Ed Poll of LawBiz Management [LexBlog Q & A]

The steady stream of LexBlog Q & A interviews continues on this Friday. Our end-of-week guest? LexBlog client Ed Poll.

Ed is a law firm management consultant who runs LawBiz Management and operates the company’s LawBiz Blog. With 25 years practicing law and 14 years of consulting experience under his belt, Ed also writes for a series of legal publications, and has taught at universities including UCLA and University of Michigan.

1. Rob La Gatta: When was it that you started blogging, and what got you interested in it in the first place?

Ed Poll: I saw a number of folks blogging, and as a consultant I decided I needed to be at the forefront and understand the technology. Not that I needed to be at the leading edge, but I certainly had to be aware of it…and I had to be at a leading edge in order to be credible for my clients.

I [also] found a number of benefits from doing it, which were unintended consequences of my blogging. Sometimes I find it very creative, sometimes I find it a chore, and sometimes it’s so much of a chore that I don’t do it as often as I might. But Kevin seems to think I do it enough in order to maintain my status.

2. Rob La Gatta: Do you think that regulations imposed by state bar associations – such as the state bar of New York, which you wrote about in November – will ultimately become a thing of the past? Or should lawyers expect these to remain for the foreseeable future?

Ed Poll: That’s an interesting question, because it’s not just a question of blogging. The state bar associations like in New York or Florida or even Texas: the issue for them is not the blogging…the issue is what the blogging represents. For them, blogging represents not a [form of] communication by itself, but advertising. And they’re probably looking at blogging in a multi-faceted perspective. The [first facet] is advertising, which these particular bars seek to regulate. Whether that regulation is appropriate or not is a separate question; whether it violates a state’s decision or the Constitution is a separate question. But they seek to regulate advertising, and they see this as advertising.

The other [facet] is that they may look at this as communication to people who are not clients, and therefore there may be an attorney/client relationship created. And of course, that’s problematic from their perspective. There’s no engagement agreement, which is required; there’s no agreement to pay money, to exchange funds from one side to the other; and clearly, the question will arise in some instances whether there’s any malpractice being committed (for which the attorney/blogger is responsible). So I think there’s more than one avenue that causes the bar associations some concern.

3. Rob La Gatta: From a law firm management standpoint, what is the biggest reward you’ve seen from blogging?

Well, you have to understand that I’m not a practicing lawyer, so my perspective is a little different. I find it important to blog because it enables me to have a voice, and communicate to the legal community that believes my voice has some merit what my position is on a number of issues. […] It gives me an opportunity to have a voice and, hopefully as a consequence, some influence. It also forces me to pay attention and be more informed [and] more intelligent on the issues, whether I blog about them or not. It keeps me current with what’s happening in the legal community.

[Also], a number of my posts are good enough that we can take either the entire post or the idea and use it for an article that gets published in one or more of several places: my electronic newsletter, LawBiz Tips, or a weekly column that I write for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, or one of several publications that I write an article for on a monthly basis. Then, ultimately – if we can put together enough good posts and enough good ideas – that may work itself out to be either a special report, a book or something of interest to a prospective client.

4. Rob La Gatta: What do you think is in store for the legal blogosphere in 2008…got any predictions?

Ed Poll: I don’t see blogs going away, no matter how hard the bar associations seek to regulate it. When you’ve got the ABA Journal listing [their] top 100 blogs – one of which is ours, I’m pleased to say – that gives it an aura of respectability and credibility.

[It’s] like with the Internet…how do you regulate the Internet? I mean, a number of people have tried, but nobody’s succeeded.

Yesterday, Dr. Phil on television had a congressman who had introduced legislation to regulate YouTube and MySpace postings. [Phil] had the mother of a kid who committed suicide because of what he was calling “cyber bullying,” and then he had a First Amendment lawyer, on this panel of three people. The lawyer said, “You’ve got to be careful, because you’re getting into free speech. That’s a right…that’s not a privilege. And so you’ve got to be careful how you draw the legislation.”

I think that’s what happened with the state bar, when it tried to regulate blogs as advertising. You’ve got to draw those lines very narrowly. So in 2008, I don’t see it going away…I see it only expanding. And the more people talk about the benefits that come to them for practice development as result of a blog, the more others are going to get into it.

5. Rob La Gatta: If you were to offer one bit of advice to a lawyer just starting his or her first blog, what would it be and why?

Ed Poll: A couple of things.

One, get professional help. I don’t think that this is a hobby; I think that this is part of your business, and as such, you ought not to do the mechanics of creating the blog. Yes, you could do it. But this is not like gardening in the back yard – this is professional; you guys [at LexBlog] are skilled at it, [and] there are others that are skilled at it. Business it is, and you ought to work with somebody whose business it is to start [your blog].

I suppose I could go on and create a website, but that’s not something I’m going to do. I’m not a computer techie [or] a webmaster, and that’s not where I want to spend my time…I want to spend my time doing what I do best, which is what nobody else can do. In my case, it happens to be coaching and consulting. Everything else can – and should be, in my opinion – handled by somebody else.

The second thing I would say is don’t go into it unless you’re serious. Again, this is a business. It’s not a hobby. I would not encourage, as I know some people do, to post personal thoughts or a journal of your travels across the universe. If you want to do a personal journal and you send it to your friends, that’s fine. But that’s not what blogging in our context of this conversation is all about.

I [also] think you have to be prepared to go in there and blog once or twice a week, or at least on a regular basis, so that people begin to look for your commentary [and] so you begin to establish your credibility. There’s one blog – I think it’s SCOTUSblog – where the guy goes in and talks about U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In one case, so I’m told, he posted a review of a Supreme Court decision the morning it came out, and he highlighted the fact that the opinion writer made an error in one of the footnotes. The error was caught that day as a result of his blog post and corrected. That’s power. And that’s what you want to look for.

So again, unless you’re serious about this, I would suggest that you save your time and you save your money and do something else more productive for yourself.

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