All About Information Turns One – Some Reflections

I’m notorious in my family for missing birthdays, but I’ve been thinking about this one for a while. I started blogging here one year ago, and after a bit of thought, have decided to go for another. It’s been entirely rewarding, though hard work too, and I’m still energized enough to carry on.

To commemorate this anniversary I thought I’d reflect on my experience and direct my thoughts to those of you in Canadian firms who are considering blogging. I specify “Canadian” because I sense we’re a lot more conservative than our American counter-parts. I also think, even now, that there’s a lot of space out there for Canadian law blogs.  Pick a niche or create a bizarre new one like I have. It would be great to see more people get on board. I’m sounding like the now-initiated, but perhaps that’s a perspective this birthday has earned.

Here are my thoughts.

Ask first. I really did wake up in the middle of the night, open up a WordPress account and start blogging. I must have been suffering from the same disease that makes so many people post dumb things online and later regret the consequences. When it dawned on me that this might be an issue with my employer, I approached “management” and tried to plead that the blog was my purely private activity. This was too insincere an argument for me to make (a management employment lawyer after all!) and I quickly abandoned my defence and asked for mercy. Thankfully, Hicks is extremely entrepreneurial in its outlook and was happy to let me continue on.

It’s a discipline. That’s the best thing about this for me. After tracking tracking legal developments and publishing internally for years as a research lawyer, I’ve really just taken my process outside the firm and have focused more on areas that are relevant to my own practice. I have a really hard time reading a case or an article closely if I’m not forced to do something with it, so blogging is a good way for me to develop knowledge of the substantive law. Yes, learning by doing is the superior form of professional development, but most of my practice is about developing tactics and strategies and finding practical solutions. Until I get to write facta on subjects I like for at least a few hours a day, this a relatively good way to stay current.

You’re not giving anything away that isn’t worth giving away. If you do start blogging, I bet you’ll have conversations with the more traditional lawyers in your firm who will lightly imply that you’re giving away valuable information to the competition. If you do, you should tell them that information is cheap. In keeping this blog, I aggregate information, organize it into a somewhat usable form and use a bit of my own style though its communication. I like to think that I’m providing an audience of contacts and potential contacts with value though this exercise, but this is hardly the highly-specialized application of our skills that contacts turned clients demand. I’m not a subscriber to the theory that the modern business organization is irrelevant given the growth of outside networks, but I do believe there is a net benefit to engaging in a reasonable degree of extra-firm information-sharing.

It’s about marketing, not sales. Speaking about the returns, they’re hard to measure. I’ve received a number of questions from individuals who want free advice and have drawn a firm lines to avoid slipping into engagements, but I have not really received any contact that has led directly to a retainer. Is this a problem given that I justify the great amount of time I spend on this based significantly on its business benefit? Not from my perspective. I’m not fooling myself or anyone else about the business benefits of blogging, which are more about marketing and profiling than sales. For me blogging is also about relationship-building, and this has been a great vehicle for pushing relevant content to my existing contacts and some new contacts. In the most-rewarding cases I’ve been able to develop a “behind the blog” dialogue on topics of mutual professional interest.

You will need to reckon with the privacy-related ramifications of you blog. I like doing case reports because they’re not associated with a great deal of personal exposure. To be honest, posts like this one, where I come out a little more and speak in a personal voice, make me extremely uncomfortable. At the same time, I feel a natural draw towards personal exposure that’s hard to resist, and understand that the real power of online social networking is derived from the nature of the content and not just the technology.  Is a blawg really a “blawg” if its published in the style of a firm newsletter?  If you try blawging, you’ll ultimately find a level of personal exposure suits your disposition.

You’re going to self-insure. You’ll face risks of both the legal and business kind.  And though it’s fairly easy to publish within the bounds of the law of defamation, there’s about a million subtle ways to offend a member of your firm’s client base (or a member of your firm for that matter). A disclaimer is essential – and I really am not expressing the views of my employer in this blog – but in they eyes of an upset client, a disclaimer may be insufficient. I had a good track record given my former role as a research lawyer role because I was part of a team that doubled as the Hicks’s external communications department. I suspect this gives the firm some comfort as I publish away relatively uncontrolled, but I don’t have any illusions about my ultimate accountability for what I write on this website.

Thanks to everyone who has shown an interest in the last 12 months, and I look forward to this next year!