Rather than simply relying on attorney commentary or marketing speech, the blog is nothing short of legitimate reporting: its editorial team is comprised of two San Francisco-based professional journalists (reporter Dennis Pfaff and editor Kevin Livingston, who together bring more than 40 years of journalism experience to the table) researching stories and offering news similar to that published by traditional news sources.
Climate Law Update is an interesting glimpse at the shape legal reporting could ultimately take…and is a great example of how a large firm can use new media to their advantage. "We are both veteran journalists," says Livingston, "so it is unique that we think this is one of the coolest things we have been involved in." See our interview with both Livingston and Pfaff, which covers these issues and more, after the jump.
1. Rob La Gatta: How did the idea to get this blog off the ground come about?
I was already here at Thelen as the national manager of public relations, and Dennis was an environmental reporter for the San Francisco Daily Journal. I used to work there also; we’re both journalists. We were talking – we tend to meet at the bar once in a while – and going over some ideas on what we could do that was different in terms of really producing journalistic content from within [a law firm]. And this just evolved.
Dennis Pfaff: Yeah, I think it grew organically over months of conversation. I was a print journalist for going on 30 years. I’ve covered energy and environmental issues for the majority of my career, going back all the way to United Press International back in the ’80s, to The Detroit News, and into the legal press (which is where I spent the last 17 years).
Given the nature of print journalism, it seemed like it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see what my options might be for the remainder of my career. I had thought about doing something online for some time. Kevin and I just kept talking about this, and it basically grew out of a lot of conversations.
Kevin Livingston: It really clicked when I was in a meeting with our energy team, and they were discussing ways to market our strengths in this area of renewable energy (which we’ve been doing for about 30 years now). They were talking about a lot of the old ways of marketing, like Client Alerts and things like that. I said, "Well, wait a second, let’s do this: I have a guy who we can bring on board. He’s a professional writer, and he’s knowledgeable about the subject matter." They were pretty excited, and that clinched it.
2. Rob La Gatta: Dennis, is writing for the blog your primary job at this point?
Dennis Pfaff: Yes, it is.
2a. Rob La Gatta: I’ve seen that a lot of law blogs repackage information that’s already out there. Are you actually going out and reporting?
Kevin Livingston: That’s what differentiates us from the rest of the pack: we are doing real reporting, breaking news. We get press credentials…we’re a real publication, and we’re treated as journalists. We look at the firm as our publisher, and the site as an objective news site.
There is some of what you’re talking about; I’m scouring the Internet, looking for bits and pieces of information, and trying to put it together in some sort of comprehensive package. I try to tell something of a story everyday.
There are many disparate sources of information out there: other blogs, newspapers, that sort of thing. But they might be focused on one narrow element of [an issue], and I think one thing I bring to it is a global perspective, showing that what’s going on in Utah is kind of similar to what’s going on in California, maybe making some calls and trying to put together a real story.
Kevin Livingston: Yeah, we do interview people.
3. Rob La Gatta: Then it seems like what you’re doing is really filling a role newspapers have occupied up until this point. Do you think these types of blogs could ultimately become how people get their news (instead of traditional publications)?
Kevin Livingston: I think to a degree. I’ve talked to newspaper editors since we launched this who actually have said, "Wow, I think this could be the future." And they’re a little frightened. I don’t know; time will tell. But I hope newspapers will still be around.
Dennis Pfaff: Yeah, so do I. I’ve still got a lot of ink in my bloodstream, and I certainly would hate to think that I’m playing a part in destroying an industry that I grew up in and love.
And, a lot of what I do is dependent on reporting of newspapers. They will be out there on the ground, doing very in-depth reporting on particular issues, and a lot of times I will piggyback on that. At the moment, I don’t think there’s any replacement for that source of information. I certainly couldn’t be sitting in my office in San Francisco and knowing what was going on in the minds of legislators or the governor of Kansas without the Kansas City Star helping me out on that.
Kevin Livingston: Although I think time will tell if the medium changes. More newsrooms might just go web-based in the future; 10 years down the road, you might not see actual print newspapers. I think a lot of people predict that.
[But] I think traditional journalism will survive. We’re doing our part: we’re trying to follow the same rules and ethics and everything else that traditional journalists follow. It’s the same thing, just on a different platform.
4. Rob La Gatta: You’ve mentioned the response from some newspaper editors…but what about from other attorneys and law firms?
Kevin Livingston: It’s just anecdotal, and I haven’t heard a lot. But a lot of other PR and marketing people in the legal industry are convinced that this is a good idea. A PR guy I use in New York was meeting with a competing law firm, and they were a little upset that we did it first.
I think people might try to copy us a bit. Law firms already are pouring more money into their marketing budgets, and hiring a lot of people from the ranks of journalism to do a lot of different things (mostly PR, which is why I was hired out of the San Francisco Daily Journal). But I think you’re going to see more of this.
5. Rob La Gatta: Ideally, what do you want this to become? What is your ultimate goal with the Climate Law Update?
Kevin Livingston: The ultimate goal for me is to brand this firm as the leader in alternative energy. And I want to drive traffic to our website. I want people to look at our site and understand that we know what we’re doing, that we’re experts in this area. And ultimately, I want it to make money for this law firm.
Dennis Pfaff: Also, as the writer and reporter, I hope that it becomes a legitimate source of information for people who are interested in this subject area, and that it helps advance the dialogue on these issues. I don’t see a contradiction between assisting the law firm in getting it’s name out there and doing a legitimate journalistic job. I think the journalism and the approach that we’re taking actually adds credibility to what the firm is hoping to accomplish.
Interested in hearing more? Recent LexBlog Q & A posts:
- Anita Campbell, editor-in-chief of Small Business Trends [4.15.08]
- Steve Matthews of Stem Legal, discussing the state of the Canadian legal blogosphere [4.11.08]
- John Sirman, manager of TexasBar.com and technology editor for the Texas Bar Journal [4.10.08]
- Robert Scoble, video blogger for Fast Company.TV and author of the technology blog Scobleizer [4.8.08]
- John Bolch, UK-based family lawyer and author of the blog Family Lore [4.1.08]
Or, see our full list of legal blog interviews.