On Wednesday, we ran the first part of our email exchange with legal writer and ghostwriter Janet Ellen Raasch, who blogs at Constant Content. This post features the rest of our interview, in which Janet talks about how her background in journalism helps her blog, and how important it is for lawyers to self-publish and control their online presence.
"In the age of social media," Janet says, "an attorney’s reputation as a thought leader in a given area of the law equals the results of a Google search for his or her name."
See the second part of our email exchange with Janet (after the jump).
Lisa Kennelly: How do your experience and skills as a writer and journalist translate to blogging? How much can you apply and what do you have to learn that’s new?
Janet Ellen Raasch: I have a graduate degree in journalism and also taught journalism, persuasive writing and graphic design at the university level – before starting my career as a freelance writer. The first year I taught was the first year the journalism program replaced its typewriters with computers. As instructors, we had to learn the new technology ourselves just one week before teaching it in the classroom!
The computer – with word processing and graphic design software – revolutionized the process behind journalism and publishing. The advent of the Internet contributed the ability for traditional publishers (like news media and law firms) to post content not only in print, but online as well. The advent of Web 2.0 (including blogs) added the ability for anyone to be a publisher and join the online conversation.
Not so long ago, journalists and publishers produced and controlled the agenda. Today, citizen journalists and social media control the agenda. Like Marshall McLuhan said so long ago, the medium continues to be the message – journalism is still journalism.
Many elements translate from print to blog. Headlines are extremely important. Just like readers skim the headlines in a newspaper, bloggers skim the headlines in their aggregators (which are de facto customized newspapers) before deciding what to click on and read. A blog’s headlines must clearly indicate the content of a post.
In print, a good news story has short, active sentences and short paragraphs; so does a good blog post. A good news story uses a lot of subheads to help the reader skim; so does a good blog post. A good news story provides enough information to substantiate its claims; so does a good blog post (generally using links to source material).
Some things are distinctly different. A good blog post is generally much shorter than a news story. It uses no more than 300 words to intrigue the reader – and then links to supplemental information rather than including it in the body of the post. It is usually more conversational in tone.
A blogger also needs to think about keywords and use them strategically (but artfully) in the body of the post. This can take some getting used to. In the old days of print, I would ask a client to decide on “lawyer” or “attorney” – so I could be consistent. Since there is no way of knowing which term an online searcher might be using, I will intentionally use both in online content. Consistency is sacrificed on the altar of searchability.
Lisa Kennelly: How do you think lawyers can benefit from blogging and social networking? What do you tell clients who are hesitant about getting involved online?
Janet Ellen Raasch: In the age of social media, an attorney’s reputation as a thought leader in a given area of the law equals the results of a Google search for his or her name. It is the very first thing a potential client will do before deciding whether or not to make the contact. A lawyer or consultant must own that first page of results and make sure it supports his or her marketing position and message.
The best way for attorneys to attract search engines and control their first page of results is to post a constant stream of content online with RSS feeds – which basically means posting content to social media.
A simple way to get started is to publish a professional profile on the wide variety of free, RSS-enhanced social Web sites that accept user-generated content. These include free social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, which are so well-enhanced that they will show up higher in a search than the bio on a law firm Web site. In addition, a Google search will likely turn up a range of directory sites like AVVO that post your name – but no content. You should flesh out any sites that persist on your first page of results with a robust profile.
Attorneys can also post bios/profiles as well as content – articles, work product and even presentations – on existing dedicated legal content sites like Legal OnRamp and JDSupra. Lawyers can post content to well-known national news sites that eagerly solicit and feature user-contributed content (like iReport on CNN.com) as well as their local and legal counterparts. They can post pictures to photo sites, videos to YouTube and content to wikis. They can comment on the blogs of well-read experts in a target market.
Finally, attorneys can take complete control of their professional careers by self-publishing. They can do this on existing Web sites by making sure each page is fitted (or retrofitted) with an RSS feed. Even better, they can blog. Because blogs are built on RSS technology, they are one of the very best ways for attorneys to self-publish and build a forceful and impressive online reputation.
For a wide range of articles on how lawyers and consultants to the legal industry have used RSS feeds and blogs to grow their professional reputations and enhance Google results, see my articles. One of the best examples of this approach is Tom Goldstein, who used his popular SCOTUSblog to progress from practicing law from his laundry room at home to head of the Supreme Court practice at Akin Gump in a little more than ten years. He is not yet 40. A blog can be a very powerful tool.
Interested in hearing more? Recent LexBlog Q & A posts:
- Chris Cheatham of Green Building Law Update [1.14.09]
- Rex Gradeless (@Rex7) of Social Media Law Student [1.13.09]
- Neil Squillante, publisher of TechnoLawyer [5.23.08]
- Bill Pollak, legal published pro and CEO of ALM [4.25.08]
Or, see our full list of legal blog interviews.