New Media Marketing, Part I – Blogs: How Lawyers Can Become Thought Leaders in a Niche Market

  • August 14, 2014
  • Janet Ellen Raasch

In early 2005, Christine Mingie was one of many young associates toiling in the halls of the Vancouver office of Lang Michener. In April, she used simple technology to launch and author the firm’s first weblog – Forestry Law Blog.

Today, her name and her law firm’s name come up at the top of most Internet searches using the keywords “forestry lawyer Canada.” As a result, she has been “discovered” by the media and quoted in prominent stories in both the Toronto Star and the National Post on the subject of current legislation involving softwood lumber.

In less than one year, propelled by her blog, Mingie has gone from anonymous associate to forestry industry thought-leader.


Blogs appeared a few years ago as online journals, the vast majority of which were devoted to random personal interests. Nearly 70,000 new blogs launch each day, according to search engine Technorati ( – which monitors about 21.8 million blogs around the world. Most new personal blogs are created on a whim and will be abandoned within two months of launch.

In the modern legal marketplace, however, savvy businesses are adopting blog technology as a useful and proactive tool – to promote products and services and to manage their images. Increasingly, forward-looking law firms in Canada are emulating their clients and adding blogs to their marketing portfolios.

“When I first heard of blogs, I dismissed them as the random musings of over-caffeinated computer geeks,” said David Canton of Harrison Pensa, located in London, Ontario. “However, my law practice is in Internet law and e-commerce. I needed to be ‘where’ my clients were, so I launched a weblog in late 2004.” Canton’s blog can be found at

What differentiates a blog from other technologies is the ability to post new information in real time – and to actively send it out to those who have expressed an interest in the subject. New posts appear chronologically and almost always include links to related information. After a certain amount of time, older entries are archived – although still accessible via an archive section (by date or category) or a search function.

Another differentiator of blogs is the fact that they serve as interactive communities where information, links, opinions, video files, audio files, photos and other forms of media can be easily shared. Most blogs have a comments capability, where members of a community of interest can respond with additional information, links or an opinion.

Blogs offer a new way to communicate by combining pre-existing Internet technologies into single software packages. These packages combine elements of forum software, news software, web site software and content management. In the past, only tech types could understand these tools and make them work together; today, blog software makes them accessible and affordable to almost anyone.

Even Bill Gates, at the May 2004 Microsoft Summit, has famously declared that blogs with RSS technology (RSS will be covered in Part II of this series) have set the standard for the future. He stated that mass e-mails are an obtrusive way to communicate with clients; in addition, they are often trapped by firewalls and spam screeners. He stated that traditional web sites are outdated as well, because they are passive; their effectiveness depends on users returning to a site regularly to look for updates – which they rarely do.

Thought-Leadership in Real Time

The Internet has created a new generation of consumer that wants more control over the buyer/seller relationship – accessing information about legal services how they wish, where they wish and when they wish. This consumer is too impatient to wait around passively for news to be delivered on someone else’s timetable.

An effective law firm blog creates an interactive community of interest around a particular area of the law and/or a particular geographic niche. In order to create this community of interest, a legal blog must have a narrow focus – one in which the author(s) can realistically build a reputation as an undisputed expert. “You must be strategic. You can’t be all things to all people,” said Canton.

“Davis & Company had developed a very strong video game law practice,” said Chris Bennett of the firm’s Vancouver office. “An industry client suggested that we create a blog. ‘This is how we talk to each other,’ he said. We got the message.

“We launched in late 2004, and in 2005 our blog will receive more than 400,000 hits,” said Bennett. “As a result, we have been contacted by several major video game publishing companies around the world.” Bennett’s blog is a practice group collaborative effort, and can be viewed at

Davis & Company was so impressed with these results that it added two more blogs in May.“Even though we focus on Ontario,” said Chris Barnett, who coordinates this blog, “our ‘trackbacks’ show regular readers in California and even Portugal.”

“Once you have the weblog structure created, it is a cookie cutter process,” said Bennett, “it is relatively simple to create blogs for other practice or industry groups.”

In addition, a blog is an excellent way to put a human face on an often-bland “corporate” entity like a law firm. Most law firm marketing materials are generic, formal statements that feature a long list of abstract capabilities.

By comparison, a blog is informal and concrete; a lawyer can speak with a personal voice – reacting to and commenting on legal developments, events in the news and other experiences in a way that expresses his or her unique values and approach to the law. It is a place where a lawyer can actually demonstrate his or her legal philosophy.

“My forestry weblog is associated with the forestry law group at Lang Michener,” said Mingie. “So I have to write in a way that correctly reflects the philosophy of the group as a whole. However, I recently started a new weblog on international gaming that is completely my own. I speak with a much different voice on that site.”

Mingie’s gaming blog can be viewed at Although it is not one of Lang Michener’s official sites, the firm is comfortable with her creating links between the blog to the law firm. Mingie also contributes to the firm’s real estate blog,, and to a multilingual European blog that focuses on E.U. agriculture,

For an example of how blogs can humanize a corporate entity, visit the blog of Microsoft “technical evangelist” Robert Scoble (, who has been given free rein to post as he sees fit. This single blog has gone down in the annals of public relations history – doing more to put a human face on Microsoft than the vast amount of money spent on the company’s more traditional PR efforts.

Content is King

On any blog, content is king. Fresh content – at least a few posts a week – is what makes a blog the center of a community of interest; it is also the “fresh fly in the web” that attracts the attention of constantly roving search engine spiders.

Prior to the advent of search engines, it would have been virtually impossible for a working lawyer to conduct the kind of hard-copy research that would yield a substantial post each day. Once again, the Internet has changed everything.

Today, a blogger can download a wide range of tools, news aggregators or newsreaders that will do the lion’s share of the work. A simple, free aggregator used by some of the lawyers in this article is Google Alerts at The next version of Internet Explorer will include an aggregator. A currently available and powerful tool is NewsGator (

Inside an aggregator, a user defines topics, web sites and blogs of interest. Once this is done, the aggregator tirelessly scours the Internet looking for new content in these areas, and delivers to the user’s desktop on a defined schedule a headline and one-sentence summary of each item. Weblog author Canton receives a few hundred feeds from 25 Internet and e-commerce sites each day.

By setting aside a few minutes to scan the headlines, any lawyer will find plenty to post about and link to. “It doesn’t take much time,” said Barnett. “I generally scan through the day’s feeds on my laptop each evening while I’m watching TV.”

Thanks to aggregators, most lawyers devote just 20-30 minutes a day to maintaining their blogs. “A lot of lawyers spend more time than that on traditional efforts that reach just a few clients – like meals or association meetings,” said Mingie. “In less than half an hour a day, I am reaching thousands of people who have proactively expressed an interest in my subject with information that will help them do their jobs.”

All five lawyers interviewed for this article are adamant that the simple discipline of reviewing aggregated headlines and stories each day – in order to come up with blog posts – has turned them into much better lawyers.

Failed law firm blogs are often those that were “assigned” to someone who was not really passionate about the idea of creating a community of interest.

Once a blog is set up, posting an item is as simple as composing and sending an e-mail. On most days, this takes fewer than five minutes.

Search Engine Optimization

When fresh content is combined with RSS feed technology, it becomes more powerful – making it even more likely that a law firm’s web site, blog or even emailed newsletter will show up on the first page of search engine results.

Blog software includes the ability to automatically generate an RSS feed for each item that is posted. An RSS feed is a piece of code that can include keywords, categories, headlines and summaries of a post.

As soon as it is posted, an item with an RSS feed is sent out to people who have subscribed to the “feed,” and to the Internet, where it will be searched and catalogued by the appropriate spiders and aggregators. Visitors to a blog can subscribe toits feed by clicking on the orange “RSS” or “Atom” box that appears on most blogs.

Getting a blog set up and optimized for search engines is perhaps the most time-consuming part of the project. Once done, it needs little maintenance.

Keywords are the bait that will attract search engines to a blog. In preparing a blog, a lawyer must carefully choose the words that are used as keywords, categories, headlines, summaries and in the post content itself. In industry parlance, this is called “rich content.”

Many law firms make the mistake of approaching this process from a firm-centric point of view – choosing keywords based on what they think that their potential clients are looking for in a law firm. Research shows that the actual keywords used by clients are often totally different. When choosing keywords, think like a client. Better yet, ask a sampling of clients which keywords they would use to search for professional services.

Another element that attracts the attention of search engines to a blog is the number of in-bound links – a behavior that is made easy by blog software. Most search engines are built upon the common-sense premise that the more useful a site is, the more people will link to it. Different search engines use different algorithms to measure the strength, persistence and vitality of links to a blog.

Finally, lawyers should register their new blogs with the appropriate search engines and aggregators. Search engines will eventually find a good blog, whether or not it is registered, but this greatly speeds up the process.

Research and Media

Blog software can collect valuable information for a law firm’s marketing purposes by showing who visits a blog, where they come from, how they get there (keywords and search engines used), how long they stayed, which posts they read, how often they come back, and whether or not they have subscribed to the blog’s RSS feed.

A law firm can also use an RSS aggregator to monitor the Internet in real time to find out – and capitalize upon or protect against – what is being said about the firm, its lawyers, its matters, its clients and potential clients, and its competition.

You can also measure the buzz created by your blog via one of several blog search engines on the Web, including BlogPulse. Google also has its own blog search.

Many people in the public relations industry claim that blogs now vie with standard press releases as the preferred method of distributing a story idea to the media. Like bloggers, reporters use aggregators to keep current with breaking news within their beats. When a lawyer posts on a subject that the reporter is interested in, the post will automatically and immediately appear on the reporter’s desktop.

Blog Platforms

Lawyers in search of the simplest and least expensive form of blog can use a hosted blog provider. TypePad ( and Blogger ( are examples. There is no need to install software, acquire a web hosting account or obtain a domain name. A user simply goes online to set up an account, makes a few formatting choices and starts to blog. A hosted blog address generally looks like

Lawyers who want more flexibility and are comfortable with terms like HTML, CSS and FTP – or have good IT support – may prefer to design their own sites using platforms likeWordPress ( and Movable Type ( This kind of blog software is downloaded, customized with any desired add-ons and plugins, and than installed on the firm’s own server or on a host.

In addition, there are turnkey providers who will design your blog, host it, develop keywords, optimize it for search engines, generate usage statistics and train users.

Some of these providers offer their own blogs, as well. Kevin O’Keefe’s web site is and his blog is Joshua Fructer designed the Lang Michener series of blogs; his web site is Sonny Cohen’s web site is and his blog is Tim Stanley specializes in search engine optimization; his blog is

“As far as I am concerned,” said Bennett, “blogs have been a great addition to Davis & Company. In my area, our name is out there as a go-to firm for the legal issues involved in the video gaming industry. The discipline of reviewing each day all of the aggregated posts on this topic keeps us at the cutting edge of our profession. For these reasons, we have received new work from good clients.”

Janet Ellen Raasch is a writer/ghostwriter who works closely with lawyers and other professional services providers -- helping them promote themselves as thought leaders within their target markets through publication of instructive articles, books, white papers and content for the Internet. She can be reached at (303) 399-5041 or