Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, Kevin O’Keefe is Founder and CEO of Seattle based, LexBlog, Inc., which is building the world’s largest and most comprehensive legal news and information network by drawing on the contributions of legal bloggers worldwide. @kevinokeefe, kevin@lexblog.com, 206-321-3627

Will you be attending ILTACON in D.C. next week? Are you running a legal tech startup company that you founded? I’d like to interview you as part of LexBlog’s coverage of ILTACON.

More than technology, new funding, customers and products, the interesting stuff (for me) about a legal tech company is the story of how the company got started and, assuming it’s been going for a while, how it’s survived where others have failed.

ILTACON, held annually by the International Legal Technology Association, is one of the leading legal tech conferences. Traditionally, the focus is large law, in-house law and the technology companies serving such organizations.

This year, ILTA is looking to foster innovation for the Legal IT community by shining a light on legal tech startups and emerging growth companies. One way it’s doing so is a Startup Hub where eight of the over twenty five companies who applied will be exhibiting and doing education sessions.

Taking things a step further, LexBlog would like to shine a light on legal tech startups and emerging growth companies – and their founders.

We’ll do it by Facebook Live interviews which will also be posted to YouTube and transcribed and posted, with the accompanying video, on LexBlog. The videos will be also shared on other social media.

Nothing to prepare for. Five to ten minute interview to get the gist of your story.

  • Who started the company?
  • When?
  • Why? What was the problem you saw that you solved?
  • How did you fund the start? Did you bootstrap?
  • How long after the start did it take to have customers?
  • When do you think you had it made — ar at least thought you would make it?
  • What was the low point?
  • What’s been most rewarding about founding a company?
  • What would you tell other potential legaltech founders?

You may reach me via email , text/call (206-321-3627) or social media.

See you at ILTACON.

Law blogs published by practicing lawyers, particularly blogs published on niches, improve people’s access to legal services.

“People” refers to any and all of us — consumers, small business people, executive directors, corporate executives and in-house counsel.

I’ve never talked with a lawyer publishing a good law blog who hasn’t found that many of the people who contact her or him felt more comfortable doing so because of the lawyer’s blog.

Makes all the sense in the world.

Imagine looking for doctor in a speciality for a relative in anther city. Google the city and the speciality. You’re apt to get hospital and clinic websites done by marketing people.

Areas of Expertise: Dr. B’s expertise includes clinical cardiology, interventional cardiology, echocardiography and nuclear cardiology.
Special Interests: Dr. B has special interest in coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease.
Personal Information: Dr. B enjoys literature, arts and the outdoors.

Really, I am supposed to make a decision on a doctor based on that info or maybe by calling another doctor who will say Dr. B is a good guy and does a nice job in surgery.

Now imagine a doctor who blogged, maybe on their approach to working with patients or on topics advancing the treatment of coronary heart disease by referencing the writings of other doctors in the field, nation and world-wide.

Imagine that doctor’s blog posts being cited by doctors and shared on social media. It happens, even in the most complicated fields.

What do you know in your search for a doctor? This doctor stays up to speed in their field, they’re widely respected by peers, they are a giving person – not only to the medical profession, but to patents and the public.

Who do you trust? Who is more approachable?

It’s the same with lawyers. Imagine a family law lawyer in Springfield, Illinois blogging about domestic abuse issues.

She shares experiences, without blowing confidences. She shares information about the resources and organizations that a battered spouse kicked out of the family home with children and no money can turn to.

A victim in Springfield can Google “domestic abuse,” without even including Springfield, and retrieve the lawyer’s blog at the top of the search results.

More importantly than the information and blog posts on the lawyer’s blog is the immediate trust the victim develops in the lawyer. An intimate level of trust without ever having met the lawyer or being told anything about the lawyer.

And what is the victim apt to do? Call the lawyer. Amazing in a day when people have legal needs the last thing they would do is call a lawyer. It’s obvious why. People just don’t trust lawyers.

Lawyer profiles on law firm websites are just as bad as that doc’s profile. They tell us nothing about the lawyer from which we trust the lawyer enough to call them. We’ll call them only as a last resort.

We’re not talking about just consumers getting access to legal services via blogs. There isn’t an in-house counsel at Starbucks, Microsoft, Amazon, Google or Facebook who dosesn’t come to trust the insight and information on niche focused law blogs published by practicing lawyers.

Blogs that develop trust in the lawyer and result in the hiring of lawyers, whether done via the blog itself, seeing the lawyer speak at a conference, or having the lawyer referred because of their growing name.

Access to legal services, by its definition requires identifying a lawyer who knows what they’re doing in the area in which you have a need. Calling a buddy (even a lawyer), business colleague, relative or friend is no assurance you’ll get such a lawyer.

In the last decade while organizations and associations have studied the access to legal services problem — and while people are seeking legal services from other than lawyers — we’ve grown from a nation of hundreds of legal bloggers to a nation of thousands of legal bloggers.

We have a long way to go, but law blogs are improving people’s access to legal services — and access to skilled lawyers.

I was reminded by a Facebook post from technologist and the founder of blogging, Dave Winer, that law blogs need to be hosted for perpetuity.

Here’s something basic. If you host blogs, you have an ethical obligation to try to keep the archive online for perpetuity. This allows for bankruptcy or acts of war or god, and mortality, but if you’re not committed to best efforts, then don’t host.

If blogs are not archived and made available for reading forever, we’ve lost someone’s insight and commentary. The links to such a blog’s posts would be lost. Citations to such a blog would be meaningless.

Imagine if we threw away all the law journal/review articles and legal treatises when the author stopped writing or passed. We got their works off the library shelves and tossed them into the dumpster.

Every citation to their works in briefs, court decisions (trial and appellate), briefs, and other journals and treatises would be “dead.”

At first glance, you may think, “So what, someone stops legal blogging or passes, their law blog goes away. Who needs it for posterity sake, other than maybe their relatives?”

We also have a ton of junk and marginal copy out their in the form of law blogs.

Law blogs, once exclusively lawyers reporting on legal developments and exchanging insight and comments to advance legal dialogue, have become the home of many “content marketers.” Rather than legal commentary and news, we have marketers and PR people penning content for lawyers merely to garner search engine rankings and website traffic.

But at the end of the day, we have a ton of good legal insight and commentary being penned by thousands of legal professionals, world-wide. It’s coming on just about every legal topic under the sun, certainly more topics are being covered than in the days before publishing was democratized by blogging.

The blog posts are directed to consumers, business people, in-house counsel, practicing lawyers, judges, law porofessors, law students, law librarians, legal industry suppliers and legal innovators and entrepreneurs.

These posts are regularly cited by other bloggers, mainstream publishers and presenters.

Perhaps more significantly these posts are cited by courts and lawyers in submissions to the court. Not as primary law, but as secondary law, just as law reviews, journals and treatises are cited. Blogs, for that matter, are replacing law reviews and law journals altogether.

Beyond citations by courts and to courts, we need a history of legal news and commentary to search and call upon in our work to advance the law. The history cannot be tossed.

Perpetual hosting may be done by government or quasi-governmental bodies, such as libraries. I believe the Library of Congress already archives a good number of law blogs.

Private companies, such as LexBlog, with business models, in part supported by archiving and syndicating legal blogs are a good possibility as well. We are in the process of archiving and syndicating legal blogs penned by close to 20,000 legal professionals. I don’t see us tossing blog posts.

Hosting costs, not insignificant, are certainly decreasing.

Winer’s right. Blogs need to be archived online for perpetuity.

Facebook will cede its runner-up position in website traffic to YouTube in the next couple of months, according to a new study shared with CNBC by market research firm SimilarWeb.

From CNBC:

The five websites receiving the most traffic in the U.S. in the last several years have been Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo and Amazon, in that order. However, Facebook has seen a severe decline in monthly page visits, from 8.5 billion to 4.7 billion in the last two years, according to the study. Although Facebook’s app traffic has grown, it is not enough to make up for that loss, the study said.

The Facebook drop is pretty apparaent when charted. 

Facebook has been growing in plenty of markets abroad and Facebook users are now spending more time on other Facebook owned platforms, including Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

YouTube is growing, in part, because of increased use on platforms like Chromecast and Smart TVs.

Facebook’s slide doesn’t matter to lawyers — at least those lawyers who grow their business by nurturing relationships and building a name.

Facebook is where more people engage more people than anywhere – online or offline. YouTube is great, but’s a democratized broadcasting platform. Broadcasting is a far cry from listening/reading and commenting in response.

Facebook is a conversation among business colleagues, friends, relatives, and community members. It’s where we hear of a customer’s wedding anniversary celebration and a business partner’s oldest child graduating from college. It’s where we receive news and commentary on a recent legal or business development — and join in the ensuing discussion.

Just yesterday Daniel Rodriguez shared (not announced) on Facebook that with his role complete as Dean at Northwestern Law School he will be headed to Stanford Law School for the fall semester. Likes and comments congratulating him and welcoming him to California ensued from colleagues and friends.

Rodriguez wouldn’t think of leaving the professional and personal interaction with people on Facebook anymore than he would think of leaving Twitter, where he is a force of nature in driving discussuion among innovators in the law, world-wide.

For lawyers and other professionals using Facebook, the discussion only gets richer as we connect and engage to get to know people better, to learn and to build a reputation.

Sure there are those who fear Facebook. They’ll look at the news of Facebook’s website traffic decline as validation that Facebook is evil or a waste of time.

It doesn’t matter to the increasing number of legal professionals who see the growing value of Facebook.

As a legal professional you have multiple places to publish today — Medium, LinkedIn, Forbes, Bloomberg, Above the Law, and many others. But the best place to publish, bar none, is on your own site on your own domain.

Sonia Simone, co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Rainmaker Digital, a widely respected digital marketing provider shared a ten step content marketing checklist this morning.

Number one on her list, “Don’t build on rented land.”

Before you create a single piece of content, Simones advises that you think about where that content will live and how audiences will get to it. Effective online publishing takes too much time and effort to do otherwise.

Nearly all of the content you create needs to live on a domain you control, using a platform you can do as you please with.

That means you’re not publishing the bulk of your original creative content on LinkedIn or Medium. (You can still get the excellent benefits of those platforms by syndicating your content there after you’ve published on your own site.)

And you’re not publishing on a “website in 20 minutes” solution that forces you to use someone else’s domain.

If your domain isn’t www.YourWebsiteName.com, you don’t own your platform.

If you can’t publish what you please, with the wording, sales messages, and images you please, you don’t own your platform.

99 times out of 100 the right solution is a self-hosted WordPress site, per Simone.

Self-hosted meaning your site being hosted by a managed WordPress platform. She’s biased toward StudioPress and me, LexBlog – both of us using WP Engine as our core managed host.

Of course you can use social media to deliver your content to where people congregate and for purposes off engagiung them.

From Simone.

You can absolutely use social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to nurture customer relationships and get the word out about the content you create. They can work beautifully for both purposes. But don’t build your entire business there — it’s a dangerous mistake that can end up costing you hours (or years) of lost work.

Content syndication is only to increase in the years to come. Five years ago everyone held on like grim death to the notion that everything they wrote had to be read only on their site. No more, people are reading content all over – and lawyers are publishing to grow a reputaton and nurture relationships, not to grow web traffic.

Building on rented land raises any number of problems, not the least of which is that the land owner has a different business model than you. They can change the way they do business and change what content gets emphasized in a New York minute. In a worst case, you cant’t easily get your content off their land when you have to.

Don’t fall prey to I’ll get a lot of traffic and lots of people will see me if I publish on rented land.

Blogging is all about reaching the right audience and engaging them, not traffic for the sake of traffic. Strategic and effective blogging on your own site will get you the audience you are looking for.

Good blogging/content marketing is, per Simone, about developing an audience that actually enjoys paying attention to you and demonstrates to that audience that you would be a good person to do business with.

Too important to do other than on your land.

Rand Fishkin, who created an SEO empire at Moz.com, writes that he can’t recall a time when the future of SEO was as clear and obvious as today. Nor can he recall a time “when so many experienced professionals and smart companies buried their heads in the sand about it…”

What’s clear and obvious, per Fishkin, is “SEO in the future will be harder to invest in, harder to win at, with decreasing ROI.”

Competing on searches for phrases on which other lawyers – and Google itself – are trying to rank is going to become a losing proposition.

The reasons:

  1. Plateauing growth of total searches (definitely true in most developed countries, and likely a big reason Google’s willing to compromise on their historic ethical positions to break into China)
  2. Decreasing clickthrough rates on organic results, especially in mobile (as Jumpshot’s clickstream data has proven)
  3. Cannibalization of many popular queries, e.g. weather, sports scores, traffic, definitions, and other simple lookups by voice answers (hard to know exactly how much)
  4. More results answered entirely in Google’s SERPs (hundreds of examples, but here’s another one from just today)
  5. Greater competition vying for less traffic opportunities (as SEO is finally getting the investment it warrants from major brands and companies)
  6. Less opportunities for small sites and emerging companies as a few big players dominate an ever-increasing share of Google’s top results

And the number of no-click searches, growing significantly on mobile.

No-click searches occur when Google presents answers on Google itself without precipitating the need for the user to go to another website to get the information they searched for.

So while the number of no click searches is going up the number of clicks to websites that may provide the information is going down. The number of people visiting Google may be up but so is the number of people who do not leave.

Just off from no-click, Mark Britton, former CEO of Avvo, explained at the company’s Lawyernomics conference this spring that a big reason Avvo sold now was the “Google cul-de-sac” requiring the need to be in a stronger network ala the legal network of Internet Brands, its acquirer.

When searching, the “Google cul-de-sac” kept you on Google, per Britton. You “got what you wanted” via items that generated revenue for Google.

Lawyer listings in Avvo, which traditionally ranked near the top on Google, were supplanted by Google’s results – particularly alarming to Avvo, and presumably to their paying law firm customers.

 

What’s the answer. LexBlog is with Fishkin in thinking long term.

I think in the future, we’d all much rather have 10 Google searches for our brand name than 1,000 Google searches for phrases on which we’re trying to both rank and compete for a click against Google themselves.

SEO is not going away anytime soon. Good lawyers will continue to pay good SEO people for years to come.

The long haul is about your brand name on a search. What do people see and conclude about your authority, trustworthiness, and authenticity in a niche area of the law when they search your name?

Effective August 1, Facebook will no longer permit third-party tools to automatically post to “Profiles.”

Facebook is sunsetting its API which allows users to automatically post updates to their “Profile Page” or News Feed. Only the Facebook API allowing automatic posts to Facebook Pages, will remain.

This technique is used by thousands of WordPress blogs, including hundreds, if not thousands, of law blogs. WordPress blogs mostly accomplished this through the Jetpack plugin owned by WordPress.com’s parent company, Automattic.

LexBlog platform customers will not be affected. We have steered clear of the Jetpack plugin and the protocols for making the connection to enable automatic posting as it posed a security risk to our customer’s sites.

LexBlog is also of the strong belief that posting on social media varies by medium. Personal posting results in greater engagement because of its authenticity.

Nothing Facebook is doing prevents bloggers from sharing their blog posts on Facebook. Like anything worthwhile in life, it’ll require a little personal touch, such as including a note, an excerpt or the entire post on Facebook.

As way of background, here’s the email WordPress.com users received this morning.

We wanted to update you about an upcoming change Facebook is introducing to their platform, and which affects how you may share posts from your Jetpack-connected website to your Facebook account.

Starting August 1, 2018, third-party tools can no longer share posts automatically to Facebook Profiles. This includes Publicize, the Jetpack tool that connects your site to major social media platforms (like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook).

Will this affect your ability to share content on Facebook? It depends. If you’ve connected a Facebook Profile to your site, then yes: Publicize will no longer be able to share your posts to Facebook. On the other hand, nothing will change if you keep a Facebook Page connected to your site — all your content should still appear directly on Facebook via Publicize. (Not sure what the difference is between a Page and a Profile? Here’s Facebook’s explanation.) You can review and change your social sharing settings by heading to My Site(s) → Sharing.

If you’ve previously used Publicize to connect a Facebook Profile to your website and still want your Facebook followers to see your posts, you have two options. First, you could go the manual route: once you publish a new post, copy its URL and share the link in a new Facebook post. The other option is to convert your Facebook Profile to a Page. This might not be the right solution for everyone, but it’s something to consider if your website focuses on your business, organization, or brand.

While Facebook says it is introducing this change to improve their platform and prevent the misuse of personal profiles, we believe that eliminating cross-posting from WordPress is another step back in Facebook’s support of the open web, especially since it affects people’s ability to interact with their network (unless they’re willing to pay for visibility) We know that this might cause a disruption in the way you and your Facebook followers interact, and if you’d like to share your concerns with Facebook, we urge you to head to their Help Community to speak out.

Again, if you or your law firm has a “Facebook Page,” as opposed to or in addition to your personal Facebook, you may still automatically post your blog posts there. Pages, though, tend to get much less engagement – unless you are paying to get seen.

Sociology professor and author of “Citizens at the Gates: Twitter, Networked Publics, and the Transformation of American Journalism,” Stephen Barnard is the latest to comment on New York Times White House correspondent, Maggie Haberman’s  criticism of Twitter as a lasting medium for journalists.

With so much news, noise and criticism to sift through, Haberman can no longer realize the value she has in the past from Twitter. She can’t continue to respond to those who engage her.

I questioned Haberman’s approach to Twitter, arguing that she may have created some of her own problems by overextending herself on Twitter.

Barnard acknowledges the issues faced by Haberman and others as being real, but nonetheless explains just how important Twitter is for journalists.

Studies have shown that more than half of journalists use Twitter for professional purposes.  They track breaking news and make themselves more accessible to readers. While engaging with the “people formerly known as the audience” can take a toll on reporters, knowing what the public thinks is critical.

My research has shown that we use social media not just to consume news, but also to participate in the process of making, sharing, and critiquing it.  Whether or not journalists have been responsive to the public, they have been there to hear them.

Journalists need to stay on Twitter if they are going to retain the public’s trust and their audience.

The news media cannot regain trust if they stop listening to their audience.  So I urge journalists to stay with us on Twitter.  We need you.  The rules of the game are not perfect, the playing field is not even, and far too many bad actors remain among our ranks.  But, you are our “custodians of conscience,” our referees, if you will.  And, if you leave in the middle of this fight, we all lose.

Twitter is just as important, if not more important, for blogging lawyers.

Established journalists may already have an estabslished audience. Not so for legal professionals.

Listening and sharing, especially other’s stories, on Twitter establishes trust for lawyers. An audience is established. The audience begins to disseminate a lawyer’s posts to grow the lawyer’s audience.

Twitter is invaluable for a blogging lawyer for tracking news and legal developments. Trust also counts when tracking such news and info. Twitter enables lawyers to listen to sources they’ve come to trust via Twitter.

Twitter enables blogging lawyers to get out and mingle with the public — real people the vast majority of lawyers totally ignore. Especially those lawyers who blog solely to get attention for themselves.

Consequently, blogging lawyers who use Twitter make legal services more accessible. The lawyers are out mingling with real people. Individuals begin to trust lawyers as people, see what lawyers do and become more informed in selecting the right lawyer for them – perhaps the blogging lawyer.

Don’t blow off Twitter as a blogging. We need you. And you need Twitter.

A report (pdf) commissioned by the State Bar of California found what most of us recognize already. Bar associatons are impeding access to legal services.

As a sizable portion of the public struggles to afford a lawyer and a sizable portion of the bar struggles to find sufficient fee-paying client work, legal regulators need to seriously evaluate whether the consumer protection benefits of these ethics rules are worth the cost.

The study and report perfomed by William Henderson, a professor at the University of Indiana Maurer School of Law and well known for the study and execution of legal innovation, was done as part of California Bar task force’s consideration of changes to ethics rules that limit the use of legal technology and forbid nonlawyers from owning legal service companies.

Reviewing the report for the ABA Journal, Jason Tashea makes clear the decline in legal services market.

  • National Center for State Courts report, cited by Henderson, that looked at nearly 1 million civil cases from 10 urban counties found that 76 percent of cases involved at least one party who was self-represented, about double the rate from a comparable study 20 years earlier.
  • Unlike other personnel-heavy industries that have grown more expensive, like higher education and medicine, people are forgoing legal services.
  • In 1987, legal services made up 0.435 percent of spending allocation in the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers. In 2016, that number had dropped by more than 40 percent to 0.245 percent. In contrast, college tuition and medicine saw increases in spending of 120.3 percent and 77.6 percent, respectively.
  • Fewer people seeking legal services led to a decrease of this market sector by more than 10 percent between 2007 and 2011, at a loss of $7 billion.
  • Cost pressure on corporate clients has led to more legal work going in-house and a rise of well-financed alternative legal service providers, which cut into the traditional corporate legal market.

Henderson informed the Bar that:

[M]odifying the ethics rules to facilitate greater collaboration across law and other disciplines will (1) drive down costs; (2) improve access; (3) increase predictability and transparency of legal services; (4) aid the growth of new businesses; and (5) elevate the reputation of the legal profession.

The sad part of this all is that the task force’s final report isn’t due until December 31, 2019. Presumably they’ll make a recommendation to the State Bar, who will prsumably assign action on ethics rules to a committee of theirs.

Though Henderson concluded some U.S. jurisdiction needs to go first and based on historical precedent the most likely jurisdiction is California, bar action taken to bring greater access to legal services while helping the average lawyer is unlikely to come anytime soon.

Marketing consultant and author, Euan Semple writes that marketers and “professional communicators” have polluted our networks with industrialized social media.

He’s right.

Not only has social media drifted from real and authentic engagement as means of making strangers less strange, we have consultants teaching industrialized social media as the way of the land and companies selling industrialized social media as a service.

  • Share your blog posts this way and that way.
  • Use the right image.
  • Use these magic words.
  • Run analytics on what and when you share to garner data on the right people, the right mediums, the right words and the right times.
  • Here’s prepackaged articles for sharing.
  • Have us share your “words,” you’re too busy. You don’t even need to know how to log into your social media accounts – or that you even have a social media account, for that matter.
  • Sharing the same items across multiple people’s social media accounts – for maximum effect, of course.
  • Rather than you getting to know and learn from the thought leaders and influencers, we’ll get to “know them” and build relationships with them for you.
  • We’ll write your blog posts and share them for you.
  • Not to worry about engaging other people on social media, social media is for broadcasting your stuff to get “them” to come to your website.

This type of stuff would be funny if it weren’t true.

At times, I feel like Euan.

Sometimes I feel like giving up, conceding defeat to the marketers and “professional communicators” who have polluted our networks with industrialised social media.

Like Euan though, social media done “un-industrialized” style has its wonderful moments.

But then a post will trigger a cracking conversation, a podcast will open up a whole new perspective, a moment of online vulnerability will remind me our shared humanity.

And I’m with Euan, I’m not giving up and I’m not giving into industrialized social media.

Getting to personally know so many fine people who add value to my life in multiple ways in a genuine and authentic fashion is just too valuable to give up.