Yesterday’s LexBlog Q & A featured Walter Olson of Overlawyered; today, we switch gears to another pillar of the legal blog community. Our guest for this last Friday before Christmas? Denise Howell, an appellate/IP lawyer who has been active in the legal blogosphere for the past six years. Denise’s name can be found around the web, most notably at her personal blog Bag and Baggage and at a ZDNet blog, Lawgarithms.

In an e-mail interview conducted earlier this week, Denise and I spoke about her history operating within the legal blogosphere, why blogs are here to stay and more. The full text of the interview is below.

1. Rob La Gatta: An old post Kevin wrote says that you’ve been blogging since 2001. Is this accurate? If so, what first piqued your interest and made you get involved with blogs so early in the game?

Denise Howell: It’s accurate, and it actually was a game that got me blogging. I had read The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999, and it resonated with me about individuals and business more than anything I’d studied in college or law school. After that I kept up with the writing, thinking, and online doings of three of its co-authors who were early bloggers.

One of them, Christopher Locke, was writing an article for the Guardian about weblogs. He exhorted the readers of his e-zine (about 5,000 folks) to start blogs and link to him, so (1) he could have something to write about, and (2) his standings in "Daypop" (a Technorati precursor) would theoretically go through the roof. I took the bait over the Thanksgiving weekend and became a blogger in the process.

The point was to play around with the technology (which was free and easy), and the network effects of using it (which were fun and ultimately quite powerful on a number of levels). Many of the folks who participated in Locke’s "article research" are still blogging away, and are some of the most thoughtful and insightful folks I’ve come to know.

2. Rob La Gatta: What are some of the most noticeable changes you’ve seen legal blogs undergo in the six years you’ve been watching them?

Denise Howell: I suppose the most noticeable change is volume. In ’01-’02 there were so few bloggers that were connected in some way to the legal world, [that] we all pretty much knew each other, and it was possible to keep up with every blawg out there.

By ’03 the new blawgs were coming fast and furious, and it was great to be able to discover a steady stream of new voices through the blogrolls and recommendations of the folks you were already reading. There was great potential for legal institutions – firms, academia, and government – to leverage the technology, and I had great hope for law firm blogs.

That potential has not yet been realized. With few exceptions firms seem to dabble in blogging reluctantly without "getting" it. Law schools do a far better job. It’s a process, though. In the mid-90’s email was novel; now it’s ubiquitous. Blogging and/or its related/successor tools are here to stay. They’ll become such a part of our culture, interviews like this one are bound to seem pretty silly before long. E.g.:

Q: What are some of the most noticeable changes you’ve seen legal telephone conversations undergo in the six years you’ve been participating in them?

A: Uh…

3. Rob La Gatta: You argued back in 2005 that law firms should look to PR folks, who have made serious headway in spreading their message through blogging. But it’s almost 2008, and we still see many large law firms showing resistance to blogs, and even fewer encouraging their lawyers to blog freely. Why do you think this is? What will it take to convince big law firms that there is value in blogging?

Denise Howell: I did? I don’t remember. :) I was probably struck by the contrast.

I saw Steve Jobs speak at the first "D" Conference (and blogged it). When asked about the challenges they faced at the beginning of the personal computer era, Jobs quipped: "People couldn’t type. We realized: Death would eventually take care of this."

Legal institutions, firms among them, will adapt to (and adopt) the communications tools that work for their evolving work force. If/while they don’t, key parts of their work force will inevitably use those tools to do away with the need for things like institutions at all. (Have you been following the Web fallout of the WGA strike?)

4. Rob La Gatta: You have given yourself an advantage in the legal profession by utilizing technology and new media skills. How important do you see the use of technology as being to the legal profession today, and why should lawyers take the time to learn these skills?

Denise Howell: I don’t think you can force technology on anyone, but the beauty of blogs and related tools is their ease of use and the unlooked-for (and sometimes near-magical) effects that flow from their use. I should say rather that our generation might consider those effects magical; future generations will simply expect them, then demand (and create) situations and relationships we can’t even imagine.

5. Rob La Gatta: And the question I like to ask everybody I interview for this feature: if you were to encounter a lawyer just starting his or her first blog, what is the one most important bit of advice you’d offer them?

Denise Howell: If you haven’t already, immerse yourself in the new media ecosystem. Explore, learn and enjoy.

  • Find what resonates with you: text, images, audio, video – or some combination thereof.
  • Pick your medium and give it a whirl. Don’t worry about having to feel your way. Don’t worry about being polished. Learn as you go.
  • Ask questions in public.
  • Use easy tools.
  • Don’t get fleeced by consultants or marketing folks who insist you’ll flounder without their help. You can accomplish a great deal for little or no money and primarily on your own.
  • Educate yourself about the ethical obligations specific to online communications.
  • Educate yourself about Creative Commons, take advantage of the wealth of licensed material there, and license your own work in the way that makes the most sense.
  • Share the information you’re most passionate about.
  • Heed a Dave Winer-ism and narrate your work.
  • Be a guide.
  • Give your take on events and proceedings that are interesting but not necessarily accessible through mass or even niche media.
  • Remember you’re person and speak in your own voice.
  • Most of all: have fun.

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