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Balancing Life and Practice

  Small Firm Lawyers Jump On Blawg Bandwagon


The past year has seen incredible growth in legal web logs, or blawgs. And that's good news for small firm writing and practice skills.

So What's A Blawg?
Blawgs are online diaries offering commentary on the law or related legal issues. These diaries are regularly maintained by lawyers, law professors and even law students who practice or otherwise have an interest in a particular legal field. Today, you can find blawgs on everything from appeals to zoning. For example, I teach legal writing to lawyers and law students; so I created an online diary for them, as well. And I'm not alone. There are several legal writing blawgs by lawyers, academics and law librarians.

About the Author

About the author: Robert M. Unterberger, Esq., is founder and president of Legal Writing Success (http://www.legalwritingsuccess.com), a company that specializes in providing legal research, writing and consulting to small law firms and legal departments. His solo practice involves class actions, catastrophic loss and commercial disputes. He may be reached at mail@legalwritingsuccess.com.


In my August column - "Proofreaders Wanted for Small Firm Lawyers" - I suggested several ways for lawyers to improve their editing skills. Well, if you write about proofreading you better expect that readers will proofread your column, right?

Although one reader found the column both "insightful" and "well-written" (thanks mom), she also counted a half-dozen grammatical errors. That's better than other readers who counted between two and four errors. One day I'll learn the difference between "discreet" and "discrete." Until then, I can sum up my mistakes in the words of another reader: "Oops!"

On a less personal note, other readers offered terrific insight on how to improve proofreading. One reader explained that he never relies only on his spell-checking program because it doesn't read for context. Another reader commented that Word and Wordperfect spell-checkers, although helpful, generally don't proof for punctuation, parentheticals and quotation marks. Bottom line: You have to re-read and edit yourself.

As for my suggestion that solos share their writing with lawyers with whom they share suite space, one reader explained that he would rather not show his peers just how poor his writing is!

Several readers noted that while red-lining (or black-lining) drafts may work well in a large-firm setting, where several lawyers can be involved in a written project, in a small practice it may simply be easier for the sole author to identify an assignment by footer: "smithmotion.draft1", "smithmotiondraft2", and so on, without red-lining. One reader added an important caveat about red-lining: Always make sure that hidden information from prior versions is not inadvertently included when you forward drafts or final copies electronically to opposing counsel or clients.

Finally, a reader commented on the economics of proofreading. He noted that my column failed to consider just who pays when small firm lawyers make an extra effort to proofread. He even suggested that some practitioners stand to lose business to less conscientious competitors by raising their own level of proofreading. I certainly hope that's not the case. As I mentioned in last month's column, it may be difficult to see a dollar benefit from proofreading. Indeed, one reader queried whether his clients even notice some of his grammatical errors.

I look forward - with understandable trepidation - to hearing from you about this month's "Write Now" column.

An important note here: I don't want to promote or criticize particular blawgs. The blawg boom has created wonderful choices. I may enjoy one legal writing blawg, while you find another more worthwhile.

No matter your particular interest, blawgs are easy to find. In fact, you find them the same way you find Web sites: using an internet search engine. Then just bookmark 'em. But that's where the similarities end. Blawgs really are quite different from Web sites. One practitioner suggested to me that web sites are to blawgs as television commercials are to news programming. Commercials are designed to sell products, just as Web sites are generally used to sell a law firm's services. Television news programming is designed to inform, just as blawgs are used to inform readers on areas of law, using links, case reports and commentary.

The Blawg Explosion
Already there are hundreds of blawgs. Many have been created by lawyers at large institutional firms. And that's just fine. But I see that the better blawgs "brand" solo and small firm practitioners as having particularized expertise. Large firm lawyers were bitten by the web bug and spent tens of thousands of dollars building brochure sites with all of the bells and whistles. Many of these lawyers are gun shy when it comes to blawgs. In contrast, small firm lawyers have taken to the low-cost blawg in droves. It's great to see so many solos creating practice blawgs, updating them regularly with significant content, and now enjoying credibility and reputation from these blawgs.

How can blawgs build reputations? Consider this: A solo lawyer told me that interest in his blawg has led to her having a "virtual" practice, with some 200 lawyers regularly visiting her site. And that was just last month.

Why Blawgs Are Growing
Blawgs are increasingly popular, I believe, for three reasons: First, blawgs can be inexpensive to create and update. Indeed, you can have a simple blawg up and running in less than an hour using free weblog software, although many lawyers use more costly and sophisticated software for readability and graphics. Second, blawgs offer fresh content that search engines prize, so blawg subject matter ordinarily rises to the top of search engines, ahead of promotional (i.e., law firm) websites. Third, blawg links create tremendous traffic to both your blawg and other sites with whom you link.

Prior to blawgs, lawyers interested in particular practice areas generally sought out listservs and discussion groups that were both generally password protected and intentionally interactive. For example, I participated in academic legal writing discussion groups. In comparison, blawgs are not access protected. Anyone can read them. And that's one of the things I love most about blawgs. With listserv and discussion groups, bar associations and other legal groups generally restrict access to paying members. And even when you pay, my experience with listservs and discussion groups is that one or two "members" dominate the discussion, deterring others from participating -- so they're really not so interactive. Blawgs, on the other hand, can be designed to permit comment, but many do not opt not to add that feature.

The Blawg Universe
I have been overwhelmed by the variety and depth of many blawgs, especially in such practice areas as small firm practice, trial law, appellate Iitigation and, of course, legal research and writing. And I especially admire the growing number of solo and small firm practitioners who regularly contribute to blawgs. So how would you find the better, say, legal writing blawgs out there? It's easy. First begin with a blawg that aggregates the growing number of blawgs. As I mentioned, I don't play favorites here - just use your favorite search engine to begin and type in "blawg", "legal web log" or "legal blog". From there, you will likely find blawgs that fill your needs. Still can't find anything? Simply go to one of the more popular blawgs and chances are good that it will list links to other blawgs you may find helpful. You'll find that many of the better blawgs have easy to find and organized links to other blawgs.

How have blawgs helped my legal writing? A few examples suffice:

  • I found a solo practioner's blawg offering local practice tips when I needed to file a motion in an unfamiliar jurisdiction
  • One blawg specializes in answering appellate practice questions
  • A law firm librarian's blawg sometimes serves as my "virtual" reference library
  • These blawgs just scratch the surface. Because this field is so new, I'd suggest that the best blawgs are just now being built - many by solo lawyers -- and they may not yet be in sight. No single blawg tries to be all things to every reader, but this small firm lawyer has found them to be very helpful.

    Copyright 2003 Robert M. Unterberger

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