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Tom Mighell of Inter Alia [LexBlog Q & A]

January 7, 2008

Today we start off the new week with a LexBlog Q & A featuring Tom Mighell. Tom is a Texas-based attorney with Cowles & Thompson who has surrounded himself with technology, serving as webmaster for the firm’s websites and operating his own blog Inter Alia. Tom also produces the Kennedy-Mighell Report Podcast with legal tech guru Dennis Kennedy.

1. Rob La Gatta: How long have you been reading and writing legal blogs, and what got you interested in this medium in the first place? How long was it after you started reading blogs that you were prompted to create your own?

Tom Mighell: For me it goes back to 2000. That’s when I started publishing the Internet Legal Research Weekly, my newsletter on the Internet and research (legal and otherwise). While I had a good number of subscribers, I was looking for a better way to connect with readers on the Internet and expanding my audience. A newsletter was (and still is, for the most part) a great way of getting information out to a large number of people, but it was my opinion that my writing about the Internet lacked credibility unless I had a web presence of my own. Unfortunately, my Web design skills were (and still are) minimal, so building a Web site during my free time was not really an option.

Then in 2002, I started reading blogs – the first legal blogs I remember reading were Denise Howell’s Bag & Baggage, Ernie Svenson’s Ernie the Attorney, and Howard Bashman’s How Appealing. I realized that a blog perfectly fit my requirements – it was easy to build and could provide useful, practical information to readers on a regular basis. I started doing research on the best blog platforms to use, and within about a month I was up and running, in August 2002. I probably would have done it differently today – I would have built up a good-sized number of posts before going “live” – but back then, there weren’t that many people reading blogs, so nobody noticed anyway.

2. Rob La Gatta: In a 2003 interview with Jim Calloway, you said that you became a blogger because it instantly makes you “part of a larger online community.” How do you think that community – essentially, the blogosphere – has changed since 2003? Why do you think this has been the case?

Tom Mighell: Wow, that’s a great question. I’m not sure I’d say the same thing today, or even that the blogosphere – legal or in the broader sense – can even be considered a community today. It’s just too big. I think that in 2003 I was referring to the “legal blogosphere,” which at the time was still pretty small. It was nice to be a part of a group of lawyers who “got” the idea of blogging and of using the Internet for communicating and marketing their practice.

Since that time, the community of legal bloggers has significantly changed. There are so many law blogs out there it’s hard to keep track of them all, let alone get to know the lawyers behind them. Instead of one community, I think that law blogs have evolved into multiple communities – by practice area, solo lawyer bloggers, or legal technology bloggers, to give a few examples.

Another change I have seen has to do with the different “generations” of law bloggers who are coming onto the scene. Those of us who have been around a long time are often amused when some of the more recent law bloggers write about this “new thing called blogging for lawyers,” as if they are the first lawyers to adopt this technology. Well, maybe we’re more bitter than amused…… :-)

3. Rob La Gatta: Like Kevin, you seem to value niche-focused legal blogs. Why are these are important, and why do you think that, by and large, niche blogs tend to attract a wider readership than broadly focused ones?

Tom Mighell: I’m not sure I completely agree with the premise of your question. I do believe that niche blogs are very important, but I don’t think they automatically attract a wider readership because they focus on a more narrow subject. They may attract more devoted audiences, yes. But many of the niches these law blogs occupy are very small, and their readership will likely be correspondingly small. That’s not a bad thing, as Kevin has noted (via Scoble).

What’s important about niche law blogs is that they allow lawyers to establish themselves as experts in a particular field, and claim that territory on the Internet. A blog with the title “California Family Law Blog” can cover a pretty broad number of topics, even if it’s just limited to California law; on the other hand, the Egg Donation and Surrogacy Law Blog occupies a very narrow niche. As a result, when a potential client is looking for a surrogacy lawyer, they may be more likely to hire someone who is blogging about that very topic, rather than someone who blogs about it along with a lot of other general family law issues. That doesn’t mean broadly-focused law blogs aren’t successful; it all depends on how you want to market your expertise to clients, potential clients, and other lawyers in your practice area.

4. Rob La Gatta: Let’s talk for a minute about Inter Alia. What prompted you to begin showcasing an ongoing list of “blawgs of the day”? Did you feel that it would fill some sort of void in the blogosphere?

Tom Mighell: Yes, and no. There are several great sites where people can go to find law blogs on a variety of topics; the ABA Blawg Directory and Justia Blawg Search are two great examples. I think the usefulness behind having a Blawg of the Day on Inter Alia is that my readers get the opportunity every day to experience a new law-related blog, without having to visit a law blog directory. I have had a number of readers contact me over the years to thank me for mentioning a particular blog, because they happened to be thinking about looking for such a resource at the same time.

The evolution of the “Blawg of the Day” has more to do with my own personal blogging situation, if I’m being completely honest. Four or five years ago, I would save up new law-related blogs and mention two or three of them in a single post. Over time, there were just too many, so I decided to start posting about a new law blog each day. In the past year or so, the time I have to blog has decreased considerably, so having a Blawg of the Day now serves an additional purpose – keeping Inter Alia fresh on a daily basis. In fact, I’m a little dismayed that my blog has become known solely for the “BOTD” feature, and in the coming year I hope to get back to my core interests; providing practical, useful technology information for lawyers, with an Internet focus. But the BOTD is not going away, so if anyone reading this post would like their law blog mentioned in Inter Alia, shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to feature you as a Blawg of the Day. ;-)

5. Rob La Gatta: Finally, if you were to meet a lawyer who was thinking of starting their first blog, what is the one most important bit of advice you’d offer them? Why?

Tom Mighell: If you are going to start your own law blog, make sure you are committed to the process, which means committed to posting regularly. As you can imagine, I see a lot of law blogs, and I am constantly struck by the number of blogs that lie dormant for long periods of time, or are never updated again by the lawyer-blogger. Once you start a law blog and gain a readership, a good part of your credibility depends on you being a regular source of information on the subject you have chosen. If you stop blogging for a period of time, or even stop blogging entirely because you just don’t have time to write the blog posts, you lose credibility with those who have come to depend on you for that information.

 Because blogs are ultimately marketing tools for lawyers, your failure to keep up your end of the bargain may have a negative impact on the way you are perceived by potential clients and even the legal community. If you must stop blogging altogether, make sure you write a “farewell” post to your readers; although they’ll likely be disappointed, they’ll definitely appreciate knowing you care enough about them to let them know where you’re going.

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