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Dennis Kennedy, information technology lawyer [LexBlog Q & A, part 1 of 2]

January 8, 2008

Keeping the momentum going, today we continue our LexBlog Q & A interview series with Dennis Kennedy. Dennis is a blogger, an information technology lawyer and legal technologist based in St. Louis, Missouri. Formerly associated with Thompson Coburn LLP, he now working as a solo practitioner. He currently writes a technology column at the ABA Journal.

This is a lengthy interview. But rather than edit it down, which would eliminate some of Dennis’ thoughtful commentary, I’ve decided to split it into a two parter (like we did with our Ernest Svenson interview). Below you’ll find part 1 of my e-mail chat with Dennis; check back tomorrow morning for part 2.

1. Rob La Gatta: You got involved with legal blogs quite early in the game. What drove you to get started in this new medium at a time when there were so few blogs around?

Dennis Kennedy: My friend Jerry Lawson likes to remind me that I suggested in an article in December 2000 that blogs might be a good vehicle for certain types of lawyers. After saying that, I kept reading blogs and thinking about blogging for more than two years before I started my own blog. When I started my blog in February 2003, I actually felt that not only was I a late adopter, but maybe I had missed the whole blogging thing. Fortunately, I hadn’t.

I read blogs from the early days of blogging – Dave Winer’s Scripting News blog was a big influence on me. Winer’s blog also fueled my interest in RSS feeds, a topic which is, to me, the most fascinating part of the blogging phenomenon. The truth be told, I started my blog more because I wanted to have an RSS feed than because I wanted to have a “blog.” I was reading blogs via RSS feeds through a newsreader as soon as I learned about newsreaders.

In many ways, the non-legal blogs were bigger influences on me than legal blogs, but I could see the dawn of the legal blogging era. There’s no question that some of the best-known early legal bloggers – Denise Howell, Ernie Svenson, Marty Schwimmer and Tom Mighell (with whom I work on the Between Lawyers blog, and the earlier Blawg Channel blog) – influenced me, demonstrated the potential for law-related blogs, and pushed me to blogging. Rick Klau’s blog was another big influence, as was Sabrina Pacifici’s beSpacific blog, which showed how professional a blog could be.

I spent an unbelievably long time researching the available blogging software and the options I had. The real key to my blog’s launch was the availability of the Movable Type blogging software and figuring out, with Tom Bassett, my then web host, how to get it working. Most importantly, I could host my blog on my web server and Movable Type would automatically generate an RSS feed for me. I was such an RSS fanatic that I had already started producing an RSS feed for my website by hand.

It took more time than people might expect to decide on a name for my blog (DennisKennedy.Blog). I chose the name because anything that I wanted to write about would be “on topic.” I was already reasonably well-known for my website and my articles on legal technology and other topics, so that made me a little different from other early lawyer bloggers. I saw the blog as a new channel for my writing and a place to experiment with a new medium to find a new audience. It also was a way to experiment with some of the ideas Jerry Lawson, Brenda Howard and I were writing about in our Internet Roundtable columns on Internet marketing for lawyers. It all came together in February 2003 when I gave myself the blog for my birthday present.

In truth, I simply reached a point where I simply could not have gone any longer without having my own blog.

See the rest of part 1 after the jump.

2. Rob La Gatta: Thinking back on your early predictions of how the blogosphere would develop: how accurate were you? Did you think there would be a bigger (or smaller) market for legal blogs as we moved into 2008?

Dennis Kennedy: The great thing about the Internet is that you can actually find what you’re early predictions were. Here’s an instructive exchange I had with Jerry Lawson in that December 2000:

DK: “Blogs” . . . are my new favorite web phenomenon. In essence, they allow you to put an ongoing web journal of your writings on your web site, almost like a daily diary. If your site is designed to accentuate your personality, a blog might be a fascinating tool to let you easily put up opinions, idea and thoughts and get your audience to return on a regular basis. Jerry, perhaps I’ve gone too far out with that idea?

JL: One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard on Internet marketing for law firms was from Greg Siskind: “There is no single road to success on the Internet.” I think blogs are a classic example of this fundamental truth. For most lawyers, blogs would be a fiasco, possibly even dangerous. On the other hand, for a few lawyers, they could be perfect.”

I tend to be overly optimistic about how quickly lawyers will adopt technology, so I probably would have predicted then a somewhat greater adoption of blogs by lawyers in 2008 than what we actually see now. On the other hand, I’ve always considered blogging a writer’s medium where having an individual voice was very important, so I was never sure that blogging would work for the majority of lawyers. In terms of actual numbers of blogs, I’m not all that surprised where we stand at this point.

However, several things have surprised me. First, blogging has not popularized RSS feeds as much as I expected. Second, not many lawyers and firms use the content management features of blogging software to power their websites. Third, no one could have predicted how well-known and influential some legal bloggers have become and the positive influence lawyer blogs have had on the public perception of lawyers and the legal process.

I also never imagined the close friendships I’ve gained simply through being part of the network of bloggers.

Interested in hearing more? Recent LexBlog Q & A posts:

Or, see our full list of legal blog interviews.

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