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Why some lawyers should blog, and why some should not

David Allen Green contends there are three reasons why all lawyers should consider blogging - and other forms of social media - and one reason why they should not

22 February 2016

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In my last post for Solicitors Journal I contended that there had been a 'revival' of legal blogging, attributable to senior and experienced lawyers now routinely using the blogging medium to explain law and legal practice. I also observed that the lawyers more likely to blog were barristers and not solicitors, though the reasons for this are not altogether clear.

To start with, though: what exactly is 'blogging'? It is now a rather familiar (if perhaps ugly looking and sounding) word. But, defining blogging (as opposed to merely describing it) is difficult. What can be said with certainty is that blogging is writing intended to be read on a screen and it is published and accessed online. Blogs normally have an identifiable author and blogposts are usually posted on identifiable dates (and can be read in reverse chronological sequence on the blog).

In essence, blogging is a spirited form of writing that takes advantage of what can be done on the internet and which cannot easily be done in other media (there are no submission deadlines or word counts, and they can be posted as and when). A good legal blogpost will link to relevant materials, so you can verify the assertions made and explore further for yourself.

Another quality of blogging is that it is relatively informal, free from any well-meaning common law library manual on its proper forms and precedents. A blog not only has an identifiable author (even if pseudonymous) but that author will often have a distinctive style (or lack of style). This lack of formality makes it easy for people to scroll down the screen so as to carry on reading.

There are many things about which a legal blogger can write. I tend to write on the relationship between law and public policy, other legal bloggers focus on news events or the developments in their practice areas. My favourite top legal bloggers - Adam Wagner, Carl Gardner, Lucy Reed, and Matthew Scott - have little in common other than that they write well about the law and legal matters in practice, and they get the law right in doing so.

Blogging allows the lawyer a different type of creative freedom that cannot be done in any of the other forms of legal writing, and I contend there are three reasons why all lawyers should consider blogging - and other forms of social media - and one reason why they should not.

The first reason is that it enables the lawyer - from a student to a retired judge - to develop as a lawyer. Legal blogging is about engaging rigorously with law and legal materials in a direct and topical way and applying the law so as to understand a news event or perceived problem. This is a stimulating and constructive exercise.

Lawyers already advise on particular situations and provide that advice privately to clients - that is what we do. But a blogpost is an opportunity to apply the law to facts in a general way without losing any of the need to get the law 'right'. You may want to have disclaimers and so on, so as to ensure those reading do not somehow confuse your post for legal advice. But, in practice, such disclaimers are hardly needed. You are explaining the law in a general way to a general audience for their general interest and in doing so gaining a better grasp of the law yourself.

The second reason is that blogging helps you connect with others -from potential clients to professional peers - on terms that show what you are good at and what interests you. Blogging provides a window view without the clutter and banalities of professional directories, corporate websites, communications policies, and expensive PRs. Some barristers, for example, have developed substantial careers from their blogging, and a well-delivered post will have an impact far beyond a well-delivered seminar paper. The best blogs trigger new discussions and prompt further thoughts.

The third reason - and in my view the most important - is that it promotes the public understanding of law and the legal profession. As a profession, lawyers can have a bad image with lay people (unless someone realises they need one). Politicians score easy points about 'fat cat lawyers' and tabloids publish easy stories about how some law - or lawyer - is an ass. Legal blogging is one good way of circumventing this, to undermine the stereotypes and clichés. For too long, lawyers have had to depend on the media for laws and cases to be properly explained.

The one bad reason to blog is to do it just for the sake of it. The internet is a critical and impatient place, and it abhors the phoney just as nature abhors a vacuum. Blogs which are mere pedestrian accounts of the law in the abstract that anyone could copy and paste from the same resources are of no interest to anyone, including the author. You will also need to do more than just posting the latest press release or lecture: such publications can be stilted and dull to read online, and that is because they were not written to be read on the internet. And the 'let's have a blog - now what do we blog about?' attitude is the wrong approach.

Not all lawyers will want to blog and that is a good thing. But some lawyers will enjoy it and their readers will get a lot out of it. It can promote your own understanding of the law and your professional profile, as well as promoting the public understanding of the law. And if you don't want to blog, you will still have the immense benefit of reading posts of the lawyers that do.

David Allen Green is a solicitor at Preiskel & Co and writes the Jack of Kent legal blog

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