Monday, January 28, 2013

How Much Should I Actually be Spending on a Law Blog?

None of us have an endless stream of money to pump into our business.  Even then, those who actually might have virtually limitless resources (think Google) must make reasoned choices about where to spend and why.  These spending decisions obviously apply to law firms of all sizes.  Solo and mid-size practices must be particularly vigilant, because there is simply not enough lee-way to throw limited resources away on things that serve no function.

Difficult decisions about resource allocation is most often applied to marketing dollars.  How much money should you spend on marketing and how should it be divided up?  Obviously our perspective is that online efforts constitute--far and away--the most prudent way to focus on marketing efforts.  Various recent surveys have found that most law firms agree.  The percentage of legal marketing dollars devoted to internet-based projects has grown incredibly quickly with no sign of slowing down.

The Legal Blog: Don't Pay Too Much for the Technical Details
If your firm is spending time and money online then part of it must be focused on legal blogs and blog writing.  This is becoming a non-negotiable aspect of a firm's online presence.  A website is one thing, but without engagement and frequent updating (via a blog) it is no different than an expired billboard on the side of the road that has been destroyed by the weather.

But how much should you spend on a blog?

There are no easy answers to this, and as legal content writers, we are tempted to blurt out: the more, the better.  But it is important to be realistic.  There are two general types of expenses for blog writing: the "tech" side of it (creating the blog, hosting it, etc.) and the "writing" side of it.  One of the biggest mistakes that law firms continue to make is spending way too much on the tech side and far too little on the writing side.

Preying on the unfamiliarity of many attorneys, various companies have sprung up which offer "packages" to create a blog and provide technical support.  These companies often combine the blog with a website.  Most attorney blogs are created in just this way.  They hire a well-known team to create a website, and they are sold on a blog as well.

This is logical and efficient, but there is one problem.  The company usually charges FAR more than necessary to create and maintain that blog.  That is particularly true considering virtually all of these companies are only repackaging free blog programs created elsewhere.  If your blog is run on Wordpress, Moveable Type, or Blogger, then your web company did not design the software themselves.  They simply took it from elsewhere and sold it to you at a premium.

Even worse, many of these companies charge considerable sums per month to maintain the blog.  Many firms are paying $150, $200, $500, and more per month for virtually nothing.  Once the blog is created, there is simply no reason to pay a monthly fee to maintain it.  That is because you can maintain it on your own for free.

Instead, it is imminently more sensible (and financially prudent) to devote that money for assistance actually writing the blog.  After all, it is the writing of the blog that makes it worthwhile.  If you are going to spend a couple hundred bucks a month a blog, spend it on the actual writing instead of filtering it to a web company that does virtually nothing to earn it.  Sending out weekly emails or providing "blogging tips" are of little value.  There is some merit to being a part of a legal blogging network with some shared links.  However, that value is vastly overrated, and certainly not worth the money that most spend on these companies. 

To Summarize: You can create a legal blog with Wordpress, Moveable Type, or other services at virtually no cost.  It takes about 30 minutes to create and about $10-$14 per year to buy a domain name (ie.  That's it.  Don't pay money each month for no reason.  Put those resources into writing assistance. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Will Paywalls & Monetization Change Law Firm Blogs?

The argument is a familiar one: Newspapers and classic journalism are dying because they haven't figured out a way to make money in the Internet age.  In the old world, print journalism dominated everything.  These publications made their money on advertising and paid subscriptions.  There was nowhere else to get information, so virtually everyone was in.
No more.
As everyone knows, it all changed.  Newspapers readership is tanking and will continue to do so.  Many newspapers have shifted much effort and resources online, but major problems still remain.  Most notably, the money that these entities have been able to obtain via online efforts pales in comparison to what they pulled in during their old days of domination.  No one yet knows what the ultimate solution will be.  As before, the two main ways that these businesses will cover their costs online are twofold: online advertising and subscriptions. 
The world of online paid advertising is still developing (think Google Adwords), but there are major concerns about the viability of advertising to cover costs on their own.  The second option--subscriptions--has yet to be fully explored.  So many questions remain.  Will anyone pay for online content? Who will pay?  How much will they pay?  How will all of this affect the way that the Internet works to share information and collaborate?
Right now only a few niche publications have sophisticated subscriptions requirements for their online content, like the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times.  A few local newspapers also have subscriptions, which are generally useful only to those who care about super-local stories.  After all, no one is going to subscribe to a hometown paper only to receive AP stories that they can find elsewhere online for free.  The New York Times also has a partial-subscription model, but it is hard to extrapolate principles based on what works for the NYT--the most well known newspaper in the world.
For the most part, these subscriptions were isolated to traditional newspapers.  But a shift may be in the works now, as some of the most popular blogs are now toying with the idea of having readers pay to access their content.  The most high-profile of this is the shift for Andrew Sullivan's "The Dish" to offer a subscription model starting February 1st of this year.  The payments will be minimal (a $19.99 yearly fee for access to unlimited "Read On" articles). 
The Dish's attempt to survive solely on payments by readers is leading many observers to worry how the Internet might change if that model takes off.  The main issue is whether paywalls will limit the ability of bloggers to interact fully.  The internet, particularly the blogging world, lives off free links.  One person writes an interesting story, another shares it on their blog with their own commentary, and then it is off.  The link may be shared on Twitter, spread across Facebook, and generate countless follow up blog posts by others commenting on the original issue.
But what if anyone who went to that original link hit a paywall--they could not view the post unless they bought a subscription.  Why would that individual buy a subscription just to read a single post?  They likely won't.  And the sharing nature of the online world might be stopped in its tracks if the subscription model takes hold.
What does this mean for legal blog writing?  It is hard to say.  On one hand, many topics upon which lawyers might blog are on public issues which may likely be found somewhere online for free--i.e. case opinions.  It is unlikely (we hope) that subscription based models will cut off those sources.  Though, if more of the major legal discussion generators try to make money with subscriptions, more creativity may be needed to generate some blog topics and discussion points that might spread online.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Five Things You Must Do For Your Law Firm Blog In 2013

January can be a doldrum of a month.  The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over, and it is easy to view January as the beginning of a long, dull winter stretch.  It is all perspective.  Instead of viewing January as the beginning of an isolated stretch of cold, it is also the ideal time to take advantage of a clean slate.  Any time is a good time to makes changes in your life or business.  But there is something welcome about using a New Year to make changes.

So what should you do in 2013 to make your law firm blog serve its purpose?  Here are five basics.  If you already have a grip on these things, then keep it up--slow and steady wins the race.  However, if you have yet to fully embrace these five principles, then slowly add them to your routine now. 

1) Write consistenly.  The single biggest mistake made by law firms (especially solo and mid-size attorneys) is failing to write enough.  It is not acceptable to crank out a single post every month or every other month.  At the very least, one post a week is needed so that your blog becomes a weekly destination for some and triggers search engines to identify new content connected to your name frequently.  There are two main ways to write more often:  hire others or set a schedule.  No matter what it takes, just do it.

2) Write sufficiently.  Writing weekly (or daily) is always the goal.  However, it only counts if the individual post is of sufficient length and quality.  Writing three sentences with a link to a court opinion does not quite cut it.  Instead, the posts need to be 450-600 words.  When commenting on a court opinion, there needs to be a layman's summary of the case with perhaps inclusion of outside perspectives and details on the long-term implications.  In other words, value to the reader needs to be provided.  If the whole purpose of the post is to send people elsewhere via a link and short paragraph, then you will not see benefit.

3) Stop overdoing the links.  If there was a single difference that you should make in your legal blogging in 2013 and compared to 2012, it is the way you approach links.  A year ago, many SEO advocates continued to push to idea that a firm needed to have many "Goldilocks" keyword phrases (i.e. Miami car accident attorney") and link those phrases to set pages on the firm website.  No more.  That sort of overt spamming simply does not work.  And it will begin to cause actual harm to your SEO efforts the longer you drag them out.  This is actually good news, because is means that more natural writing is now more beneficial writing.  Talk with blog writing professionals on the specifics of linking in 2013, but never forget that the overt link-baiting is a thing of the past.

4) Stop writing briefs.  The best legal blog writing threads the needle between writing mundane dense material and that which does not project expertise.  In other words, the tone of the best legal blogs is light and understandable to all community members.  Yet, it still must share useful legal information and ensure readers understand that the attorney is familiar with the law. 

5) View the blog as a library.  Wherever possible, the blog should be a comprehensive package of information, not isolated articles.  In other words, you should cross reference old posts where applicable and build on material that has already been published.  This encourages readers to delve into your archives, often getting lost in old posts that provie a wealth of information on any given topic.  All of this makes for great SEO and better conversion rates for potential clients who stumble upon the blog.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Blog Domain Names Becoming Hot Propety

This month's edition of the ABA Journal pointed to a story that likely caught the eye of most legal bloggers--if they hadn't seen it already.  The article suggests that the matter was definitely decided, but that is misleading, as the legal battle continues.

The issue first made headlines last October when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals out of New Orleans issued a ruling on a unique case involving a domain name for a legal blog.  Essentially, a worker's compensation lawyer was sent a cease and desist letter from the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) because we owned and blogged on legal developments in the area at the domain name:  The TDI claimed that state law prohibited the attorney from using the state department's name and purview.  Amazingly, the department threatened to hit the man with a $5,000 daily fine for using the words "Texas," "worker's," and "compensation"  in any order on any marketing or promotional efforts. 

This obviously seems egregious, and fortunately the attorney stood his grounds.  Filing suit and claiming violations of the 1st, 5th, and 14th Amendments, he argued that the blog was merely informational and that if applied in this manner the state law violated his basic free speech rights.

In October of this year the federal appeals court ruled on an appeal of the matter after it was dismissed by a district court for failure to state a claim.  Fortunately, the Court sided with the attorney and noted that the state made no attempt to show how this law was narrowly tailored to meet a substantial state interest.  The matter was revived and the case will seemingly proceed, though information on its current status remains elusive.

A full copy of the court opinion can be Downloaded Here.

This case is obviously one of significant importance to everyone in the legal world, as sharing information with others online is virtually universal.  In the years and decades ahead it will obviously be second-nature for all firms to use predominately online tools for communication, education, and information-sharing.  This particular legal case includes a few complex issues of intellectual property, free speech, and equal protection.  However, at the end of the day, it is hard to imagine how courts will disallow use of basic words like "worker's compensation" and a state name for those who provide support services for residents.  Obviously there is a difference between using those words and actively masquerading as a representative of a state agency.   The law in question was obviously intended to prevent the latter, and it won't be too difficult for the court to make assessments about whether that decepetion was at issue in this particular case.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Year, New Outlook, New Business

If you are reading this, then you've likely already devoured several other posts (or at least glanced at headlines of posts) focused on"Starting New in the New Year."  Most of these articles include a list of five or ten or twenty or more tips, tricks, strategies, or tools to help make 2013 the best yet.  Some of them are helpful, some of them are not. 
At first we were going to draft a similar post to kick-start the year in blogging.  But at the end of the day we realized it would be too forced and redundant.  The best specific strategies related to legal blogs would simply be things that we have already mentioned--nothing too novel need be included.  There is no aspect of life or business for which five simple steps or tricks will work for everyone or automatically change anything.  That is true for everything from losing weight to maintaining a legal blog consistently.  For as much as we'd like to guarantee x number of new clients by following x number of steps...nothing is that easy. 

However, that is not to say that we are not supporters of new goals and actions for the new cycle.  It is just that instead of focusing on specifics, we want to use this time of year to share a few basic affirmations about a better outlook for 2013 and your legal business. 

***If you do nothing different, you'll get nothing different.  Too many of us are not 100% satisfied with our business or operations, yet we do little to change anything.  We often fall for the trap that things will change on their own.  They likely won't.  In virtually all cases trying something new, anything new, is better than the status quo.  Commit to a spirit of trying something novel this year.

***Being efficient is better than being busy.  As attorneys we always have more things that we "could" do or "wish we could" do than time to do it.  There will never be time and physical energy to fit in all of our "to do's" in any day.  Selection matters.  Doing what  is most important is far more valuable than just filling time.  Yet, so many of us continue to think all tasks are of equal value--or least our actions suggest we believe that.  Instead, we should prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.  Do what matter most first.  Delegate properly.  And do not be afraid to cut out things that serve no purpose.

***Let go of complete control.  It's a trait that lawyers have in abundance: the need to control all aspects of their situation. That is most true for solos and attorneys in medium sized firms.  You've spent so much time building your practice that it can be very difficult to hand over any aspect, no matter how small, to another.  But the need to control and micromanage can act as a tight constriction on a business's ability to grow.  One person (or a small group of people) can only do so much.  Knowing when to let others in and giving them the space to work for you may be the best decision you make this year.

Here's to all of us having a terrific 2013.  Buckle up and hit the road.