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Published by Kevin O'Keefe, CEO & Founder of LexBlog

Big law firms don’t blog well? Says who?

December 4, 2009

I wonder what people would think if I started offering insight and commentary on legal issues relating to the pharmaceutical industry?

I take tylenol and ibuprofen from time to time. I’ve even been prescribed antibiotics for pneumonia on two occasions. And anyone checking with Vern’s Winslow Drug on Bainbridge Island would find my 5 kids have consumed a lot of prescription drugs for which I’ve paid a ton in co-pay.

I could offer opinions on which drugs are effective, which ones are not. How we could move more and better drugs through the FDA. Maybe get into IP issues as they relate to drugs.

But my VP of Client Development, and others on my executive team, may start to question my judgment. Why would someone who’s developed some expertise on Internet marketing for law firms, particularly as to blogging and social media, and who knows little about the pharmaceutical industry start to opine on such things. Why would a guy with a six year old blog about law firm marketing, blogs, Web 2.0 and a little baseball start talking about drug and device law?

They’d be probably be right. I couldn’t expect folks to view me as a much of an authority on the subject.

But it’s never stopped Mark Herrmann, a leading defense lawyer at Jones Day, with a particular expertise in pharmaceutical claims, from offering commentary on the effectiveness of law blogs on his Drug and Device Law Blog (excellent blog on that subject). Wilder yet, lawyers and even the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, have cited Hermann’s commentary on the subject for the proposition that law blogs don’t work well for client development..

The latest is Hermann’s commentary on Why Big Firms Don’t Blog Well. And why don’t large law firms blog well, per Herrmann? Because lawyers in large law firms aren’t funny enough.

Be funny! Be provocative! Do something that will draw readers in.

That’s the key for many successful blogs, such as Simple Justice. It’s not a first source of news. It’s not breathtakingly intelligent (although it’s not bad on that score — don’t take offense, Scott). But it has a voice. It’s funny, and it can be thought-provoking.

Hermann proposes three hypotheses why large law firms don’t succeed. Here’s the first two.

1. Most lawyers at big firms are not funny.

That may be true of many lawyers at big firms (although it hasn’t stopped us). But it’s surely not true of all. So some lawyers at big firms could write blogs in an engaging voice.

2. Lawyers at big firms are trained not to be funny in writing.

Now we’re on to something. Opinion letters are not funny. They may do a fine job of analyzing issues and protecting the firm from allegations of malpractice, but they’re not funny.

And briefs are generally not funny. (At least not intentionally so.) Briefs present the legal issues in a persuasive and intelligent way, and they give proper dignity to the occasion of a legal dispute. They’re written in formal prose, with no room for contractions, the first person, or colloquialisms.

Briefs also avoid humor, and for good reason: Humor runs a risk. If you say something cute in a brief and the judge appreciates it, you might earn yourself a smile. And maybe some good will. But you’re unlikely to win the motion on the basis of personality.

On the other hand, if you say something cute and the judge finds it to be offensive, you may have done your client a world of harm. So most lawyers appropriately use humor only very sparingly in briefs.

Perhaps years of brief-writing beats the humor out of lawyers.

The fact is there are some great large law firm blogs written by lawyers who’ve experienced practice and client development success through blogging. Here’s just a few from the LexBlog Network:

  • Francis Pileggi of Fox Rothschild, publisher of the Delaware Corporate and Commercial Litigation Blog. Pileggi, the “dean of Delaware law bloggers” has been blogging for several years now, and receives regular accolades from other attorneys, judges, and members of the media. See more in our Q&A with him about his blogging experience.
  • J. Russell Jackson of Skadden Arps, publisher of the Consumer Class Actions and Mass Torts. Jackson posts regularly and insightfully about complex class actions and mass torts – he actually started blogging because Herrmann encouraged him to. See our Q&A with him.
  • Ken Odza of Stoel Rives, one of the publishers of the Food Liability Law Blog Odza and his team constantly provide updates, commentary and analysis – not dull law review type posts or simple aggregation. Says being part of a large firm is actually beneficial because he has a larger body of knowledge and attorneys to draw from. See our Q&A with him.
  • Joseph Rosenbaum of Reed Smith, publisher of Legal Bytes, blogs about developments in law, marketing, and technology. Rosenbaum says having a blog at a large firm has helped internal firm communication and helps them serve clients better. See our Q&A with him.

Hermann’s a nice guy I’ve enjoyed a beer with. I’ve described him as a little quirky, Woody Allen like (in a good way), when asked about him by our team here. But being a funny guy on your blog is not a prerequisite to publishing a good blog as a lawyer in a large law firm.

And when deciding who to take seriously on whether large law firm blogs can be a client and practice development success, please look at the source.

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