Working with smart, funny, and creative people brings lots of rewards.
This month, one of the smartest, funniest, and most creative people Blawgletter knows (and once had the pleasure of working with) wrote a thought piece on legal blogging — what she calls blawgging. She titled it "If a Blawgger Blawgs in the Forest and No One Hears . . ." It appears in the Fall 2010 issue of the Texas State Bar Section of Litigation's News for the Bar at pages 7-9. And it set us to thinking.
The author, Gretchen Sween, clerked for U.S. District Judge Sim Lake and did stints at our firm and Dechert before this year joining the full-time faculty at the University of Texas School of Law as a Lecturer in the Legal Writing Program. She knows how to write, as you will see.
Ms. Sween starts by puzzling over the why of blawgging, as in: "Why have so many lawyers, while tending to busy practices, elected to shoulder the burden of a regular, extracurricular, pro bono writing obligation?" She pooh-poohs the notion that blawgging pays for itself, citing the lack of "evidence that specific new matters were brought in as a result of someone's blawg."
Then she surveys lawyer friends about their blawg-reading habits. Ms. Sween finds that they mainly look at blawgs "whose value is essentially entertainment" or at ones that "offer concrete practical guidance relevant to the lawyer's practice — updates on doctrinal areas of the law with links to original source material (such as judicial opinions) and sites that track trends in growth areas such as mass torts, consumer class actions, and patent infringement litigation."
"In other words," she says, "lawyers read blawgs that would be completely unappealling to non-lawyer mortals."
Ms. Sween then raises the question:
If that is correct — that lawyers do not spend much time reading blawgs that aren't really practical — can the countless (potentially billable) hours that various lawyers and law firms devote to the thousands of blawgs that are now out there be justified? That is, if blawgging really does not work well as a marketing tool per se, is it worth the challenges associated with simultaneously trying to serve colleagues and once-and-future clients through witty, helpful, accurate, current commentary related to some niche legal market?
Her tentative answer? "Blawggers seem to believe — and rightfully so — that the act of blawgging can actually make the blawgger a better lawyer." It does so, she suggests, because the act of writing about a subject "deepens understanding and increases the probability that one will retain the information" and because it "requires great discipline." Those benefits may result in "economic" gain as well as "greater professional satisfaction", she concludes.
If you've read this far, you may wonder what we think about Ms. Sween's points. Because we like you so much, we will now tell you.
Almost no one tracks the economic plus side of blawgging. We'd guess the track-lack happens either because the aspiring tracker can't figure out how to do it in a reliable way or because he or she doesn't really want to know the answer.
Sometimes you can tie a contact directly to a blawg post or to the blawg more generally — as when someone emails you about a post and invites a response. But what value does such a contact produce? A chance to look at a case counts for something, surely. But unless the look results in retention and the retention generates a fee, you can't assign to the post, or the blawg, a dollar value.
What about indirect results? What if a subscriber knows you already and, at the moment he or she needs the kind of legal help you provide, reads an on-point post you've just written — and calls you? Or a potential client looking for a lawyer reads your web profile, clicks on the link to your blawg, confirms a positive image of you — and asks for a meeting? Those should count, of course. But imagine the challenges of putting an economic value on the part the blawg played.
The dollars and cents analysis of the cost side, on the other hand, goes much easier. Multiply the number of your posts by the average time you spent writing them and multiply the result by your hourly rate, and — presto — you have a good idea of what you've invested.
No wonder no one can say whether a blawg pays for itself.
So what of Ms. Sween's professional development idea? We we agree with her. In our area of the law, complex business cases, people you most need to persuade – judges, jurors, clients – desire you to digest and simplify Byzantine facts, reconcile welters of conflicting legal precedents, cut a path to victory, and tell a compelling story all the while. Practicing to write — and therefore speak — in compelling bursts helps you get better at that difficult assignment.
A final word. Blawgging at its best and most useful engages your readers. It pays them the compliment of asking them to think. The smarter, funnier, and more creative your audience, the greater your rewards. Especially if then you get to work with them.