By Kevin O'Keefe

Ernest Svenson, aka Ernie the Attorney [LexBlog Q & A, part 1 of 2]

Continuing with our LexBlog Q & A interview series, today we feature some words of wisdom from Ernest Svenson, aka Ernie the Attorney, a New Orleans-based lawyer and long-time blogger.

In our phone interview earlier this week, Ernie and I spoke about his early introduction to legal blogging, why he believes big law firms may be resistant to blogs, and more.

Since the interview was quite extensive, I’ve decided to break it up into two posts. As a result, today part 1 is going up; on Monday, I’ll launch part 2.

1. Rob La Gatta: Kevin has called you the “grandfather of lawyer blogs,” due to the amount of time you’ve been operating in the blogosphere. What first got you blogging at a time when not many other folks were doing so?

Ernie the Attorney: Sweet serendipity. A friend of mine had a software company; I had downloaded a trial version of [a blogging] program and liked it. Then he came to New Orleans, and he had a blog and showed me what it was – because he’s the sort of person who tools around and meets other people in the tech world – and I said, “Oh, this is really interesting.”

I realized I could try that for 30 days for free, and I played with it. I guess it resonated for me because I liked to write, and I in the past had been interested in the idea of publishing to the web, but I could never figure out how to set up the website…there were a lot of dots to connect. But with blogging, there weren’t any dots to connect anymore. It was just write and hit “post.” So I just kept experimenting and playing with it, and it seemed like it was going to be something that was going to be incredibly useful, because – just like I felt that way about wanting to write but not being able to figure out how to do it – I knew that there were other people even less technologically inclined than I who probably were experiencing the same thing.

The legal profession, in my experience, had always been a place where people had ideas, and knew how to express themselves, knew how to parse information and how to digest it and absorb the key points. And so I was kind of surprised that there weren’t more lawyers doing it.

So, Denise Howell [and I] were the ones who saw each other doing it, and we traded e-mails, and then we started keeping track of lawyers who were blogging, even if they weren’t blogging about law (and if any lawyers were blogging back then, I’d say most of them weren’t blogging about the law).

2. Rob La Gatta: With your blog, it seems you can write about a range of topics and still maintain readers who come back and comment. Is this the way you’ve always blogged, or did you start with a specific focus and expand to rely more on your personality after you had an initial readership base?

Ernie the Attorney: I think I’ve always kind of written for myself. I wasn’t interested as much in writing about the law, except that when I started – as I mentioned – there weren’t that many people doing it. Then I gave myself the name Ernie the Attorney, so people figured out I was an attorney, [and] they would e-mail me or say, “Hey, what do you think about this?” [So] I kind of felt obliged to fill that role. It wasn’t a role that I really wanted to fill that much. So when Howard Bashman started his blog, and both Denise and I extolled it to a great extent, I was really happy, because I thought, “that’s exactly what somebody should be doing to cover the general bases.”

Then, more and more, people started jumping in to fill in niche areas, and Denise and I kept track of who was blogging in various areas. That was great, because I didn’t really want to write about the law, per se. I mean, I like doing it sometimes, but for the most part I’d rather just write about everything. I was a philosophy major, and my interest is…in everything.

3. Rob La Gatta: If a lawyer just starting his first blog were to approach you, what is the most important bit of advice you’d offer them, and why?

Ernie the Attorney: [T]he main thing that I would tell people (and I do tell them this) is [to] try to find your voice. And don’t be afraid to make “mistakes,” because part of the joy of blogging – and I find it to be something that’s joyful – is getting feedback from people, feeling like you’ve actually connected with people. This is not unique to blogging…any form of writing or expression can bring you that. But I think you get that sort of feeling and that feedback and that passion, you see it happen with a greater intensity when you allow yourself the freedom to explore and experiment.

When people ask me, “Well, why do you write your blog?”, the real answer is, I write it because it helps me figure out things. And that’s writing in general; I write so that I can figure things out. In the past I had tried to keep a journal, and I just didn’t care. It didn’t have the same intensity: only I was reading it, and I wasn’t editing it to say something in a particular way. Yet I was exploring thoughts that I had.

With blogging, it’s the same thing, except in exploring those thoughts, you have to think about them. You have to compress the ideas. You have to write it, you have to rewrite it, and so forth. A lot of times, I’ll look at something and have a much better sense of what I was thinking about – [after] I’ve edited it and written it and put it out there – than I would have if I had just mulled it over in my head, or written it quickly, or tried to write it to conform to what was safe.

Check back on Monday to see part 2, when Ernie will discuss why he thinks lawyers should show their “human side,” and why large law firms are often resistant to allowing them to do so through blogs.

In the meantime, interested in hearing more? Check out some of our other featured guests…Ernie is just the latest in our ongoing series of legal blog interviews for the LexBlog Q & A.

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