by Jeff Brown

Weblogs, also known as "blogs" or "blawgs," are the most talked about online marketing tool since those annoying pop-up ads promising to help you lose 10 pounds in 10 days. More than a half million blogs now reside on the Internet, according to a recent study by the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education. The number of blogs is expected to grow dramatically this year. Attorneys and law firms, in defiance of their Luddite heritage, are beginning to take advantage of this affordable and effective marketing medium – a true sign that there is something special about these neophyte e-creatures.

So, what are blogs? According to David Winer of Harvard Law School, "A weblog is a hierarchy of text, images, media objects and data, arranged chronologically, that can be viewed in an HTML browser." More simply, blogs are web pages consisting of blurb-like entries arranged in chronological order. Some call them online journals or diaries, although the creativity and complexity of many of today’s blogs belie such limited characterization. Blog content varies depending on blog purpose, but most blogs include a number of links to websites and other blogs. These links generate a veritable gold mine of web traffic.

The blog began as a personal online journal, subject to the musings of the introspectively inclined. Blogs first gained notoriety during the Iraq War. Many bloggers "scooped" news stories before traditional media outlets. Blogs became the preferred media source of news junkies starved for the latest from the frontline.

Candidate blogs, a direct descendant of the more generic political blog, and other political blogs soon followed. Internet-savvy Howard Dean and his supporters used blogs like Blog for America and Dean Nation to accelerate the distribution of Dean’s message and increase political participation, in general. Blogs, however, are now moving beyond their personal, news and political roots and taking new ground in the legal world.

[Editor's Note: As outlined in a New York TImes article titled The Corporate Blog is Catching On, more big businesses are turning to blogs to get their message out - officially and unofficially. While some law firms have started blogging officially, others have entered the"blogosphere" indirectly through their employees.]

Now, in the name of "more economical" marketing and the free exchange of legal information, attorneys are blogging (the term is flexible as a verb or noun). In his recent article titled Marketing Directly to Clients law blogger Larry Bodine explains that blogs "let a lawyer demonstrate expertise in a particular topic. A well-done blog is very impressive to clients and is a great business-getter."

Commonly, attorneys blog generally about the practice of law, specific areas of the law, or the law in certain jurisdictions. Some attorneys blog from their legal vantage point: judge, law clerk, summer associate or partner. Three partners recently launched a blog devoted almost exclusively to ranting about the lack of reverence paid to them by their associates. They aptly titled their blog, And What Thanks Do We Get?: Three Lawyers Teaching Young Lawyers to Steal Our Lunch (http://andwhatthanks.blogspot.com/).

Many attorney bloggers blog on matters outside the law, such as movies, current events, and politics. These non-legal tangents provide interesting diversions and tend to humanize the attorney, which makes him or her more approachable by potential clients. Ernest Svenson’s Ernie the Attorney blog (www.ernietheattorney.net) is one of the most popular attorney blogs.

Not to be outdone by their sub-parts, law firms, as entities, are now blogging. The legal bean counters that control the purses of most law firms like blogs. Blogs do not require software and hardware purchases, or the hiring of web designers and other high-priced IT professionals. A download from a blog publishing service is all that is needed. But, should a firm want help starting a blog, there are plenty of companies at the ready, like Lexblog (www.lexblog.com). A good example of a law firm blog is the recently launched May It Please The Court (www.mayitpleasethecourt.net).

Law blogs have been well-received by lawyers and non-lawyers alike. They have facilitated the free and rapid exchange of information about the law and legal services. They also have fostered frank debate about important legal issues. Whether viewed as a marketing or research tool, or both, law blogs are sure to impact attorneys, firms and the practice of law in coming years.

Jeff Brown is an attorney with Wright, Robinson Osthimer and Tatum, in Richmond, Virginia. His practice focuses almost exclusively on the areas of electronic discovery and document management.

Previously published in Virginia Lawyers Weekly and reprinted with permission.

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