A blogging "veteran" who first launched his Texas State & Local Tax Law Blog in early 2006, Texas tax attorney Alan E. Sherman has seen the blogosphere explode in the three-plus years he’s been blogging.
Alan has a lot more company now, but his tried-and-true approach of writing useful and engaging posts about Texas state and local tax developments hasn’t varied. He views blog posts as "a very good way to get a feel for the practical implications of a new statute, case, or other legal development."
Writing about new legal developments for his blog helps Alan understand them for his practice as well.
"Sort of like virtue, blogging is its own reward, in the sense that writing a post helps me to better understand the topic," Alan says. "That, in turn, enables me to better represent my clients when they’re confronted with similar issues."
We reached out to Alan for this LexBlog Q&A to discuss why he got into blogging and how he stays inspired to post regularly.
See our e-mail exchange with Alan (after the jump).
Lisa Kennelly: Why did you decide to start a blog?
Alan Sherman: I’ve always liked to write and for several years had been thinking about creating a regular web site where I could discuss developments in my field of Texas state and local tax law. Frankly, I just never got around to it. I then heard about blogging and thought a blog would be a perfect type of web site for my purposes. After spending a lot of time researching the matter, and getting approval of my blog from the State Bar of Texas (because the Bar considers a blog a form of regulated lawyer advertising), I went “live” at the beginning of 2006.
Lisa Kennelly: Have you reasons for blogging changed since you first started?
Alan Sherman: Not really; from the beginning, I’ve tried to write interesting and useful posts about Texas state and local tax developments. Of course, the time when I established my blog was a “perfect storm” of those developments, especially at the state level. A new chief tax official, the Comptroller of Public Accounts, had just been elected, and she started her administration off with a bang by shifting administrative hearings of state tax disputes from her office to a separate state agency, the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Also, the state judiciary had recently struck down part of the state’s main business tax, the franchise tax, as being contrary to the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce clause and, in doing so, created a substantial refund opportunity for other taxpayers that had paid the unconstitutional part of the tax. Around the same time the Legislature, at the prodding of the Texas Supreme Court, also changed the field by massively revising the franchise tax into something now informally called the “Margin Tax.”
Each of those events was big news in the world of Texas taxes, but by happening more or less at once they gave me a lot to post about in the blog’s early days. Since then I’ve continued write about those and other state and local tax law developments in Texas.
Lisa Kennelly: How have you seen the blogosphere change since you first began blogging?
I’m now in my 4th year of blogging, and there are certainly more legal blogs now than when I began. Also, many of those blogs do what I try to do, namely discuss significant legal developments in an understandable way. Blog posts aren’t supposed to be law review articles, but they can be a very good way to get a feel for the practical implications of a new statute, case, or other legal development.
Lisa Kennelly: What is most rewarding about blogging? What is most challenging?
Alan Sherman: Sort of like virtue, blogging is its own reward, in the sense that writing a post helps me to better understand the topic. That, in turn, enables me to better represent my clients when they’re confronted with similar issues. As to challenges, the biggest one right now is finding interesting developments to discuss. I check the web sites of the key Texas government bodies several times a day as part of my tax law practice, and I always have one eye out for something worthy of a post on the blog. Some days are better than others in that regard.
What has been the response to your blog from clients, other lawyers, bloggers, or anyone else?
I’ve been pleased with the response. Because my blog is broadly aimed at tax professionals, a lot of my readers aren’t in law firms at all (although I’m sure many have law degrees). For instance, I can tell from the domain names of those who visit the site that I get a lot of traffic from public accounting firms and industry tax personnel. That’s also been confirmed when I’ve attended professional meetings and strangers have come up to me and told me that they regularly read the blog.
Lisa Kennelly: What do you do when you get "writer’s block" and how do you get inspired for your blog posts?
Alan Sherman: I don’t get writer’s block very often, but when I do I just get up from the computer, do something else, maybe get a good night’s sleep, and come back later. A reasonable “time out” from writing a post is usually a good way to deal with uncertainty as to what I want to say.
As far as inspiration goes, that depends on what I’m trying to discuss. Something that’s really big news – like that court decision where the Commerce Clause was applied to strike down part of the franchise tax – doesn’t need much inspiration for the words to flow. On the other hand, for less exciting developments I try to imagine how the case, the statute, administrative rule, and so forth might be used to assess a tax or defend against an assessment. I have a lot of experience handling Texas tax controversies, so that approach has worked out well to this point.
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