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“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.

LexBlog, with its aggregation of law blog posts, worldwide, and blogger profiles has been described as a legal blogging community.

The Illinois State Bar Association’s Illinois Lawyer Now, launched this week to publish an aggregation of member blog posts and blogger profiles has been described as a community of Illinois legal bloggers – at least those of whom are members of the Illinois State Bar Association. 

But the legal blogging community has always been there – whether LexBlog or Illinois Lawyer Now came about or not.

Continue Reading The Legal Blogging Community Has Always Been There

Big kudos to the Illinois State Bar Association for shining a light on their state’s blogging lawyers with the launch this week of Illinois Lawyer Now

Illinois Lawyer Now aggregates all of the posts on blogs published by members of the Illinois Bar and curates the posts into a constantly updated legal news and commentary publication, which also includes original articles from the Bar and contributors.

Each blog, blogging lawyer and law firm with contributing blogs is profiled in individual pages on the site. 

Continue Reading Illinois Bar Shines a Light on Legal Bloggers With Illinois Lawyer Now

Northwestern Law Professor and widely respected author and speaker on legal tech and innovation, Dan Linna, told the UK’s Law Gazette that the lack of community leadership is stopping a true legal tech community from being formed. 

I responded on Twitter that while the Internet drives countless communities in other verticals and causes, we’re lacking a strong legal tech community and leadership because the people brining us legal tech are absent from the discussion – they do not use the Internet. 

A Twitter discussion ensued as to how to form such an online community, and how to frame and advance such a discussion. 

  • Should the forum be open or private?
  • What platform should be used for the discussion, ie, Slack to other discussion and thought design mediums.
  • Getting people together face to face to discuss how to advance the discussion on how to build a community.
  • Forming a new Facebook or joining in an existing one.

Rather than discuss how to form a community and what medium should be used, why not just start using the medium we have, the open Internet, and get the people we need in the discussion, the legal tech company leaders and legal entrepreneurs.

Our legal profession is notorious for lack of action and studying things to death. Partially out of protectionism and partially for fear of a real and authentic discussion listened to and engaged by all.

 Many in legal tech are acting, talking, and seizing the opportunity to bring access to legal services. 

Let’s now use the open net to share ideas, collaborate, and advance ideas, software and other technology. 

The net is an open communication medium. Starting with Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), usenet groups, AOL, message boards and, close to twenty years ago, blogs. You listened to what was being said and, if so inclined, you engaged in the discussion.

No one discussed how we should begin to talk, collaborate and network through the Internet. Various Google apps, Twitter, Medium and countless other tech advancements and products grew out of blog conversations.

The outcome:

  • Real and authentic insight and commentary, directly from the people in the know.
  • Advancement of ideas, concepts, software and products ensued.
  • Real leadership formed, by virtue of the discussion.
  • Trust or distrust developed in people, their companies or their products. 
  • Reputations were built so as to make for true, not manufactured influence.
  • Relationships were built so we knew who to trust when they shared news and information. 

Today, we have legal tech companies whose leaders are totally absent from the discussion. They “speak” through PR and communications people. Using social media, they get hired hands who know little of the underlying technology and its relationship to the law to cover for them.

Even tech organizations such as Legal Hackers, with about 200 chapters, worldwide, shy way from blogging to collaborate, to dialogue with us and to advance their important projects. Their Internet presence, if you want to call it a presence, comes largely in the form of websites.

I am no net guru, but a legal tech community starts with getting the players to participate. If legal tech company leaders are not participating l, call them out. Ask them what they are afraid of, why they do not want to give of themselves, what they are trying hide and why they don’t want to build trust with the community.

Leadership, like Linna talks of, arises of out action – of discussion in the community and open advancement of ideas and technology. Leadership is not another organization, conference or a title. 

Community requires inclusion.

  • Community is open to all on the Internet. Those talking and those listening. Ideas and leaders can come from anyone, anywhere in the world.
  • Community does not come by invitation, anymore than one would need an invitation to use the Internet.
  • Inclusion requires going where the people are, not where you feel comfortable. Blogging and other social media – listening and talking, personally

The Internet is a wonderful place, when used. We have a lot at stake in legal technology, and so do the people we serve. 

How about we be a little vulnerable and start conversing. Our community will evolve and leadership will arise through participation and action. 

I am headed to the annual Legal Marketing Association Conference (“LMA”) in Atlanta next week. I’ll be joined by Dan Mintz, who heads LexBlog’s sales and business development.

Dan’s a good person who comes with a lot of passion and care. Like me, he sees business development as all about relationships. People buy people, not products. So don’t be surprised if Dan reaches out to say hi or to meet with you – if he hasn’t already. 

With LexBlog’s evolution from solely a professional turnkey blog publishing platform to a legal news and commentary network with over 22,000 law blog contributors, the feel of LMA has changed for us.

As the publisher of legal news and commentary, we’re looking to help, at no cost, law firms and those agencies helping law firms.

  • LexBlog is now publishing and syndicating law firm blogs, at no cost, whether the law firm is using LexBlog’s publishing platform or not. Each lawyer, blog and law firm receives a profile, automatically and at no cost. We’re looking to talk to those law firms whose blogs are not already on LexBlog. I saw a number of large law firms who we reached out to meet in Atlanta have already submitted their blogs.
  • PR and marketing agencies have law firm customers looking for exposure. We want to talk with you about your syndicating your clients publishing to LexBlog – at no cost.
  • Coverage about you from LMA. I have been contacted by a number of companies and PR professionals to report on product or service offerings. I am happy to do so, as relevant and newsworthy, via video or Twitter – you’d be surprised what you can report in 280 characters. LexBlog can then pick up my coverage.

Don’t get me wrong, we still have a business model founded on our managed WordPress platform for the law.

Just as the Washington Post does with the licensing of their own Arc Publishing platform to other newspapers, LexBlog’s legal publishing platform powers blogs, micro-sites, digital magazines and websites for law firms, marketing and PR agencies and other organizations.

Mintz has lined up meetings with a number of law firms and digital agencies. Agencies and PR professionals are looking to use LexBlog’s platform as a more powerful and less costly platform than something they development on their own. 

Socially, I am always happy to get together. Look me up or drop me an email if you’d like to get together. 

Last, but not least, LexBlog’s Beer for Bloggers comes to Atlanta – or at least a version of it – on Monday evening at 5 at Gibney’s Pub, 231 Peachtree St NE – a short walk from the conference hotel. 

Siteimprove and LexBlog sponsoring a joint happy hour for members of the Legal Marketing Association Marketing Technology, PR & Communications, and Social & Digital Media SIGs. All who attend will be eligible for our door prize – an Apple Watch courtesy of Infinite PR

See you in Atlanta.