This Christmas marks seventeen Christmases of blogs and RSS for me.

Blogs represented the democratization of publishing for me in 2003.

RSS was the radio signal that enabled bloggers to “broadcast” and have their signal received on a RSS reader on other’s computers.

A personal publishing press on your computer for which your copy was distributed for free.

Another way to look at it, a personal radio station broadcast to radios, worldwide, again all at no cost.

Powerful stuff, when you pause to think about it.

What a perfect way for lawyers to publish, or broadcast, relevant resources to select audiences . The little guy competes with the big guy.

Need not worry about people you may want to connect with finding your publication or station. It was “if you build it, they will come.”

Google surfacing the good stuff and others with similar interests sharing and citing what you published.

What a way for lawyers to connect with people in a real, authentic and intimate way.

With lawyers as the enablers of law in our society, blogs and RSS drove the law.

Blogs and RSS provided access to the law – and for the average consumer and small business person how to use legal services and which lawyer was the right one for you.

Seventeen Christmases in, blogs and RSS remain every bit as powerful and effective.

Dave Winer, the founder of RSS and blogging, wrote this week that we have made a terrible mistake in “…walking away from the powerful open and independent amateur publishing features of the web.”

As to the popular refrain that RSS died by Google’s unfairly killing off Google Reader, Winer’s right in saying:

“It’s fun to hate Google Reader, but it’s over my friend, and we are free to do whatever we like. Enjoy the holidays knowing that Google Reader is dead, RSS is fine.”

If you build it, they will come, remains true for bloggers putting in the time and care to offer value.

To the extent that blogs and RSS have become less effective for some individuals, that’s more a result of self-destructive blogging behavior than blogs.

SEO over all else, ghost writers, distribution mediums, web traffic as the sole goal, blogs inside websites to draw readers to things for which they have no interest and social media versus publishing.

They all represent a move away from the “powerful open and independent amateur publishing” aspect of blogs and RSS.

Merry Christmas. The gift of blogs and RSS remains very much alive.

Should legal tech companies looking to build the best solutions be seeking the input of lawyers?

Frank Ready of Legal Tech News writes today that lawyers want ‘easier’ technology, but legal tech companies aren’t sure what that means. The irregularity and hastiness which feedback does come has left product developers hungry for insights into the legal mind.

Ready spoke with various people, inside and outside of law firms, as to how this input can be obtained. In some cases hiring lawyers. In other cases, doing the tech work inside a law firm, for a captive customer, if you will. Others advised spending more time with lawyers and getting to know their language.

I’m not sure legal tech companies, when beginning or when working on new ideas and products. need to or should be seeking the input of lawyers.

I’m serious.

Look at what Steve Jobs had to say on the subject.

“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

I’m in agreement with Jobs – like who wouldn’t agree with Jobs when it comes to building products and a company.

You really think Preston Gates and Ellis, now K&L Gates would have told me fifteen years ago, “You know, what we’re looking for – a blog. A website with ten posts on the front page running in reverse chronological order with each post having its own page, by a niche subject, on a separate domain from our website, that allowed comments and on which the busiest lawyers in one of our most high profile practice areas are going to publish.

It was like Jobs said, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. It was only after a made a blog for Preston Gates, complete with design and blog posts, and displayed the blog on the big screen that Preston Gates liked a blog.

Well, at least one of the three people in the room liked the concept. The other two, judging from how early they exited the room, thought I was nuts.

I really wasn’t all that interested in what Preston Gates or other firms thought a blog should be or how I should modify my product to alleviate their concerns. They knew nothing about blogs or digital publishing, as I was proposing it.

As a the producer of a product, I didn’t want to be one-offed to death by the firms I met and end up with an inferior product which would satisfy the “lowest common denominator.” I also couldn’t afford the time and expense of such modifications.

Guy Kawasaki advised entrepreneurs and innovators to “be happy, build crappy.” Get your product out there – and fast. You’ll only know you have something when other people take money out of their pocket and put it in your pocket. You can iterate later, per Kawasaki.

Collect customer’s suggestions. As paying customers, they’re more vested in your success than they were as “some what interested” lawyers.

When we get enough customers requesting something, our products team adds the feature.

When we have a new product in mind, or have even built it, we’ll go to prospective customers – the more innovative ones – and ask what they think. Truth be told, we’re selling and not looking to go back to the drawing board.

We’ll make changes after we get enough customers on board to have enough of sample set to justify features – just as we do with our blog platform.

Hey, I am not dissing lawyer input. I just think you better be ready to run without lawyer input.

The one caveat I’d have is what’s the basis of the founding entrepreneur’s belief in the product. What problem did they see? How did the see it?

Interviewing legal tech entrepreneurs, invariably they saw the problem first hand and could not envision for a second their product not solving the problem.

As we the cased with me, others saw the mountain between them and the plains on the other side. The entrepreneur only saw the plains on the other side of the mountain. Clear as could be.

You can develop products lawyers want without asking lawyers.

Of course I have a dog in this hunt, and maybe I am being less than creative with a post on this topic, but hear me out on something that seams to be common sense.

Lawyers and law firms are not well served in setting up their own blog sites.

On Reddit someone asked this week about setting up their own blog.

One person responded that they were a software engineer and that they were interested in learning how to set up a WordPress blog site – and theme – from scratch.

He shared it took him a lot of time that could have been better spent blogging. If blogging is ultimate your goal, he said, rather than feeling compelled to know how to set up a blog from scratch, setting up a blog is a major distraction.

Along the same vein, Kevin Vermeulen of Good2bSocial wrote yesterday about the tools lawyers and law firms can use to get started with podcasts. Fifteen tools for various aspects of podcasting.

Vermeulen’s post is a good one, but does a lawyer – or most law firms – want to wade through and test fifteen tools for podcasting.

For the same reason that consumers and businesses choose lawyers, rather than do the legal work themselves when they don’t know how to do it – and never have, why not choose a professional for podcasts.

Back at Reddit, another person mentioned it’s a lot like a car. You get a car to enjoy driving it, not to build it.

Reddit users, though more likely to tinker setting up a blog than most, talked about various things a do-it-your-selfer was apt not to do, – create fast loading pages (negatively impacting user experience and search),  set up the tech aspects for optimum SEO, set up features, perform social media optimization etc.

There are probably fifteen other things, including RSS, social sharing set up and email subscriptions that a do it you yourself lawyer or firm is going to miss – and sadly not know it.

Truth be told, LexBlog was started when I couldn’t find someone to help me set up a good blog. And even then there were good tools like TypePad.

Lawyers should look no further than WordPress for their blog. I’d guess every company providing professionals a publishing platform uses WordPress.

You’ll probably find the cost for the business plan at WordPress.com, adding the features you’ll want/need, to be about $40 to $50 a month.

Why not pay $30 to $50 a month more to get something tailored for lawyers set up for you – with training, marketing, syndication, free ongoing support and other things you’ll miss set up properly, all included. If you’re not able to make that sum back – in spades – in work developed through blogging, the focus of your blog and your blogging is misguided.

If it’s not LexBlog, choose someone else to avoid the do it yourself blog set up. Seems like common sense.

I’ve been on the road interviewing successful law bloggers the last couple weeks and I’ll continue with more at the end of this week.

I’ll start to post the interviews on a LexBlog YouTube Channel and here on my blog within the next week.

By successful law blogger, I’m referring to lawyers who have built a tremendous reputation as a trusted advisor and thought leader, while at the same time establishing relationships with clients, prospective clients and influencers.

In many cases, blogging has literally been a life changing event for the lawyer.

I walk away from the interviews inspired by what the lawyers have done – all by virtue of the Internet democratizing publishing and business development for the little guy – whether a solo lawyer or a lawyer in a major law firm.

Never until the Internet could a lawyer launch a publication on a niche for which they have a passion. And for the publication to attract an audience of highly interested readers.

Flying back from DC Tuesday night, I was struck that the lawyers I have talked with and will continue to talk with have a blog publication. Publication in the sense of a digital magazine with a name on a separate domain away from the law firm website.

I have yet to interview lawyers who publish blog content in a website.

Admittedly, many of the lawyers I am going to be talking to are LexBlog platform customers and have followed our counsel on publishing, but I am not familiar with life changing blogs published as content in a website.

I understand for many lawyers content is a traffic generation tool to get people to look at information about the lawyer or the firm – the replacement of advertising or brochures of years past. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just different than publishing a niche publication to achieve the status of a lawyer’s lawyer.

LexBlog does aggregate and curate blog posts published on a website – at no cost to the lawyer or the firm. Such work represents excellent insight and commentary. We want to shine a light a light on such lawyers and their work.

I wonder though if the lawyers publishing these posts would achieve much more if they were publishing an independent publication.

Think about it. Lawyers billing hundreds of dollars an hour getting a thirty or forty percent return as compared to publishing an independent publication represents a tremendous loss – in time and money.

Unfortunately, discussing blogs inside websites and outside websites is like talking religion. I am ready to hear I am nuts, often from folks with a vested interest in growing web traffic, versus a name.

I share my comments now as I seek to help more lawyers understand the power of legal blogging. To inspire lawyers to learn from the path other lawyers have taken on legal blogging and the success those lawyers have experienced.

I share my comments and do these interviews because I care deeply about lawyers. It has never been easier to establish a reputation as a leading lawyer and to generate a book of business than it is today.

I want lawyers to take advantage of this opportunity by doing things the right way.

That’s why I ask are law blogs inside a website failing lawyers? Are such blogs holding lawyers back?

Are there Hilary Bricken’s, Staci Riordan’s, Tonya Forsheit’s, Allison Rowe’s, Michelle Mae O’Neil’s, Daniel Schwartz’ and Jeff Nowak’s who blog not to create a publication and trusted advisor status but to publish content in a website for traffic who have achieved the heights these lawyers have from blogging? Who have had a life changing event from blogging?

Is changing your life through legal blogging too lofty a goal? I didn’t see why.

None of the lawyers I mention above are a superwoman or a superman.

They are lawyers just like you who made a decision to take things to a new level and to chase a dream for themselves and, in many cases, for their families.

It can be be done.

As a managed WordPress platform for legal publishers, LexBlog runs a WordPress development shop.

Not as web agencies do with custom web development, which is tough to scale for the developer and the customer, but to perform the WordPress development work for our managed WordPress platform which supports all of our legal bloggers.

Plugins, upgrades and features are being worked on and shipped by LexBlog all of the time. Just as any other SaaS (software as a service) provider does, we’re constantly maintaining and improving the platform, and accompanying service.

LexBlog’s plugin work over the last year included plugins for the aggregation and curation of third party articles and blog posts via RSS. These plugins power LexBlog.com and our growing network of syndication sites such as Illinois Lawyer Now.

Another use of these plugins could be the use of delivering aggregated select content to a third-party’s publishing platform.

Meaning what?

Just as you have a WordPress dashboard for the writing, editing and publishing of articles and pages, a site operating these plugins would also include a dashboard with a list of aggregated content that’s been “pulled in.”

This aggregated content would only be content relevant to the publisher, ie, for the Illinois Bar, blog content from Illinois bar members. Could also mean content selected by topic, jurisdiction or otherwise.

In many cases, LexBlog will “preselect” the content to be fed into the aggregator from our global network of legal blog feeds.

This aggregated content would then be curated by the site’s publisher by them selecting in their WordPress dashboard which pieces to publish and where, editing titles, applying tags, inserting appropriate images and more.

Such a feature could be used by a digital publication, a law firm website that’s looking to display content from lawyers, an email newsletter, an association website with contributions from members etc. The possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination.

Why a third-party’s plugins ala LexBlog’s? Regular upgrades and feature additions to the plugins from a company who not only works with WordPress, but works in legal publishing.

The speed, performance and user-experience of a WordPress site is only as good as the sum of the parts. We’re dealing with open source and a vibrant worldwide community of plugin providers.

Trying to manage plugins on your own can become the height of folly. Installing a plugin yourself and then forgetting about it, as many web developers do, will not fly. Upgrades come regularly to the WordPress core software and it’s plugins.

And in the case of legal content, LexBlog is already aggregating the content, only needing to be parsed as appropriate for a publisher.

Most all of what LexBlog has developed until now has been for use on our managed WordPress Platform. It’s time to explore how others operating websites and digital publications may benefit from using LexBlog plugins.

If you’re wondering about those not using WordPress for websites and publishing, they are becoming fewer and fewer. WordPress is on its way to being ubiquitous when it comes to sites with a content management system.

Stay tuned.

Over on Reddit, an authority asked about linking to books, other blogs and transcripts of podcasts on a blog they were starting.

They wanted to put their spin on what others were saying and writing. Their intent was to link to the authority as part of their commentary.

Like the law, the subject of the blog was on a “heavy subject.”

I thought some of you may find my answer over on Reddit of help –

You are okay doing doing as a describe.

In fact, blogging as you describe how you’ll be blogging is how blogging began. Blogging in that fashion also works extraordinarily well in growing readership and subscribers of your blog.

Blogging started fifteen plus years ago as a conversation. I saw what you wrote and then referenced what you wrote, often inserting a portion of what you wrote as a block quote in my blog. I then provided my take or why I shared what you had to say. The technology then enabled bloggers to see if another blogger or reporter wrote about us or what we wrote.

So yes, do quote people. I would not worry about using portions of their content in a block quote. It’s done across the blogosphere and mainstream media. The issue of duplicate content is not going to cause you a problem.

Also know that the doctrine of Fair Use in the United States allows you to reference and quote fairly liberally for teaching, commentary, research and reporting without having to seek permission or pay the copyright holder.

Best practice dictates naming and linking to the source as well as the author. By citing them and why they are an authority the source will appreciate that you did cite them and aptly described them as an authority.

Far too many people today blog based on their own knowledge as an expert on a subject without referencing anyone. It’s a breath of fresh air, as an authority and long time blogger in a niche, for someone to cite what I said and why. I remember those people as they stick out like shining stars.

Couple ways to let the authority know that you referenced them. Share your post on Twitter and give them a hat tip, h/t @kevinokeefe. Alternatively, drop them an email saying “as a courtesy, I wanted to let you know that I referenced what you wrote/said in a recent blog post of mine etc, keep up the good work.”

Either way the influencers you cite will take notice, may follow you, and may even cite you so that all their readers learn of you.

You’ll also be penning a more interesting blog by bringing in others’ commentary and learning from the commentary at the same time.

Want to rekindle that belief with which you entered law school?

That being that lawyers can change things for the better – even if it’s one person at a time. That lawyers provide access to justice to those most in need.

Create a Twitter list of bar association Twitter accounts. Heck, subscribe to mine.

Skim through the tweets in the list a few times a week, maybe every day.

You’ll see:

    • An Afghanistan veteran returning to the States to go to law school so as to serve others – and move to a small city to be close to a VA hospital to help vets and their families on all aspects of the law.
    • A law student who thought it unconscionable to graduate from law school without first heading to the border to work with immigrants so that he could see suffering first hand and to learn how lawyers could help.
    • Lawyers working pro bono year round with local and state agencies to prepare for the annual hurricanes, and the havoc and legal problems they bring.
    • A lawyer who uncovered that DuPont was mass poisoning people and who represented thousands, putting himself and his family on the line in doin so.
    • The State Bar of New York and its president working with various sectors to see what could legally be done to save local journalism.
    • Bar associations from cities and states using #GivingTuesday to raise money for causes focused on helping others.
    • Legal services organization addressing over 500,000 client interactions in ten years.
    • Volunteer lawyers tasked with meeting the legal-services needs of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children.
    • Thirty veterans, one for every day of November, now serving as lawyers across one of the largest states in the country.
    • A lawyer in small city in North Dakota, a state where three-fourths of the state’s counties have fewer than 10 attorneys each, and three have none, who appreciates that people in rural areas have legal issues and finds it rewarding to be there for those folks.

These are from just the last few days.

It’s not just bar association articles being tweeted. Bar professionals are finding inspiring articles in newspapers across their states and sharing the stories.

Sure, there’s CLE program and recognition announcements in the tweets of which you may not find of interest. But there’s enough to inspire even the most hardened soul.

Truth be told, I created this Twitter list a while back so I could use it to nurture relationships with bar associations and their teams.

Only recently have I been looking at the list’s tweets and sharing those things I found of interest and giving shout-outs where shout-outs are due.

The legal industry news I often see is related to tech and innovation, which can of course help access to legal services, reinventing the business of law and the marketing of legal services, often by larger firms.

All good, but different than what I thought the law and lawyers were all about when growing up – and practicing in a rural area of the country for seventeen years.

The bar association tweets are inspiring in many ways, at the same time the tweets enable me to get to know bar associations and their dedicated teams across common ground.

For bar associations, and particularly those running the social media accounts, keep sharing the good stuff. It’s important.

ROSS Intelligence announced last week that it was giving law students and faculty free access to its AI legal research platform. The move was part of the company’s mission to improve the delivery of legal services.

In its announcement, ROSS made a couple points that are applicable to technology companies, in general, introducing their solutions at law schools.

From Andrew Arruda, CEO and co-founder of ROSS:

“The legal profession is changing quickly and clients are demanding greater efficiency. We’re building tools to help future attorneys thrive in this new environment. Opening access across the country will provide law students with the 21st-century tools they need to succeed in today’s rapidly evolving legal market.”

And from its VP of Strategy and Operations, Thomas Hamilton:

”You cannot underestimate the influence law professors have on the direction of the legal profession, or the responsibility that comes with that influence.“

One, law students need to be using the type of tools that they will be using in practice – or at least should be thinking of using when practicing.

Whether it’s ROSS or other research platforms leveraging AI, that law grads will be using in practice may not matter. The point is they will be using such tools.

Never before have we seen the level of innovation we’re seeing in the law today. What’s not being used en masse by law firms is bubbling up all around us via legal technology companies – long standing or startups.

Law students seeing the value in being an innovator or at least to test drive what is being used, or what will soon be used, need to be provided the opportunity to learn through first hand experience while in law school.

I had access to something called legal research on a computer – accessible behind sliding glass doors in the law library – while I was in law school. Like legal technology is viewed by many today, legal research on a computer was looked at as very extreme thirty some years ago.

Two, law professors have huge influence on law students. Some law professors dismiss legal technology altogether.

More than one law professor has told me that publishing a good niche law blog would never grow influence for a law student or a law professor the way a law review article would. I was not even given the time of day to discuss the topic.

I can only imagine how some law professors feel about AI, as its used in research, briefing, and predicting judicial rulings.

Getting legal technology into law professors’ hands – and there are many law professors, not only open to legal technology, but championing same  – to test drive a legal tech solution is huge. Law students will follow these influencers and be receptive to different legal technology.

LexBlog, like many other legal technology companies, has made its law blog products and network freely available to law students, faculty and administration.

Law students are going to be expected to build a name and develop relationships when they get out of law school – especially if going into practice on their own or at a small firm.

They’ll also be looking to help advance legal dialogue, beginning when in law school. Legal blogging, unlike current publishing, gives them a good opportunity to do so.

But law students are unlikely to blog if their influencers are not blogging – law professors, law school deans, career development officers and other administrators.

Only by putting our platform out for free have we seen a significant uptake by law students and faculty.

There has to fifty to a hundred – if not more – legal tech companies providing their product and services for free to law schools.

It’s important.

All the talk at conferences, in articles and on websites is on the legal professional getting something from their blogging.

Web stats, leads, search engine rankings, increased revenue and what have you. It’s the same old me/me/me approach to publishing.

Even when lawyers are told to keep the audience in mind, it’s for their personal gain.

A better approach may be to ask “Who am I to committed to making a positive impact on? Who am I committed to help? How am I helping? What more can I do to help?”

Molly McDonough, the former editor-in-chief and publisher of ABA Journal, shared on Facebook this morning an NPR story about Highlights for Children, the children’s magazine which has lasted for generations by sticking to the formula of mixing fun with learning.

McDonough loved, as do I, what Kent Johnson, the CEO of Highlights, told Andy Chow for NPR.

I often say inside the company…’we’re not a magazine company,’ and in fact, we never were. If we keep in mind that we’re not committed to magazines, we’re not committed to a certain product type or technology, what we’re committed to is making a positive impact on children, that frees us up to think, ‘what has to stay the same?’ Certain values, certain beliefs about children stay the same. Everything else can change.”

”We’re committed to a positive impact on children.”

Not subscriptions. Not Revenue. Those will come if we focus on the first.

No matter how I tried, I couldn’t get Jeff Nowak, a leading employment lawyer with Littler, to tell me in an an interview last week how his blogging works for business development. He wouldn’t have any of it.

Nowak was committed to helping people from the get go ten years ago when he began publishing FMLA Insights. He did not start the blog publication to grow business, he started the blog to help people – and that remains his focus.

As a result of his commitment to helping people, Nowak says he has become a trusted advisor and a thought leader on FMLA. Achievements which of course lead to business from people and organizations which trust him – and feel they know him.

Law bloggers, myself included, may find greater a reward in blogging through a commitment to make a positive impact on people. Help others first.

In addition, as Highlight’s Johnson says, doing so may free us to know what has to the stay the same, and what may change in our personal and professional growth – especially as it relates to the quickly changing mediums and tools for business development, today.

Many lawyers who have a law blog probably have no idea they have a law blog.

I am serious.

Many of the law blogs I see, and I use the word “blog” liberally, are a page on a website filled with a lot of content.

The blogs are not titled anything more than “blog.” No Florida employment law blog, no Illinois Workers Compensation Law Blog, just “blog.”

How can a lawyer or a group of lawyers not know that their firm has a blog? Easy.

A lawyer buys a new website from a legal website company. The lawyer, having heard of something called a blog, jumps on the offer to pay a little more for one. Whatever it is or wherever it goes, who cares. “I’ve heard I should have one.”

In some cases, the lawyer buying a website has never heard of a law blog, but the offer to buy something they’re told will make their website rank higher on Google sounds reasonable.

And not to worry about the blog, as if the lawyer would, the legal website company says they’ll take care of everything with the blog thing.

In a firm with a number of lawyers, one partner will be in charge of buying the new website. When asked over a partner’s meeting if they have the website covered, the response will be “sure thing.” The other partners are glad that website thing is over with.

I’ve been such a firm and the yellow page (it was the ‘80’s & ‘90’s), television, radio, and magazine buys were handled just like that – one partner covered, with the others paying little, if any, attention.

Not much due diligence on anyone’s part – as if we had enough expertise and common sense to exercise due diligence on the subject anyway.

Reading a post from Mark Homer, a digital legal marketing leader, and the head of GNGF (Get Noticed Get Found), about what he was seeing in legal blogs only reinforced my thinking.

“The more we looked at the blogs most law firms had, and even some of the ones we were creating, we realized that many blogs on law firm websites were taking away from the client experience, not enhancing it.

On top this “aha” moment, I have been forced to read so much—let’s be blunt—crappy content over the years when providing web presence consultations and audits I felt there had to be a better way.”

[Note: Homer went on to find other ways to realize SEO more in line with the brand of firms with whom he was working.]

Either lawyers didn’t know lame when they saw it on their website, or they didn’t even know they had a blog to look at.

When Homer found lawyers who thought they had a blog, it was a stretch to say they knew they had a real law blog.

“When I asked the attorney about the blog content, most all said it was there because the lawyer was told he needed to buy a package of content each month for SEO reasons.

Many of the lawyers were not even required to approve the content, it just showed up on the blog each month. That’s just crazy and ethically dangerous. None of the companies selling these packages ever tell the lawyer that they should be the ones writing the blog content, either.”

Okay, at best in the case of crappy blogs, “I know I have something on my website because I was told I needed to buy a “package of content” to get some SEO.”

Lawyers who have a “blog,” but don’t even know it. Sad when you realize law blogs came about as way to connect lawyers with people – in a good way – and as a way for lawyers to help people based on the lawyer’s care, passion and expertise.