Legal blogs: isn’t it time British lawyers staked their claim in the blogosphere?

Jul, 05   -   No Comments   -   Candice
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Should law firms have blogs? In America they are all the rage. Just about every self-respecting law professor has one, many firms believe them to be a must-have accoutrement, and even one or two judges have got in the act.

In Britain only a handful of legal practitioners maintain blogs, but as society increasingly embraces the Web 2.0 world of interactivity, collaboration and social networking, isn’t it time that UK firms staked their claim in the blogosphere?

“Yes,” says Peter Wainman, a senior solicitor with Mills & Reeve and one of the authors of the firm’s Naked Law (see below) blog. Naked Law has recently celebrated its third birthday and is a popular, much-read blog on IT, e-commerce and privacy issues. Wainman explains that before joining Mills & Reeve he had been writing a personal blog. “I was familiar with the medium and realised that very few law firms were running blogs, so suggested to Kevin Calder, the firm’s IT partner, that we create one. Fortunately, Kevin agreed.”

According to Wainman, there are a number of upsides to a law firm having its own blog. Perhaps chief among them is publicity. “We’ve had a huge amount of PR since starting the blog, both from online and traditional print media,” he says. “The blog is also a great way of engaging with the public, of generating discussion about interesting legal developments.” But Wainman cautions against believing that a blog is a key that will unlock a host of new instructions. “We’ve got some work through the blog, but it’s a slow-burn process,” he says.

This view is endorsed by a spokesman for Carlton Fields, a US national law firm, which runs Classified, a class-action blog. “I can’t tell you of any new cases we’ve brought in directly as a result of the blog,” the spokesman says, “but there have been intangible benefits. We’re providing a service for our clients, doing summaries of recent class-action decisions and arbitrations. They don’t have to pay for it, and they love that. It enhances our reputation as a go-to firm for class actions.”

Brand reputation benefits are emphasised by Alex Newson, an IT lawyer now with Shoosmiths but formerly with Freeth Cartwright and co-founder of the intellectual property law blog Impact (www.impact.freethcartwright.com). Newson believes that “blogging has massive potential for businesses in general in the UK, including law firms. The publicity we have had since we started Impact nearly two years ago has been massive. We have been on the radio, been invited to speak at conferences, given quotes to national newspapers and have submitted papers. Technology only moves forward, not backwards, and the challenge now is to harness the blogosphere for law firms’ benefit.”

Newson expects some resistance to the brave new world from UK practitioners: “The US has a more discussive culture than we do. People like to debate things. Here, we’re more conservative generally, and this is especially true among law firms. I suspect that cultural barriers will inhibit firms from having blogs for a few years, but I hope that we’ll see them taking the requisite leap of faith soon.”

It may be, too, that the embedded right to freedom of expression in American society, in contrast to Britons’ tendency to discretion (exemplified, arguably, in our highly developed libel laws), is another factor in transatlantic enthusiasm for the blogosphere. Certainly, while Judge Nancy Gertner, a District Court judge of Massachusetts, is not alone among the US judiciary in writing a blog (on the Ms JD website, a forum for dialogue and networking among women lawyers), notable bloggers in the UK legal profession as a whole are few and far between.

Among them, though, is Laurie Kaye, the senior partner of Laurence Kaye Solicitors. Kaye writes a digital media law blog (see below) with a relaxed yet informative style, and says that “blogs help to build a firm’s constituency — they are a marketing tool and much better than the traditional client newsletter. They’re a great way of exchanging information and ideas with clients.”

Kaye also expects more and more UK firms to start their own blogs, but believes that the process is easier among the niche players: “In a large corporate firm, the compliance culture will lead to problems with signing off posts, which in turn has a bearing on the development of the blogger’s voice. This isn’t likely to be such an issue in smaller practices.”

Johanna Gibson, one of the five-person — and one cat — team that writes the Ipkat blog [see below), says that the relative informality of blogs may not be suitable for all firms and client relationships, and agrees that it is likely to be “an important part of developing niche boutique practices”. Moreover, Gibson distinguishes between two types of blogs — those created for use within a firm and those for public consumption.

“As a device within a law firm, a blog is a potentially excellent means by which to develop expertise and confidence in new trainees and junior staff as well as a broader network with senior staff. As a public information service to existing and potential clients (as well as competitors), a blog is primarily of value as a branding device. However, a firm blog can also signal currency, both in terms of the content and the means, or indeed in matching the activities of competitors and the subsequent expectations of clients.”

UK law bloggers might be a select minority, but what price the “magic circle” firms having their own blogs within five years? The odds must be short indeed.

THE PROS AND CONS OF HAVING A BLOG

For

1 Blogs are easy and cheap to set up and maintain

2 They are a great way of spreading the word about the firm

3 They will bring in work

4 The need to update the blog regularly keeps lawyers up to speed

5 Blogs encourage interaction and feedback — very Web 2.0 and good for the firm’s image

Against

1 Blogs are an easy way to libel someone

2 You might accidentally breach client confidentiality

3 A successful blog requires a lot of upkeep — not least in comment moderation

4 Comments might not be pleasant — a thick skin is required

5 Blogger beware: what you write is there for ever, so make sure it chimes with your firm’s image

THE BEST OF THE BLOGS

Ipkat (www.ipkat.com): excellent source of information on all things IP

The Magistrate’s Blog (http://thelawwestofealingbroadway.blogspot.com/): musings from a JP

Naked Law (http://www.nakedlaw. typepad.com/): one of the best

Baby Barista (http://timesonline. typepad.com/baby_barista/)

Human Law Mediation (http:// humanlaw.typepad.com/): very informative resource on mediation

Bloody Relations (http://bloody relations.blogspot.com/): “Where there’s a relative there’s a bloody good argument to be had,” says Jacqui Gilliat’s family law blog. We’re not arguing

GeekLawyer (http://blog.geek lawyer.org/): ranting by anonymous scribe

Law and Tax (http://robertnewey. typepad.co.uk/law_and_tax/): it’s good. Honest

Laurence Kaye on Digital Media Law (http://laurencekaye.typepad. com/laurence_kayes_blog/): always insightful IP comment