Nearly everyone reading this post knows what a blawg is. Indeed, a disproportionate number of you have your own blogs or blawgs. But I think these tips will be helpful to you, because, although I’ve been blogging in one place or another for over a year (and have launched or helped others launch 12 different blawgs), I need to remind myself of these tips. I’m going to focus specifically on blawgs. Although the usual tips about blogging apply to blawgs, there are some important differences.
First among these differences is that lawyers, more-so than any other profession, have little time for leisure reading. Lawyers are also generally more discerning and skeptical. These tips should help your keep the attention of legal readers.
1. Pick a Topic.
Your blawg’s topic could be narrow or broad, but you must write about what you know. But don’t think that because you know something, we do too. Although the rule against hearsay might be second-nature to you, remember that most of us don’t deal with that issue, but may still find it interesting. Or, a busy trial lawyer may turn to your site for a quick refresher on evidentiary issues.
The beauty of starting a blawg is that the legal market is diverse. Indeed, you could probably start a blog about the Rule Against Perpetuities. Granted, your market will be limited at the outset, since only so many people want to read about RAP. But, there is a market. Best of all, it’s targeted. What better way to establish yourself as a trust and estates lawyer than to blawg about RAP?
Some of the most popular blawgs have a general scope. Some popular of these popular blawgs include Ernie the Attorney, Bag and Baggage, and Notes From the (Legal) Underground. My favorite blawg--The Yin Blog -- may just as likely talk about baseball as Batson. Rain Main 2--another favorite--is also very broad, but also very good.
Goldstein & Howe’s SCOTUSBlog is a little of both. It’s narrow because it focuses only on cases before the United States Supreme Court. But since the Court dabbles in everyone’s business, you can also see how that blawg is very general. And SCOTUSBlog receives a lot of hits.
You could also blawg about your life. Your day job might be mundane to you, but fascinating to us. The Uncivil Litigator primarily handles insurance defense cases, but he thoroughly enjoys his job and successfully shares his joy with us. Anonymous Lawyer writes about his less-than-fulfilled life at a large law firm, thus entertaining us all. An evil blawg, And What Thanks Do We Get was filled with malice. But we loved it.
Also, check out other blawgs. Evan’s blogroll would be a good place to start. Spend a few hours getting a feel for what’s covered, and do note that there is likely room for your blawg. For example, Nomination Nation was recently formed to discuss judicial nominations--something that has been very relevant since President Bush took office. Yet it is the only blawg on this controversial issue and it was just started about 4 week ago. Underneath Their Robes--started only a few months ago--is the US Weekly of the federal judiciary, and the two highest profile judges in the country read it. So, you are not crowded out. Chances are, you can pick a topic that no one else has covered.
2. Keep it Interesting.
If you’ve picked a topic that you know and can write about well, then you’ve taken the first step to having an interesting blawg. To keep it interesting, you have to interest me. I need at least one post every weekday to stay interested in your blawg. I need to read one thing on your blawg that I can’t find anywhere else. I won’t go to your blawg if all you do is aggregate news. How Appealing has the market corned on that. You need to interject yourself into the cases and stories you write about. Consider yourself a junior-varsity syndicated columnist.
3. Brand Your Blawg.
You need a unique name for two reasons. First, you want something to stick in my mind. Second, you want me to be able to find you on Google. Thus, “lawyer blog” or “criminal law blog” would be a very bad idea for a name. For Ken Lammers, CrimLaw works well, but that’s only because of his terrific Google ranking (which resulted from all of blawggers linking to his first class blawg). A fledgling blogger needs something distinct. For more information on Google rank, see Anthony Rickey's many fine posts here.
Your unique name should be in the URL of your blawg. Lawdork used to known as Law, Politics, and Press with an according mismatch between name and URL. That’s a mouthful, and a mistake. Chris is a savvy guy, he fixed this problem, and we’re all better off.
Our good friend David from HaikuEsq is the worst culprit. I can’t remember his URL, so every time I want to read him, I need to Google him or click-through from my blogroll. However, if I’m were not a blogger, he might have lost me as a reader, since I would have forgotten the title of his blawg.
One of the most underrated blawgs, I’m A PD, has a weird Xanga URL. I know how to find the blawg, but imagine the hapless reader who wants to find her but can’t, because Googling “public defender blog” brings up a lot of results, but I’m A PD is not in the first 100. She has a catchy title, but a crappy URL. Accordingly, she has probably lost of a lot of readers. Worst of all, her blawg is among the best. Everyone loses when you don’t brand your blawg.
Thus, in branding your blawg, ask two questions: Will my readers remember me; and will they be able to find me on Google?
4. Be Prepared to Learn.
The one--and likely only--thing all successful people have in common is a broad vocabulary. The most well-known and well-respected blawggers all also have something in common: They’ve spent hours learning how to link to other blogs, how to build a blogroll, how to install an RSS feed, and dozens of other tricks of the trade. You might be the greatest appellate lawyer in the land, but you probably have a lot of to learn in this new world. I find learning about technology gratifying. I think that you will too.
5. Link Early, Link Often.
In this post I link to nearly 30 other blawgs. Do you think I do this because I want to run the risk that you will click on the link, find a better post, and forget all about me? Of course not! Every blawgger can find out who is linking to him (See, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, below). Since blawgging is such a lonely enterprise, we are flattered when other people link to us. We read the post to read about ourselves, much the same way that you always look for your own face in a group picture. Thus, I’ve enticed a couple of dozen people to read this post on Notes From the (Legal) Underground, all by doing the right thing, namely, linking to other people.
6. Build a Blogroll.
On the side of Evan’s blawg, you’ll see a lot of blawgs. They’re all part of his blogroll. You should have one too, for at least two reasons. First of all, I click through other blawgs from my site’s blawgroll. Thus, these other blogs can see that I’m linking to them, and wonder why. (See, Link Early, Link Often, above). Second, your favorite blawg might not follow this advice and cause you to forget about them. You want to be able to find your favorite blawgs? How better to do so than to put them on the one blawg you’ll always remeber?
7. Use Typepad.
Blogger is free, and free is appealing. But Typepad blawgs look better and Typepad is easier to use and more reliable than Blogger. Typepad gives you a 30-day free trial. If you’re still blawgging after 30-days, you will be hooked on Typepad. If you ignore and go with Blogger, you will regret it. You may end up with a popular blawg that many other blawgs link to. And then you will be afraid to move to Typepad and thus lose your Google ranking. You will regret having not started with Typepad. And you will deserve your agony, for being cheap.
8. Find Out Who is Linking to You.
9. Speak with Your own Voice.
One of the most popular feature from The Uncivil Litigator was his “My First Trial” serial. Readers of Ken Lammers’ CrimLaw enjoy his “A Week in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney.” The point is that we can read news stories and check news.google.com ourselves. What we want in a blawg is you.
10. Offer a Free (But Valuable) Service
I generally read every published federal criminal law and Section 1983 appellate decisions and digest them for my own records. One day I thought, “I’m doing this anyway, why not post my work for everyone else?” I added this feature and it’s become very popular. Many prominent criminal and constitutional lawyers check my site for my case digests, and to see if any interesting cases came down that day. Even though I’m not doing something they can’t, I save them a lot of time by pointing out a 20-30 page case’s highlights. Jeremy Blachman offers us a daily (and free!) dose of humor. Is there any wonder we check him out, instead of paying extra for Comedy Central?
11. Remember, It’s Only a Blawg.
Don’t be depressed if you don’t have 1000 daily readers, or if the more prominent blogs don’t link to you. Don’t ignore our spouse or children to work on the next Great American Blawg. Don’t be depressed if you don’t get dozens of fan emails. There are numerous people who spend hours on my blawg but never bother to say hello. It’s part of the trade. Indeed, it would be prudent to have a section entitled: Prepared to be Lonely.
12. But Please Remember, it’s Your Blawg.
Taking pride in your work is good in itself. It's also good because it's necessary for your credibility. Double-check citations and facts before posting. And please use a nice template that is easy on our eyes.
13. Establish Your Street Credibility.
You might be Gerry Spence in the real world, but to us, you’re just another blawgger. Don’t talk smack unless you’re prepared to risk getting smacked down. And put blawgs you enjoy, and the more prominent blawgs, on your blogroll. No one is going to link to your posts if you’ve never linked to them first. Your somebody to somebody, but you’re nobody to us - until you’ve proved yourself.
14. Finally, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Trust me. It will save you a lot of time if you do these things without asking me why I’m telling you to do them. Just do the following:
Install a Sitemeter or Statcounter. Though it will be depressing at first to see how few people read your blawg, you should know track how many people read you to find the overlap between your posts and traffic. Install an RSS feed. It’s easy. Go to Feedburner. It will only take 5 minutes. Trust me. Get Google’s spiders crawling today. Click hereand do it. Email Evan, me, and other blawggers to let us know about your blawg.
About the author: Federalist No. 84 is the pseudonym of the quasi-anonymous blogger for Crime & Federalism. He should have graduated law school last May, but decided it was so much fun that he stayed for an extra semester. No. 84 has helped launched, contributed to, and been the sole proprietor of over a dozen blawgs. His favorite aspect of blawgging is meeting people across the country. “Blawgging is like throwing a bottle with a note in it into the ocean. You never know who's going to find you, or who you’re going to meet.”