning, Carnevali sits at a desk and starts writing. “The ideas are bubbling in my head between the time I’m asleep and awake.”

And three, there will be days and weeks, when you don’t feel like blogging. “Sure, there are times when I am down, and the 14th thing I drop in a day makes me frustrated as all get out. But on the whole, it is so much more exciting than I ever thought it was going to be.”

Carnevali told Land she’s not afraid that there may come a day when she can no longer blog.

“When it happens, it happens, and it would be nice if it didn’t, but I’m too busy doing other things to worry about it right now.”

Professionals may think blogging is different for them than for a retired RN sharing her experience with aging.

It’s not. Passion, life long learning, and a willingness to share so as to help others — and perhaps leave a legacy are the same no matter your age or station in life.

A number of legal professionals use the on-line publishing platform, Medium, for the publishing of their articles. Many are attracted by the distrubution of their content to other relevant Medium users.

Plus this ditribution and the platform was free. No more.

Medium has shifted from a free and open publishing platform and community, to a paywall model where the content of publishers on Medium is only distributed to those who are paid subscribers to Medium.

Quincy Larson, founder of the web development community, freeCodeCamp (web development of millions) and one of the most-followed authors on Medium, with 158,000 followers, reports that Medium barely shows his articles to anyone.

How so?

“Medium has shifted to a paywall model where they mainly recommend paywalled articles, then encourage visitors to pay to get around their paywall.”

Checking Medium’s front page, Larson found three of four trending articles were paywalled. Non-paywalled articles no longer get recommended. 

“…[N]ot much of the traffic to Medium articles comes from Medium itself. Most of it comes from Google and social media.”

Legal professionals who see Medium as giving their content more distribution are kidding themselves.

“As of 2019, Medium won’t give you much “distribution” within their platform unless you’re willing to put your articles to be behind their paywall.

At the same time, if you do put your article behind their paywall, you’re limiting your readership to just the people who have the resources to pay.”

Wanting to make his articles and the learning resources of the freeCodeCamp community widely available, Larson moved off Medium.

Beyond distribution, Larson realized other signifcant benefits.

  • Faster site speed, something that’s a benefit for readers, something that means higher search rankings on Google and something that will result in appearing more often on social networks.
  • Full control of content and the publishing experience.
  • Better anylitics
  • A lot more readers.
  • Ability to publish more than just content, ie, audio and video.
  • Publish in any language

When Ev Williams, a co-founder of Blogger and Twitter, founded Medium seven years with the goal of an easy to use blog publishing platform with a community effect where users would recommend and share posts to other users.

A series of unsuccessful business models has now resulted in a paywall model where content is no longer shared and declining platform performance, as compared to other publishing platforms receiving upgrades and feature enhancements multiple times a year.

It’s hard to see Medium as credible publishing platform for legal professionals who are blogging or just looking to publish on an infreqeunt basis.

Loss of control of your content always made Medium questionable.

Now we have the paywall model, and the same game played by traditional legal publishers – write for us for the exposure and then we’ll move your content beyond a paywall. And in the case some legal publishers, delete the content altogether.

A reporter with a state legal publication asked me what I would say to someone who questioned the legitimacy of law bloggers as journalists as they are not beholden to the ethics of journalism and the objectivity that is the hallmark of journalism (or supposed be). A law bloggers first-hand knowledge could include biased views.

The reporter agreed with me that blogging lawyers are providing the best legal information out there. But are lawyer bloggers constrained by ethics rules, credibility, reputation?

I am not a traditional journalist, I was handed a printing press and distribution channel when the Internet and, particularly, blogs, arrived.

My take is that  journalism, like everything, changes and oftentimes dramatic change comes when we realize greater value from innovation. Think of Amazon for books, Uber for rides to the airport and much more. 

When our oldest graduated from journalism school a decade ago, the dean, in addressing the graduating class, said there was never a more exciting or better time to get a journalism degree. “When else in time had an industry been turned upside down dropping out all those in authority so that everyone was free to play a role in shaping the future?”

As a practicing lawyer I was regularly called by journalists who were required to to have a couple different sources. And they sold news by controversy. I said it was light outside, and another lawyer said it was dark. That was news.

With the advent of the Internet and blogs, news was democratized. I could report, without waiting for a call – a call that may never came because someone decided not to report what others may have called “news.”

If someone wanted to differ with what I said, they could jump online and opine. People could decide what and who they believed, without having a reporter who had no domain expertise write it up for them.

We have more news from more reliable sources as a result of the Internet.

Want to find out what is causing a disruption downtown in any community, jump on Twitter or Facebook and get first hand reporting with pictures and video. No one says I need someone bound by the ethics of journalism before this is news I can rely on – it is the news today. 

It’s the same for other forms of legal publishing. Peer reviewed law journals and law reviews were historically reviewed as the source of secondary law. No more.

Law blogs published by practicing lawyers, academics and other legal professionals with niche expertise blog are viewed as the equal, if not superior, to law reviews. 

The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics provides:

Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

  • Seek truth and report it
  • Minimize harm
  • Act independently 
  • Be accountable and transparent

Legitimate law bloggers already abide by these principals. Maybe more so than a traditional journalist – try getting one of them to be accountable and transparent in a Twitter, Facebook or blog discussion. Heck most legal reporters don’t even use Twitter.

Acting independently references getting paid to do a story or doing advertising in the form of a story, the later I’ll confess lackey law bloggers do and some companies do for them.

We are in the age of citizen journalists, worldwide, law bloggers included. Whether traditional journalists may think we’re a lesser journalist is irrelevant, society has already spoken. 

Jeffery Zeldman, one one of the country’s leading web designers, wrote this morning about continuing to learn, and in the process nailed what I see blogging as all about.

When I shared what I was learning, by writing about it—when I learned what I was learning by teaching it—I felt euphoric. We were at the dawn of a new kind of information age: one that came from the people, and to which anyone could contribute merely by learning a few simple HTML elements. It was going to be great. And democratic. And empowering. Our tech would uplift the whole suffering world.

Zeldman’s been blogging, in various formats, about tech and development for decades. Yet the concept of blogging Zeldman speaks of is the same for legal professionals.

Blogging may just be the best way to learn you have at your disposal. After all, many of the the better legal bloggers are not blogging to show off intellect, intellect being more of a commodity than legal professionals believe. They’re sharing what they are learning, as away of learning in and of itself.

Blog what you’re reading and following. Share your take – “I share this because” or “I took this from what she’s saying here.”

What Zeldman was learning years ago was not easy, but the years have masked the pain. Most importantly, Zeldman was blogging and learning for a noble reason – himself.

Most of all, I falsely remember it being easy to learn HTML, CSS, and Photoshop because I wanted to learn those things. I was doing it for me, not for a job, and certainly not to keep up. 

I was a pioneer—we all were, back then. I was passionate about the possibilities of the web and eager to contribute. 

Back in 2004, I had not a clue what SEO (search engine optimization) was all about. Listening to someone speak about SEO made me nauseous. It was too hard, I’d never be able to learn how it worked.

But I was starting a blogging company for lawyers as a way for lawyers to connect with people in a real and authentic way. Something I believed then, and still do, was needed for people to find and trust a good lawyer. I needed to know SEO.

This cause drove me to Barnes and Noble where I picked up SEO for Dummies. Over a July 4th weekend, I read the book twice and outlined what I learned. Finally I blogged what I was learning in a series of posts.

Reading and outlining was good, but the blogging part which meant reading again what I was going to share, thinking about what I was going to blog, relaying it through my fingers on the keyboard and then reviewing/editing my copy on the screen turned out to be the best method of learning SEO. This knowledge of SEO has stuck with me to this day.

Zeldman says the same more succinctly.

With every new discovery I made and shared, I felt a sense of mastery and control, and a tingling certainty that I was physically contributing to a better world of the near-future. A world forged in the best tech ever: simple, human-readable HTML.

With age, 23 years since I started sharing online what I was reading, comes the continuing need to blog for learning.

Foe you as a legal professional, blogging is not just for the new associates or junior associates looking to build a book of business.

Heed Zeldman.

At my age, change comes harder than it used to. Guess what? That means I need to change, not just to do my job; I need to change to stay young. (No, that’s not science, but yes, it works.) When it’s hard to move, you need to start exercising, even if starting is hard. When you’re trapped in a dead-end relationship, it’s time to say goodbye, even though breaking up is sad and scary and hard as hell. And if you work in tech and find yourself thinking your past learning gets you off the hook from having to learn new things, you need to think again.

Learning new things is hard, and it gets harder if you’re rusty at it, but it gets easier if you keep at it. Or so I tell myself, and my friends tell me.

Blogging can be tough, but you can do it – if the cause is strong enough – you.

And what Zeldman says about learning development applies to learning blogging.

You can do this, because I can, and I’m more stubborn and more full of myself than you ever were.

So to my old-school sisters and brothers in HTML. If you’re struggling to learn new things today so you can do your job better tomorrow, I’m going to tell you what a friend told me this morning:

“You got this.”

Blogging 15 years ago came easy to me. I was building a company, a company that I thought could bring real positive change to the legal industry.

I shared what I was learning – as I sure as heck didn’t know anything about blogging at the time.

Blogging was a conversation, people I referenced in my blog posts provided their take in response on their blog. Like Zeldman says, it was the dawn of a new information age, a democratic one where everyone could participate. We were all learning together. It was easy to be excited.

Social media, when used poorly, and blogging for content marketing have since created a lot of noise. People all over who have little interest in using the Internet to share what they are learning to advance themselves.

But blogging for you, and me, – to learn, to find out what we know – still works.

I need to get on the wagon more often. We all do.