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Blogging Policies and Best Practices for Lawyers and Law Firms

By Edward Poll

More from the CBA on Blogging

Blogs: How Lawyers Can Become Thought Leaders in a Niche Market
(CBA PracticeLink)

Blogging the Spotlight
(National Magazine)

LL.Bloggers
(National Magazine 2006 Student Edition)

Effective blogging requires some fundamental policies that are valid for individual lawyers and law firms alike. As a dedicated blogger myself (www.lawbizblog.com), I have found the experience to be a powerful form of communication that continually connects me to actual and potential clients in ways I never anticipated.

When done right, by combining personalized observation with facts and insights, a blog can be a living, detailed entity that represents you to the world.

When done wrong, blogs can be a chore, an unwelcome expense that produces little return on your effort, or even an ethical minefield. The difference can lie in how well you implement policies in these specific areas.

Policies on Purpose

A blog/blawg can be a powerful marketing tool by combining personalized observation with facts and insights from the lawyer’s area of focus. Blogs are best used in a marketing sense when they support the creation of marketing relationships, but they must be considered in light of your entire marketing strategy for your target market, not as isolated productions by themselves. That requires specific policies to define a blog’s purpose.

  • Create a profile of your ideal client who will give you the kind of work you want and develop a marketing strategy that focuses on this target, not everyone.

  • Keyboard spelling out blogMake sure your blog supports your market and strategy. If your target market is consumers who are not so sophisticated that they regularly search the web, then blogging is not so meaningful to them and may not be a worthwhile marketing strategy for you.

  • Prepare your blog postings to visualize and address your market, so that recipients will learn what your value to them can be and why they need you and your services.

  • Express your knowledge and opinion in your practice area; if the goal is business development, then this is not a personal journal.

  • Write your blog posts with the intention of carrying on a conversation with this ideal client, who you can’t meet face-to-face. Be informal, conversational, and show that you have something meaningful to say.

Policies on Technology

There’s no getting around the fact that blogs require some technological investment, and even technological expertise. However, there is no need to go to extremes on either score. These policies can keep the technology cost manageable.

  • Purchase software that is inexpensive and easy to use if you want to do blog posts yourself. Typepad remains the software of choice for many people in this regard.

  • Avoid fancy graphics and complex navigation. Blog posts should be in straightforward chronological order, most recent first. If you want to archive your older posts, it may be best to group them into categories – but not your current ones.

  • Create links from your blog to your website, if you have one. By doing that, the frequency of your blog posts can improve your website’s standing in the search engines.

  • Link your blog to other blogs, and encourage bloggers to link to you. External linkage is another driver of search engine rankings, as a measure of your blog’s popularity.

  • Consider hiring someone to manage the technical aspects of your blog: posting your content, tracking replies to posts, working on search engine optimization. The expense may be far less than the time you spend yourself in updating and managing.

  • Focus on your core competency – writing about your legal practice area – and delegate the blog maintenance to others.

Policies on Expense and Time

Making frequent posts and answering dozens, or hundreds, of email comments, can take time. Let’s say it’s just 2 hours per workweek. If we assume 50 workweeks per year for ease of calculation, and 2 hours per week and $200 per hour billable value for an attorney, the calculation is $20,000 of billable time used to maintain a blog. The expense can be worth it, but you need policies to ensure that is the case.

  • Follow up on your blogging, both by responding to inquiries and incorporating your posted material into articles, speeches, client updates, and so on. If you are making the effort, make maximum marketing application of it beyond your blog itself.

  • Incorporate blogging into your daily professional routine. Occasional posts are simply not effective. Establish a regular posting routine so you can keep content fresh.

  • Leverage the efforts of others. If you use a ghostwriter, or have staff members do research, I believe there is nothing wrong with incorporating their efforts into your blog content. Their contributions free more of your time to do what you do best, and only you can do – practice law and market for new clients.

Policies on Professional Responsibility

Lawyers are traditionally governed by rules of professional conduct of the jurisdiction in which they were called to the bar. When you have a blog, you may be governed by many more jurisdictions, those where your readers are located. That means you must have policies in place to avoid certain ethical snares.

  • Maintain the final responsibility for your blog’s content. This is always important, but is especially so if (as I suggest in several earlier policies) you use the services of others for technical support and posted material. Your blog is you, and anything said on it is your personal communication as a professional.

  • Avoid openly giving advice and soliciting clients on your blog, as this could open you to disciplinary action.
     
  • Remember, a blog is a public forum open to all. An online criticism of an expert witness or an adversary in a current case could become an ex parte communication if the judge hearing the case reads your criticism. Your opinion may have ramifications well beyond your own blogging, so use discretion.

Drafting a Formal Blogging Policy for Your Law Firm

By now, most of us have heard horror stories of employees being reprimanded or even fired over the content of their personal or business-related blogs. Many large companies and firms have implemented formal policies to help employees navigate the minefield of ethical, legal and loyalty issues that can arise from blogging.

Even small firms can benefit from a formalized policy, to protect the firm’s integrity and reputation … and to prevent employees from making career-limiting blog posts of their own! Rather than being viewed as a big-brother-type imposition, the policy should be developed collaboratively in the best interest of both the firm and individual lawyers.

IBM was one of the earliest leaders in this realm, and the following synopsis of their policy’s executive summary is a good starting point for firms to take and adapt for their own purposes:

  1. Know and follow the firm’s existing rules of business conduct.

  1. Online postings are individual interactions, not corporate communications—you’re personally responsible for your own posts. Protect your privacy and realize that postings will be in the public domain for a long time.

  1. When you blog about the firm, be upfront about your role/position within the firm. Speak in the first person to make it clear that you are writing for yourself and not on behalf of the firm.

  1. When you post about the work you do or about anything related to the firm, use a disclaimer such as: "The postings on this site are the opinions of {individual’s name} and do not necessarily represent the position or opinions of {firm name}."

  1. Respect copyright, fair use, privacy and financial disclosure laws.

  1. Don’t disclose confidential or proprietary information about the firm.

  1. Don't cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval.

  1. Respect your audience and adhere to basic rules of ethical conduct (i.e. no ethnic slurs, insults, obscenity, etc.) Use caution and discretion when it comes to potentially objectionable or inflammatory subjects, especially politics and religion.

  1. Cite other bloggers writing about the same topic.

  1. Correct your mistakes, don’t pick fights and don't alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so.

  1. Provide value, worthwhile information and perspective.

View the full original policy, as drafted by IBM’s James Snell.

Prefer a simpler approach? How about adopting the one-line blogging policy suggested by Exceller8ion: “When blogging: better to be a smart ass than a dumb ass.”


More Corporate Blogging Policies:

  • IBM
  • Sun Microsysystems
  • Groove
  • Microsoft
  • Yahoo!
  • Forrester Research
  • Articles/Posts:

    Thoughts from a Management Lawyer: Blogging

    Corporate blog policy: Don’t be a dumb ass

    Got blogs? You need a company policy - Maine Today

    Blogging Policies Needed in the Workplace, Attorney Advises - Triangle Business News


    A Final Word

    Blogs may represent a new form of communication for lawyers, but the glamour of the technology should not obscure what we’re trying to accomplish with them. Ultimately, blogs should be regarded and managed just as any other professional activity that a lawyer undertakes.

    Just as you have policies in your practice for how you prepare an engagement letter or develop a fee schedule, so too should you have policies, such as suggested here, for how you blog. Doing so will keep your blog in its proper place, as another tool that can help you secure clients and be of valuable service to them.

    Edward Poll (edpoll@lawbiz.com) is a certified management consultant and coach in Los Angeles who coaches attorneys and law firms on how to deliver their services more profitably. He is the author of Attorney and Law Firm Guide to the Business of Law: Planning and Operating for Survival and Growth, 2nd ed. (ABA, 2002), Collecting Your Fee: Getting Paid from Intake to Invoice (ABA, 2003) and, most recently, Selling Your Law Practice: The Profitable Exit Strategy (LawBiz, 2005).

    Comments/Discussion

    Has your firm developed its own policy for blogging lawyers? If so, please share your policy or experiences with other members below, or send them via e-mail to praticelink@cba.org.

    By: Mark Kuiack, Editor, CBA PracticeLink
    Posted: 03-20-07
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    Neither the author nor the CBA should be construed as endorsing any product or website listed in this article. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CBA.
    In this document, any reference to "jurist" or "lawyer" includes, where appropriate, "Québec notary".

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