The Blog - Another Tool in Your Arsenal

Janet Peros is a legal reference librarian and co-chair of the Law Library Association of Greater New York's education committee.

A modified version of this article originally appeared in Professional Marketing Magazine, Winter 2006

Whether it is keeping attorneys abreast of legal and business advances, updating clients of news or tracking the competition, blogs are increasingly the medium of choice at law firms-especially in marketing and business development.

Both information service departments (libraries) and marketing and business development departments in law firms are extensively employing blogs as a vehicle of communication both within the firm and between the firm and its clients. Often used as an alternative to email updates and newsletters, blogs are usually simpler and quicker to update and provide an online archive of searchable information.

Blogs are also a great business development tool. Tracking blogs and websites of competing firms for new client memos and information is a way to stay informed and ahead of the competition. According to the National Law Journal (September 30, 2005) "No longer viewed as just forums for law gossip or associate griping, blogs are becoming a marketing tool for large firms eager to create a buzz about their practice areas." Blogs have confirmed their role as a critical information tool and not just a passing fad.

Bonnie Shucha, a law librarian, provides several tips for blog promotion:

· One is to name your blog descriptively (i.e., a good name would be "Security Law in California").

· Another is to link to other blogs. Schucha suggests featuring a "blogroll". "This is huge in the blogosphere," she says.

· Most important is to link the blog from the firm's website and include its URL on all firm communications, letterhead and business cards, etc.

· Linking recent posts to your website is even better, and will put pressure on attorneys to write posts.

Blogs as a marketing tool on the Intranet

Karen Lasnick, Manager of Library and Information Services in the Santa Monica office of Bryan Cave LLP, has been administering blogs for different practice groups at the firm for three years. Prior to that, Lasnick was sending weekly emails to the practice groups to disseminate new information.

The head partner for Bryan Cave's IT operating group was a recipient of the emails and suggested that Lasnick start a blog. Lasnick developed ten blogs, each aimed at a specific practice group at the firm. The ten blogs eventually merged into five by combining some practice groups. Lasnick maintains all content for the five practice-specific blogs using Movable Type software. She sends daily emails out that include the latest updates she has made to the blog. These updates are sent to attorneys in the Santa Monica office, but the intellectual property blog is maintained for attorneys in that group firm wide. The blogs are housed on the firm's Intranet site and available only to attorneys and other firm employees.

Lasnick keeps content fresh by monitoring blogs herself using Newsgator to receive RSS feeds from sources and by receiving daily updates by librarians, with a research focus, such as those by Gary Price's Resourceshelf and Sabrina I. Pacifici's beSpacific (http://www.bespacific.com). Lasnick has received positive feedback for her efforts and plans to continue blogging.

Blogs as a current awareness tool

At Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, blogging was born out of necessity. Prior to the use of blogs, attorneys utilized weekly email newsletters in PDF format to keep clients aware of relevant current events. The IT department expressed a concern about the newsletters being marked as spam by clients and worse yet, other emails originating from the firm being labeled as spam as well. These emails might be critical ones sent from the attorney to client. To IT, the solution was to create a blog.

The antitrust practice group was the first practice group at Sheppard Mullin to get a blog. There are now a total of seven blogs with an eighth one in the works. These are all accessible on the firm's home page from the tab that reads "Blogs and Publications". As you may notice, the URLs for the blogs are not related to Sheppard Mullin at all (www.intellectualpropertylawblog.com is an example). This goes back to the spamming fear-any mail sent from the blog originates from a different domain and will not get confused with an email going to a client directly from a Sheppard Mullin attorney. The blog updates are sent to more than 3,000 recipients a day. The blog itself receives about 10,000 hits per day and consistently appears on the first five hits for relevant search terms in both Google and Yahoo. Sheppard Mullin uses LexBlog to maintain their blogs. LexBlog is a law blog design service. [Editor's note: see also Justia Lawyer Blog Services]

All this successful blogging activity had led to Vickie Spang, the firm's Chief Marketing Officer being featured with Tom Baldwin, the firm's Chief Knowledge Officer, in both the National Law Journal ("Blogging is the New Black", December 8, 2005) and on Law Firm Inc.'s Cover ("Blogs Will Change Your Business", December 2005). Baldwin was also honored as being Chief IT Innovator of the Year for 2005 from the Legal IT Forum.

Transitioning from the use of newsletters to blogs wasn't always an easy road. The hardest part was managing the expectations of the attorneys, according to Spang. They were reluctant to give up their PDF newsletters with pretty graphics, which looked as nicely printed out as they did on the screen. They were eventually convinced, however, by the quick turnaround and instant gratification the blog offered. Another benefit of the blog is that all past entries are automatically archived and can be searched and accessed more readily than a PDF newsletter. Through the use of blogs, the firm has even gained some additional clients, Spang reports.

Attorneys at Sheppard Mullin keep the blog fresh by providing content and each blog has its own editor. Because most of the practice groups were already publishing and disseminating newsletters, it was just a matter of changing formats. Some groups, like the intellectual property group, were new to blogging and had never put out a newsletter. If the content does start becoming stale, Spang and her team will remind the attorneys that new content should be posted.

Using RSS Feeds to Monitor the Firm and the Competition

Robyn Rebollo is Manager of Library and Information Services at Ross, Dixon & Bell LLP in Washington D.C. She has been using RSS feeds since January 2006. To view and manage the feeds, Rebollo uses FeedDemon; a Newsgator product that allows the user to read RSS feeds in a newspaper format from their desktop. Rebollo thought that using RSS feeds to track blogs would be a great way to benefit the attorneys and the firm in general. Since January 2006, she has partnered with IT and marketing to deliver results to the attorneys. Ross, Dixon & Bell is a firm with 145 attorneys in four offices in the U.S. that specializes in insurance litigation. There are also employment and intellectual property practices as well as a large pro-bono initiative.

Rebollo sends what she finds to marketing and to attorneys across the firm. One of the greatest benefits of using FeedDemon is that it allows her to combine her West Watch alerts, Lexis alerts, Yahoo and Google alerts, all in one place.

In addition to these alerts, Rebollo monitors the Wall Street Journal legal blog (http://blogs.wsj.com/law/) the SCOTUSblog (http://www.scotusblog.com/movabletype/) from Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld LLP that monitors any new activity in the Supreme Court, Robert Ambrogi's Lawsites (http://www.legaline.com/lawsites.html), Conglomerate (http://www.legaline.com/lawsites.html) and the law.com blog, Legal Blog Watch (http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/). She also monitors other law firms' websites to see what news they are posting.

Not all blogs or websites come with an easy to sign up for RSS feature. Rebollo's answer is to use one of the many freely available feed creator sites. She uses FeedYes for this function (http://www.feedyes.com/). Without any knowledge of HTML or XML, this site allows you to create a RSS feed from any blog or website.

The blogging bug has bit Rebollo in more ways than one. She is relocating to Australia later this year and as part of her relocation planning has begun her own blog, the Accidental Aussie (http://accidentalaussie.blogspot.com/). The blog covers technology trends in the legal industry as well as identifying sources useful to both U.S. and Australian legal information professionals. [Editor's note: Robyn is now living in Australia and working at the Brisbane Catholic Education Centre.]