Sex, drugs, and bloggers

Periodically, I have an email exchange or telephone conversation with an attorney who wants to know how to blog. Usually, they’ve been told that every attorney has to have a blog, to keep up with the times, and that they are going to miss out on clients if they don’t. Sometimes, I believe they have something to say and just need some help getting started – a few of these have turned out to be worthwhile.

When I first started South Carolina Criminal Defense Blog, I had no idea what I was doing. I paid a fairly well known and effective internet marketing/website hosting company to help create and to maintain my website, and they suggested that I start a blog as well. I liked the idea – not so much for marketing but because I wanted to write and I wanted to publish my ideas. I liked the idea of an online discussion about things that matter. I started looking at criminal defense blogs, and found several that I enjoyed reading – I discovered google reader and started adding blogs to it that I liked to read. In the beginning, there were only a few that I enjoyed and respected – Simple Justice, Defending People, and Criminal Defense, and it is no coincidence that they are among the few from that time that are still around.  The list has grown, and my regular reads can be found in my blogroll.

The company that hosted the blog told me how I was supposed to blog but it didn’t sound like blogging to me – find an article that talks about a criminal defense related topic, write about it and make sure that the text is filled with relevant key-words for the search engines, and end every blog post with a call to action – if you need a myrtle beach criminal defense lawyer to help you with your trafficking cocaine charges, call my horry county criminal defense office today, etc.  The company conveniently provided a blogroll for me, with links to other blogs that they also hosted, but I found I had no control over the blogroll or any part of the blog except the text of the posts.

I promptly ignored their instructions, and wrote about whatever I felt like writing.  The call to action never appeared in my posts, because my target audience wasn’t potential clients so much as the legal community and other bloggers.  I insisted on taking control of my blogroll, against their advice, because I did not want my blog to link to the dreck that most of their other blogs were publishing – I wanted to reward the bloggers who were writing about things that I wanted to read, and who were writing about real issues that mean something.

I read posts by bloggers who complained about the new “marketing blogs,” and agreed with most of what they said, but I’ve accepted the reality that marketing blogs are here to stay – they take nothing away from me or any serious blogger.  I doubt that the average attorney or citizen who stumbles across them gets confused, mistakes them for serious discourse, and starts reading them.  They are what they are – it’s an advertisement, like a website that has regular updates (if the attorney keeps up with it, which often doesn’t happen).

I started Trial Theory on WordPress because I was tired of the “marketing blog” shell that I was writing in.  Eventually, I combined the two blogs on WordPress and found a site to host it.  It felt like freedom.

When people ask, I tell them be honest with yourself about what you want to do.  If you want to market – call Justia, Lexblog, or any of the successful companies that host marketing blogs, and they will be happy to provide you with instructions and set up a “blog” for you.  Their blogs rank high in the search engines, they have canned content if you want it, they send you blogging ideas so you don’t have to strain your brain about what to write, and they will even find someone to write your blog for you if you want.

If you want to write, if you want to blog about your own ideas, if your primary goal is not marketing but to express yourself, start a blog on wordpress or blogger.com.  It’s free (unless you decide to move your blog to your own server at some point), it’s simple and intuitive, you will have complete control over the format, the theme, the blogroll, and the functions of the blog.  If you find you like it, keep doing it.  If you don’t, or you find you don’t have the time, you can quit and take it down anytime you want.

I don’t mind talking about blogging – I love this blog and I love talking about it if anyone is interested.  But my warning is that most of the people I’ve talked to that started blogs have failed miserably – some did themselves more harm than good by attempting a marketing style blog but publishing bad facts and mis-statements of the law.  More than a few tried, posted a few articles, lost interest, and then left their blog up, collecting dust without a new post after years, but still linked to from their websites.  Some have found their niche and are still blogging a few years down the road.

Why do I keep writing on this blog?  I want a platform to express my ideas, about criminal defense and whatever I feel like writing about.  I want to analyze appellate opinions, because it gives me an excuse to read them and learn them, and it has paid off for me when I need to remember a case name or answer a question on the fly in the courtroom.  I want to stay focused on trial skills, and writing about what I learn and my experiences helps me to keep that focus and continue to progress.  My target audience is not potential clients, but I have had retained clients who told me that they liked what they read on my blog.

Periodically, I find a new determination to make every blog post professional, and not to be critical or overly controversial.  That never lasts very long.

 

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