Today we return with our "Five Questions" feature, which has been absent from this blog for a couple of weeks now. No better way to get back into the swing of things than to chat with Michael H. Cohen, the Massachusetts-based lawyer behind the Complementary & Alternative Medicine Blog, who I sat down with yesterday afternoon for a brief discussion.
1. Rob La Gatta: What caused you to develop the CamLaw Blog in the first place, and when did this happen?
Michael H. Cohen: In 2005, I came across LexBlog through a link from Wired. I realized that LexBlog was offering an outstanding tool for reaching a specific legal clientele and medical/health care audience, and provided a way to get the message out regarding the legal services my law firm was offering these unique segments of the legal marketplace. I also thought the blog would be invaluable for advertising general corporate legal services.
I signed up with LexBlog shortly before the blogging market exploded. In the early days (2004-5) very few people were sufficiently prescient to see how important legal blogging would become. Kevin O’Keefe was premiere in that crowd. He coached me expertly in the planning and packaging of my material, and gave a jump start on understanding search engine techniques and the methods Google and others use to rank blogs and get a legal blog noticed by the right audience. This helped me formulate my content and personal style for the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog. I also benefited from the exquisite design his firm provided.
I remember that during one of first calls, Kevin said that it could take 180 days or so to establish a presence on the Web. At the time, this was a new concept: the idea that one could have a global “presence” through a blog. How could one type into a laptop and reach millions, if not billions, then and there? But sure enough, within six months, I began to see a Web “presence” develop. For example, my Web-based client referrals begin to grow. I no longer needed to ask, “where did you hear of us?” I could figure out what search terms had led clients to my site.
By then, I had learned how to write on topics specific enough for a niche market so that my site would get noticed in search engine results, yet remain sufficiently general to attract a broader readership.
2. Rob La Gatta: Your blog occupies a unique niche in the blogosphere, focusing on a specialized area of the law. Do you know of any similar blogs that write on the same issues as you?
Michael H. Cohen: Few other blogs, if any, specifically devote themselves to legal issues related to complementary and alternative (and integrative) medicine. Some blogs address health trends while others address health law, medical research, and developments in complementary medicine or holistic health. I do track some of these sites, and also follow technology and science sites, because these feed into themes relating to science, spirituality and soul.
3. Rob La Gatta: When writing content for the blog, do you find yourself taking the voice of a lawyer or of a medical expert?
Michael H. Cohen: I take the voice of an attorney and legal scholar who is also personally familiar with many complementary therapies, and who has had academic experience as a faculty member at a major medical school. Many of my academic colleagues are involved in clinical research, and so I have learned to draw certain conclusions regarding medical studies; however, I do not purport to have any medical expertise and my comments on clinical research are usually fairly limited.
Many of my clients are health care practitioners, so by including information about clinical research and health trends I can reach a broader audience than just lawyers and judges. Many readers are also patients. At the same time, I have found a client base developing among small, medium and large law firms seeking legal and ethical expertise in the health law arena, particularly around cases involving complementary therapies.
4. Rob La Gatta: If you could give one bit of advice to a lawyer starting his or her own blog, what would it be?
Michael H. Cohen: It takes a fair amount of time to shape a blog according to individual needs and preferences, and finding one’s online voice is very much an evolving process.
Lawyers also have to assess the resources they can devote to blogging. I encourage bloggers to develop their own personalities, to take risks with posts and express their individuality. Do not hide behind a fog of seemingly Olympian reporting.
If you’re a large firm and have the resources and can hire and train someone to write blog posts, that is one thing. But if you are “lean and mean,” you have to take control of the process from start to finish, and be sure that the product is professional, accurate, and reflective of your personal style and values.
5. Rob La Gatta: I noticed that your blog doesn’t have comments enabled, and entries lack any indication of their publication date. What was the reason for these design choices?
Michael H. Cohen: Many comments are simply the product of spam robots, so unless one is willing to screen these individually, enabling comments at this point can be burdensome.
Many of my topics are timely but not time-sensitive, meaning that the information is valuable as it accrues. But usually I am not looking to, for example, the one U.S. Supreme Court case that was announced yesterday and suddenly changes the entire legal landscape. Many of the issues addressed in the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog are ongoing, pervasive, multi-state, and ranging across the usual topics. For this reason, the site aims to be informative, and sorts entries by topic and date, without time-stamping the material.
That’s it for today. We’ve got some great "Five Questions" interviews in the works for future weeks, so keep watching this spot to hear blogging professionals as they describe their craft in their own words.