Blog for Profit. Please.

You’re going to the law bookstore looking for some interesting reads. You browse the spines of the books, pick one, and pull it down off the shelf. It’s three hundred pages; every page ends with a call to action — “if you’ve been injured, call me.” Skimming the text, you notice that the words “truck accident,” “lawyer,” “attorney,” and a few others are mentioned over and over and over again. You put that book back and try another. It’s got more of the same, except instead of “truck accident” it has repeated references to “DUI.” You’d be interested in learning about both topics, but the writing with all those repeated phrases is hackneyed, and you don’t care to be sold. That one goes back on the shelf.

The next book you choose has interesting information without the marketing; you put it in your basket and continue. After about fifteen minutes you realize that 75% of the books in the store are thinly disguised advertising. The other books are what you’re looking for, but they’re hard to find, and it’s frustrating.

Will you ever return to that bookstore?

Carolyn Elefant (My Shingle) this morning endorses Grant Griffiths’s and Michael Martine’s Blawging Lawyers:

I won’t mince words – this is a program that is designed to show you how to use blawging for marketing and client generation.  And there’s no one more qualified to teach than Grant Griffiths, a former lawyer renowned for relying on his blog on his sole marketing tool.

I’m familiar with the great blawgosphere debate from a few months back over whether lawyers can or should blog for love (i.e., conversation) or money (i.e., marketing).   I never quite understood the debate because frankly, a blog designed for marketing and a blog intended to stimulate conversation are two separate animals entirely, just as self-help books fall into an entirely different category than writings by philosophers like Camus or Buber or Kant which on their most basic level also try to help individuals make sense of their place in the world.  Which genre is superior?  Of course, I have my own views but mostly, it depends on what the reader wants.  Somehow, I’m not so sure that a lawyer who’s just lost a job will be up for plowing through Sartre’s essays to realize that even when things seem hopeless we all have a choice- he’d probably prefer the breezy-easy-reassuring tone of the self-help book instead.

I’ll take it for granted that Grant and Michael are trying to provide the blawgosphere’s equivalent of a self-help book. But that’s not what they’re trying to get other lawyers to provide. They’re trying to get 250 lawyers to “blog for profit” — to create marketing blogs. A blog, the primary purpose of which is advertisement, is not a self-help book but an advertisement.

The point is that there’s room in the lawyer blogosphere for all types of blogs and the existence of one form doesn’t diminish the other – or at least, it shouldn’t.

To the contrary, Grant and Michael want lawyers to pack the law section of the virtual bookstore of the blawgosphere with thinly-disguised advertising. People read books (and blogs) for entertainment and education; that’s all. Readers who have to winnow out many books-for-profit to find a few books-for-education or books-for-entertainment are not likely to return to the store.

While any fool with a few dollars can self-publish a book, Barnes and Noble is not going to put it on the shelf (unless said fool has followers who are willing to buy all copies). The bricks-and-moreter bookstore has barriers to entry.

The blawgosphere has no barriers to entry. Any idiot can put up a blog, say whatever he thinks will get him clients, and produce a “hire me!” commercial of no redeeming value.

There is another approach to blog marketing: blog for reputation. Developing a reputation online is easy — even the blatant marketers are creating reputations for themselves — but developing a good reputation requires content and talent. Kevin O’Keefe (LexBlog) thinks that developing a reputation through blogging is itself a powerful marketing tool; I am dubious about that point, but I think the blawgosphere can only be improved by more talented bloggers writing about the things they know with an eye to entertaining and educating, so I won’t argue it.

If you have some writing talent, something to say, and some free time, you don’t need to pay someone to teach you how to parlay those assets into a blog that will entertain and educate. There’s a world of advice available to you for free, and the practical blawgosphere wants you to succeed. Write worth a damn, join in the conversation, link to posts on the blawgs you like reading, and we’ll find your blog and spread the word.

One good thing about the blatant marketing blawgs is that they give people writing nonmarketing blawgs something to mock. This can have high entertainment value (to us, if not to our readers), but it is very bad for the people doing the marketing — some of the blawgs that will be mocking you have higher Google pagerank than your little advertising blog will ever have, and it’s easy to buy yourself a bad reputation online (just ask Frank Pignatelli). If Scott Greenfield puts your name in the title of a blog post, for example, that post is going to pop up high in the search results for your name for a long, long time.

If you want to join in the conversation and educate and entertain yourself, the bar, and/or the public, then get a domain name, install WordPress, and start writing what you know. Write well, be patient, and the links will come. There is no shortcut — the only way to get noticed is to start writing. If we were in this to turn a buck, you’d be competition, but since we’re not, you’re a colleague. So if you need help, drop a line to one of your favorite bloggers.

If, on the other hand, the idea of being held up to public ridicule appeals to you, then by all means blog for profit.

0 responses to “Blog for Profit. Please.”

  1. Excellent post, Mark, but I somewhat disagree with your point that developing a good reputation online is a dubious way to advertise. Sure, a legal blog might not attract clients who are in jail pending trial (no internet access), are illiterate, or are more interested in a speedy resolution to their cases than they are in the quality of their representation. But educated people accused of crimes and arrested too, and anyone who knows how to use a search engine and is consumed by his or her case (as most people arrested for the first time will be) will likely spend a significant amount of time doing research on the facts of the case, statutes, legal procedure, etc.

    While they might first read your blog for information or comfort, if you make a good impression and demonstrate a good track record of well-written, interesting posts, your chances of being retained will probably be much higher. I’ve never gained respect for or recommended a lawyer because of his marketing, but if I were in Texas and needed a criminal defense lawyer, you’d be high on my list because of the quality of your blog.

  2. As a criminal lawyer, I’m betting most of your clients can’t appreciate a well written book to read in the shitter. They’re sure as hell not going to browse blogs for a criminal lawyer when they need one.

  3. Mark,

    Do you really think that the blogosphere is threatened by promotional type blogs or that readers can’t tell the difference between blogs like yours, Scott’s, Brian T. and someone who just posts headlines on criminal law? You’re right, no one can teach lawyers to write the way you all do.

    Still, I have to admit that I do have a bit of penchant for some of the better marketing-oriented law blogs. For example, have you seen Leanna Hamill’s blog (she’s the blogger who is interviewed at the site that I won’t mention here because I know your policy on URLs – here is here link (but understand you can remove it under your TOS) I don’t practice trust and estate law, but I find the blog to be very informative and I admire the fluency with which Leanna covers her topic as well as the compassionate tone that’s evident in some of her posts. I have to admit that it’s a treat for me to read the handful of lawyer marketing blogs that are informative and showcase the lawyer’s competence and expertise. But then again, I also read tabloids at the check-out line – so you can take my comments for what they’re worth.

    • Hi, Carolyn. Yes, yes I do. The problem is not in distinguishing between blogs that are educational or entertaining from those that exist only to promote. The problem is that the more work readers need to do to find those that are not purely promotional, the less likely they are to read any blogs.

      I don’t find Leanna’s blog objectionable. She’s clearly taking a good deal of time to inform the public about her chosen field; she has both talent and content; and even people not shopping for a lawyer in that field would find her blog educational.

      What was Leanna’s primary purpose in starting to blog? Was it profit or education? If we blog to entertain and educate, and happen to make a few bucks along the way (like Kevin thinks we will), that’s great. If we blog to make the money, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll come up with anything worth reading.

  4. Great post. I wish I came to this argument with clean hands, but I sold out to big search when I left blogspot. There is something pure about Grits, Simple Justice, and DP, you guys are still on the gratis blog hosting services. That’s instant street cred. My blog’s long SEO friendly title feels like a Scarlet Letter.

    I’m not here to knock Justia, they’ve done everything I asked. I have a larger audience, and my site looks a lot better. Customer service is excellent, they are responsive and professional in every way. I like to think I have kept my blawg soul while outsourcing the daily maintenance of my web site.

    In the end, content is all that matters, and profit blawging can’t produce content.

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