Not sure I’ve seen a leading law firm in the States sponsor a third party’s blog. But Steve Matthews caught that Clifford Chance, one of the world’s leading law firms with 27 offices in 20 countries and 3,800 legal advisers, is sponsoring Conflict of Laws, a well trafficked blog on private international law.

Steve suggests we may be looking at a trend.

Blog sponsorships are nothing new to the online tech community. For examples, we can look to GigaOM or Techcrunch. But in other blogging communities, including law, the idea of sponsorship is quite new. It could be the fact that commercial applications typically lag behind web innovation; that we usually experiment to see if something delivers, readers adopt, and then monetization strategy follows once we’re beyond the proving ground. It may also stem from our aversion to spam and anything directly commercial online. Kevin O’Keefe has said he’s not a fan of ads on blogs and that it cheapens the offering, but I suspect with an appropriate design fit he’d be ok with the sponsorship concept. And depending on the blog, of course.

My next question would be on the strategic fit. A blog on International private law and Clifford Chance? Obviously it’s a good fit, and frankly, they get kudos for being both the first mover, and picking off a desirable audience of global decision makers……I see a lot of value in blog sponsorship as compared to other forms of web advertising. What many blogs lack in reader volume, they more than make up for with audiences that are focused & clearly defined. Aggregate a series of selected sponsorships together and it could be *very* good advertising.

I agree with Steve. And don’t tell anyone else Steve, but you’re right that I’m okay on sponsorship with the appropriate design and sponsorship.

Steve also has reason to fear that law firms sponsoring blogs will be seen as an alternative to blogging themselves.

CC has both the resources and in-house expertise to do so, but may not have been able to make the business case internally. Busy attorneys, a lack of time, and so forth. That’s too bad. I’m a big believer in firms owning web properties, and the associated audience & relationships. This may not get reflected in a traditional ROI equation, but the value is there – new business relationships with targeted decision makers, marketing collateral, search rankings, referral networks – the list is extensive. CC gets some of those things with this move, but it isn’t their audience, and long term I’d rather see those assets under CC management.

Law blog sponsorship by large law firms is going to be a trend. We’re also going to see the legal duopoly of LexisNexis and Thomson West, probably now the largest advertisers on Incisive Media ALM’s legal publications and journals, start sponsoring blogs and social media sites. Thomson West has already started to do so with the Law Professor Blogs.

Law firms and legal publishers may be a little slow but news of advertising’s move to blogs and social media sites here, here, and here will not lost on them and their ad agencies.

Stem Legal : Web Marketing, Strategy & Law Firm SEOUpdate: Just received this email from Steve: ‘give you $50 if you throw a stem logo on yours? ;)’ Being, it’s only at one post, it’ll only cost you a beer Steve. Update 2: Responding post from Martin George, Creator and General Editor of Conflict of Laws:

I agree that the potential for spam, or aggressive advertising, is there when contemplating any type of sponsorship agreement with a firm or company, which is why it is very important to work closely with the sponsor in order to establish the precise boundaries, and extent, of that company’s web presence on your blog before any agreement is finalised…… I think a substantial connection, beyond a commercial interest (on the part of either party), is absolutely necessary. Clifford Chance were our first-choice sponsor because of their unique practice in the field of private international law. We would have turned down the same sponsorship arrangement with another firm if they did not have a genuine interest in the subject-matter of the blog. Sponsorships have to be more than just financial agreements; they have to be relationships.