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J. Daniel Hull of What About Clients? [LexBlog Q & A]

February 20, 2008

We continue with the LexBlog Q & A today, bringing another guest – J. Daniel Hull – into the hotseat. Dan is a California-based partner at Hull McGuire PC and author of the legal blog, What About Clients?, where he sheds light on client service issues through an international lens.

In a phone interview conducted last week, we spoke about the role blogging plays in his business, where he sees the legal blogosphere going and more. Dan is not one to beat around the bush or sugarcoat his opinions, which makes this interview – found after the jump – a worthwhile read.

1. Rob La Gatta: Why do you blog?

Dan Hull: To trade ideas about client service; to trade ideas about boutique law firms doing work for Fortune 500 companies; and to increase awareness of lawyers working together all over the world as the global economy expands. Those three things.

Somebody asked me once, “Why do you share your ideas on client service if they’re so good?” It’s a really easy answer: even if people knew what client service was, they can’t discipline themselves to do it. Everybody’s bad at client service; some people know what to do – lawyers probably know the least – but they can’t do it.

Practicing law is really hard. And thinking about the client service and delivery aspects while you’re doing it is even harder. That’s why we share the ideas. We can give you every one of these “secrets”, and lawyers just can’t or won’t do them. They’ll do it for a week, and then they’re like a little kid with a toy. They can’t stay with it. Client service is not easy.

2. Rob La Gatta: Are you the only person who posts on the site, using both your name and the alias “Holden Oliver”? Or do you have assistance?

Dan Hull: Holden Oliver is another person; he’s actually a student and ex-newspaper reporter who lives on the West Coast. So no, Holden’s not my alter ego. Sure, I have help. Tom Welshonce and Brooke Powell also post from time to time.

I don’t have time to do as much with the blog as we’d like; I spend a lot of time with it on Saturdays, but I really do need to limit my time, because my real boss is a timesheet. Blogging has to be a minor part of what we do as a firm.

We don’t blog to get clients; we would be shocked if we got a good client that way. I think its different for other firms. If I had a practice that was personal injury-related, or geared to small business, I would try to get clients by blogging. But it’s clearly not what we’re about. We’re not pitching to people who have mom and pop business problems…we’re trying to compete with the largest law firms in the world.

I do know of one in-house counsel of one of our clients who looks at law blogs regularly. But he’s 28 years old. So it’s a generational thing, and it’s changing.

3. Rob La Gatta: So do you think that as the generation gap closes, the industry you work in will change to be more blog-focused?

Dan Hull: Absolutely. Business people like Kevin O’Keefe promoting blogs for lawyers are on target. But I think it will take a while. Of the general counsel and in-house people – people in the larger American and European companies who have power to hire you – very few of them are looking at blogs right now. They’re 45 years old and older.

I think it will change, but I don’t think it’s changing very quickly – and I think it’s a mistake for people to assume that it is. Most GCs I know aren’t looking at blogs. They’re just not. I know there are those that disagree. But I don’t see it.

4. Rob La Gatta: When you write, you use a casual tone and don’t necessarily only focus on specific issues…you go into politics and other matters. Do you worry that that could have an impact on your professional reputation, or do you think that people can distinguish your abilities as a professional versus what you write about?

Dan Hull: No…I wouldn’t want to have a client that wouldn’t want Hull McGuire because of Dan Hull’s political views. Good clients don’t think that way. And if you look at the political posts, most of them are informational or humorous or both. I happen to be a Democrat, but I’m the only Democrat in my firm. I also worked on Capitol Hill for a number of years, both for Republicans and Democrats, and all our clients know that and even hire us for that. They think of us as lawyers.

There are a couple of things going on with regards to that: one, my clients aren’t reading blogs; and two, if they are and they’re offended by the fact that I have political views, I would be surprised, because I don’t think we have any clients that small-minded. They are a worldly and informal lot.

5. Rob La Gatta: What do you know now about blogging that you wish you knew when you first got into it?

Dan Hull: I’m surprised it became as popular as it did. Because my firm’s not about blogging; we’re about serving high-end clients. And if we had to make a choice, we’d drop the blog in a flash. Our clients aren’t reading it and going, “Oh yay, you love clients.” They don’t care. And they shouldn’t care…they should want us to work hard. I’m pleasantly surprised that the blog is popular, that we’re able to turn out a good product, and that it hasn’t hurt our law practice.

I do wish bloggers would go out and meet more with real human beings and they are starting to do that by having more conferences. More face-to-face is needed. But I am so amazed by some people who sit there on their own and have all this time to blog; some of these guys blog so much, their clients must think they have nothing to do.

We’ve never let the law practice or our clients take a backseat to the blog. Blogging is not the main event; blogging is just one window to the world and a tool, like a website or a brochure. Everybody’s been running around saying, “Gee, I need a blog.” But it’s just not that big a deal. You can still do well without one. I just think it’s fun and stimulating.

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

Or, see our full list of legal blog interviews.

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