Blogging’s contrarians

As sure as thesis breeds antithesis, blogging’s popularity within the legal profession is drawing some to question its value, mostly with regard to marketing.

Last week, Dale Tincher, president of the Web development company Consultwebs, published a thoughtful piece, Law Firm Blogs – Hip or Hype?, in which he said that the majority of law firm blogs are “a significant waste of time, money and credibility.” Kevin O’Keefe followed with a point-by-point response to Tincher’s article. Then today, TechnoLawyer circulated an article by Santa Monica, Calif., lawyer Joe Hartley titled, “A Contrarian View of Legal Blogs.” (Unfortunately, I do not see Hartley’s article available anywhere online.) Hartley’s article makes several interesting points, leading to the conclusion: “A well-written piece in your firm’s library of available articles, composed without the pressure of immediate deadlines, will serve your firm far better than following the blogging crowd and joining the cacophony of loud voices and empty content.”

The synthesis, I believe, lies in neither overstating nor understating blogging’s value. In fairness to Tincher, it is not accurate to call him a contrarian. His message is more cautionary, urging law firms to plan before jumping on the blogging bandwagon. “I believe that law firm blogs can be very effective if developed as part of a cohesive overall marketing campaign,” he writes. Earlier, he says, “If your vision is to develop a blog and quickly attract a significant number of cases, you will be disappointed.” Tincher urges that, for marketing, “a blog should be coordinated with a Website, articles written for periodicals and other proactive promotional approaches in order to succeed.” O’Keefe responds that blogs are Web sites — that most Internet users can’t tell the difference between a well-designed blog and a Web site — and that blogs do bring in new business and revenue, even without other marketing.

Both Tincher and O’Keefe make many valid and important points. I don’t mean to trivialize either article by overgeneralizing their conclusions, but I strongly agree with what I take to be Tincher’s basic point: Blogging is not for everyone and you need to assess whether it is right for you before you leap into it. Even if it is right for you, do not exaggerate what blogging can accomplish as a marketing tool. Sure, O’Keefe is correct that some lawyers report getting business from blogging, but far more will tell you otherwise.

To my mind, what you can realistically expect from blogging as a marketing tool is:

  • You will achieve higher search-engine rankings. This is important. Firms pay good money to search-optimization consultants looking for precisely this outcome. A consumer who searches for a trademark lawyer on Google will find Marty Schwimmer right there at the top of the rankings. Marty didn’t pay anyone to optimize his site to get that result.
  • You may achieve broader name recognition. Certainly, you will become better known among bloggers and legal gearheads. But while bloggers many become better known among a certain national and even international community, they may remain virtually anonymous among the local community in which they practice. Blogging is more effective for certain types of practices than for others.
  • You may be able to enhance your standing as an authority in your field. This may lead to other opportunities to publish or speak.

I hope TechnoLawyer will point out to me if Hartley’s article is available on the Web somewhere. He makes some points worthy of debate. However, his ultimate conclusion — that a library of articles on a law firm’s Web site will serve your firm far better than a blog — is simply wrong. A library of articles has value for showing your firm’s capabilities, but a library will not draw visitors to your site with anywhere near as much certainty or power as a blog. To the extent that marketing on the Internet is about attracting visitors, a blog will dramatically outperform just about any other method there is.

Blogging is not the be-all or end-all of legal marketing. It is, however, highly effective for raising one’s visibility and stature on the Internet. That heightened visibility often leads to ancillary benefits with marketing value of their own. The greater your visibility, the more likely you’ll be found. The greater your stature, the more likely those who find you will retain you. In the end, that’s all there is to marketing.