Virginia attorney Jay O'KeeffeVirginia attorney Jay O’Keeffe is a self-described "kid in a candy store" when it comes to appellate litigation, and his passion for that type of work comes through in his blog posts on De Novo: A Virginia Appellate Law Blog.

At the encouragement of professional development coach Cordell Parvin (also a member of the LexBlog Network, who blogs at Law Consulting Blog), Jay started his blog to build the visibility of his practice, keep up on appellate developments and get some writing practice.

While he hasn’t (yet) gotten anyone else at his firm, Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore, to join him in the blogosphere, he’s built and solidified relationships with thought leaders and influencers in his own field and beyond.

"My potential clients and referral sources follow those sources closely," Jay says. "Blogging has let me join the conversation, but at my own speed."

We reached out to Jay for this LexBlog Q&A to find out more about what he’s learned about social media and what kind of work he does in his "day job."

See our email exchange with Jay, after the jump.

Lisa Kennelly: Briefly, describe your practice and the type of clients with whom you work.

Jay O’Keeffe: That’s easier said than done. I split my time between business and appellate litigation. At Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore, our core client group is made up of closely held companies and medium-to-high net worth individuals. On the business litigation side, I help those folks out with commercial disputes. When I joke about my “day job” on the blog, that’s what I’m talking about.

The other half of my practice deals with appeals, and they come from almost anywhere. This is the work that I really love, and I am very, very lucky—the way our firm is set up, I’m like a kid in a candy store when it comes to appellate work.

Much of our appellate group’s work comes from in house, either defending or challenging trial court judgments. On those appeals, our clients reflect Gentry Locke’s overall client base. Our firm has a plaintiff’s practice that tries a high number of cases, so many of our appeals come from them. We also accept cases on appeal that were handled below by trial lawyers outside the firm. These cases cover a huge variety of subject areas. They are generally sent our way by very good trial lawyers in our referral network who work at smaller firms. The referring lawyers generally are not interested in handling their own appeals and/or don’t have the time or dedicated in-house capability to do so.

Lisa Kennelly: Why did you decide to start a blog?

Jay O’Keeffe: Our firm has been working with Cordell Parvin, a professional development coach. He suggested blogging to me. As Cordell explained it, blogging would help me build the visibility of my practice, while forcing me to keep up on appellate developments and giving me loads of writing practice. That all turned out to be true. What he didn’t mention—though I quickly learned—is that it’s also really a lot of fun.

Lisa Kennelly: What has been the reaction to your blog from lawyers, clients or anyone else?

Jay O’Keeffe: Overwhelmingly positive. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The blog’s site design looks great. I get LexBlog gets a lot of compliments on the optics, and first impressions count.
  • Because of the nature of appellate work, a lot of my “clients” and referral sources are other lawyers. Writing De Novo has put me in touch with lawyers across the state who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and it allows me to keep in touch with classmates and colleagues from my old firm.
  • Blogging also has put me in touch or solidified my relationships with “influencers” like Peter Vieth at Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly, and Steve Emmert, who maintains a website called Virginia Appellate News and Analysis. My potential clients and referral sources follow those sources closely. Blogging has let me join the conversation, but at my own speed.
  • I am starting to get business from the blog—not exactly a deluge (yet), but I really did not expect to generate much of anything for at least another 6-12 months.
  • Finally, blogging has taught me to use other social media more effectively. This has definitely helped my networking efforts. I’ve also become the social media guinea pig at our firm, and I’ve been trying to get more of my colleagues on board.

My biggest disappointment with blogging is only that I haven’t been able to convince more of my colleagues to get involved.

Lisa Kennelly: You mentioned meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise have because of the blog – what kind of people, and do you have any anecdotes about that?

Jay O’Keeffe: This summer, I had a good result in construction appeal, Dunn Construction Co. v. Cloney. The blog put me in touch with construction lawyers, like Tim Hughes in Northern Virginia who runs the Virginia Real Estate, Land Use & Construction Law Blog and Chris Hill in Richmond who does Construction Law Musings. They’re great guys. I probably never would have met them without the blog. Now I read their blogs on RSS and follow them on Twitter, and they drop by De Novo and comment on my posts. Chris even gave me the opportunity to do a guest post on Musings. I can’t wait to get a chance to work with them.

Lisa Kennelly: You mentioned convincing some others at your team to get more involved in social media. What has been your "pitch" about social media, and what has been the response of those at your firm?

Jay O’Keeffe: My “pitch” definitely needs some work. I basically try to lure people into my office and show them what I am doing on the blog, iGoogle (including Google reader and Google Alerts), and Twitter, then suggest that they check it out. Social media provides a tremendously valuable and efficient information source; I check Google Reader and tweet about interesting stuff almost every morning.

On social media generally, our firm has been receptive but cautious—and understandably so. I’ve received wonderful support for De Novo, and the firm has provided in-house training on using LinkedIn. Institutionally, we are very sensitive to the potential ethical issues involved in social media. I think we have to be at the moment, given the absence of definitive guidance from the state bar.

Right now, the Roanoke market is at a stage where our most of clients (or their decision-makers) may not necessarily be using social media, but I’m pretty sure that their direct reports and other influencers are. 

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