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

January 9, 2008

Today our LexBlog Q & A with Dennis Kennedy continues. Part 1, in which Dennis describes his experience in the blogosphere and whether his early predictions about its future were accurate, went live yesterday.

Part 2 features three more of Dennis’ answers, where he describes the rewards blogging has brought him, the value he sees in niche blogs and more.

1. Rob La Gatta: What is the single biggest reward you’ve found in blogging, and what keeps you going at it each day?

Dennis Kennedy: Blogging is FUN. People tend to write and talk about the ROI of blogging, marketing principles, and other analytical topics. The untold secret of blogging is that it is really fun. There, I’ve told the secret.

I mentioned the biggest reward at the end of the last question. Kevin O’Keefe said to me recently that he thought that one big difference between the early days of legal blogging and now is that the early bloggers were all friends before we started blogging. That’s a common perception. However, the fact is that we did not know each other at all. We became friends because of our blogging. It’s so interesting how the perception is the reverse of what happened.

I’ve often said that the best thing about blogging is that it provided a way for the “Between Lawyers” group to be friends. That’s a fantastic group of people and now it seems like we were best friends in college or something like that. It’s a fascinating phenomenon.

I’ve often told people that I’m at an age where you don’t expect to make a lot of new close friends, but because of blogging, that is happening. If not for blogging, I wouldn’t have met Matt Homann and done the LexThink! events, or met the Rethink IP guys, or connected with a whole long list of other great people.

That makes it hard for me to think of blogging in terms of just being a vehicle for marketing. Yeah, I can trace Google ranking, media interviews, speaking gigs, the ABA Journal legal tech column I’m now writing, business opportunities, and much more directly to my blog, but the real reward to me has been the people, the opportunity to participate in the conversation, and the outlet for my writing that blogging has provided.

What keeps me blogging every day? Blogging for a long time is hard work. I’m coming up on 5 years of writing 3 – 5 posts a week (that was my original goal). That’s in addition to the regular columns I write, white papers, other articles and the book project Tom Mighell and I have just finished. That book, The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, and the opportunity to write with Tom, who I’ve always considered the most knowledgeable lawyer on the subject of blogging, would not have happened without my blog.

I will note that nothing has had the negative impact on the quantity and regularity of my posts than writing a book has. I’ll be glad to get back to regular writing on my blog.

I’ve often defined a blog as “an online newspaper or magazine column without the newspaper or magazine.” I’ve always conceived of my blog as a way to write a regular column on what interests me. I can usually find topics that interest me or potentially interest my audience. The hard part for me often is narrowing down the potential topics to the one that I want to write about. I can find potential blog posts anywhere and all day long. For example, there are several blog post ideas in this conversation. Actually writing the posts is a little harder than thinking up the posts. I keep lists of potential blog topics and I monitor a lot of RSS feeds. I’ve often thought about doing a post that listed all the posts I thought about writing but never actually wrote.

However, it’s that “everydayness” of blogging that can put pressure on you. I always advise people to think carefully about how much you can really write and what type of posts you will write. I’m considered a prolific writer, but I can’t imagine keeping up a pace of posting several times a day. Setting a goal of 3 to 5 posts a week has always worked for me. Pacing yourself at the beginning is something that you must consider.

Knowing that you have an audience that reads your post and gives you occasional feedback also helps a lot in posting regularly.

See the rest of part 2 after the jump.

2. Rob La Gatta: As the market for legal blogging has developed, we have seen an increased value placed on niche-focused blogs. How important do you believe it is for lawyers to write on a niche issue, and why?

Dennis Kennedy: Since the earliest days of websites, having a targeted content strategy with a clearly-defined target audience has been the most-recommended and most-often-successful route to take. My website goes back to 1995 (when I frantically launched it because I was afraid I had missed the whole Internet thing), when I started a site with links to estate planning resources -it’s still around.

We’ve learned that, on the Internet, people are looking for answers to their questions and help (and perhaps solutions to) the problems they have at the time they are looking. You can help them by either providing the answer to the question or pointing them to a place where they can get the answer. If you think about it, niche blogs offer you the opportunity to do both things, especially for narrowly-defined questions.

There’s no doubt that the way that Google and other search engines currently work favors blogs. A niche blog can help you get a high search engine ranking and drive a certain type of traffic to your niche blog.

There are, however, two things to keep in mind with a search engine strategy. First, is the audience you want really the audience that comes to you from searches on certain words or phrases? You need to think carefully about that. Second, most people doing searches are looking for answers to specific questions or solutions to specific problems, not marketing messages. It all still comes down to good content.

Great niche blogs choose topics not only about which the blogger is passionate, but also where there is the likelihood that the blogger can consistently find good post topics and information.

Here’s an example. I’ve long said that if I wanted to do a blog that promoted my legal practice, I would be writing the Missouri Information Technology Transactions Law Blog. I’ve thought about that, but have always wondered how I could come up with regular, fresh, helpful material for that type of blog. And, for me, I’d feel very constrained by that type of blog. At heart, I’m a writer and don’t want to be limited in what I can write about. As I said, with DennisKennedy.Blog, my possible topics are unlimited.

I’ve noticed that many longtime bloggers experience a moment about two years in where they start to write “off-topic” posts more often or even start new blogs on topics of interest.

Law is such a HUGE topic that niche blogs really do make a lot of sense. There are many benefits, but you still should understand what you want to happen with your blog, what actually might happen over the long haul, and who you really are.

If your niche blog covers something that you are passionate about, there’s a great chance it will be successful beyond anything you imagine and in ways you never thought about. If you are not passionate about the subject, readers will pick up on that and your blog will be like those twice-a-year “quarterly” newsletters that many law firms have launched and let die.

3. Rob La Gatta: If you were to meet a lawyer just starting his or her first blog, what is the one most important bit of advice you would offer them? Why?

Dennis Kennedy: Finding something that you are passionate about is one big thing.

My main advice to people is to read a lot of blogs for a while before you start. Post some comments on some blogs. Get a good feel for blogs and the conversation that is part of blogging. Then, gradually, identify what appeals to you and what doesn’t. Spend a lot more time visualizing what your blog will look like when it’s up and running, what blogs it will be like and what blogs it won’t be like than you do deciding on the blog’s name.

I also suggest writing a good number of posts in advance of your launch that you can use in case you get involved in work projects or hit a dry spell. The early law bloggers are still in awe of Sabrina Pacifici and how she wrote posts for her blog for several months before she went live – that’s discipline and professionalism. It’s no wonder her blog has been a model of excellence for so long. Not many can do that, but it’s a good idea to get at least a few posts written in advance.

Finally, I’ve written before that “blawgspace is a generous place.” Law-related bloggers, and bloggers in general, tend to be very accessible and will answer reasonable requests for advice from people who read their blogs. That does not mean requests to mention your new blog or for “reciprocal links,” but specific questions might get you more help than you can imagine. I’ve made a zillion mistakes and learned plenty of lessons with my blog – I’m happy to help people avoid some of those same mistakes, especially if they don’t mind waiting a while to get a reply to their emails.

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

Or, see our full list of legal blog interviews.

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