Blogs as Marketing Tools – Drawing a Negative Inference

I’ve been confused and irritated lately because of the way an “All Request Tuesday” feature I did on my blog has become the poster child for some about the dangers of blogging for lawyers.
In fairness, I expected some criticism for the feature, but not for the reasons some have chosen to use – reasons that often show a lack of understanding about the standard mechanisms of blogs and a surprising willingness to paint with a very broad brush, using some troubling assumptions.
It disturbs me that the comments and questions have a negative effects on other bloggers and probably caused Evan Schaeffer to change his approach to blogging.
Since my blog is designed and intended NOT to be a marketing device for my law practice, it’s surprising that people have singled it and me out for criticism on this topic. I expected a backlash against blogs and bloggers in 2005, but I didn’t expect that the backlash would hit me, especially for the reasons I’ve seen and heard.
Ah, well, it gives me something to blog about.
Here’s the story.
A few months ago, I realized that I had a bunch of email messages, article excerpts, draft posts and ideas lying around that I was never going to get around to polishing into posts for my blog.
I came up with a couple of ideas. One was to publish them as they were and identify them as “scraps and workshop” in honor of the NRBQ album of tht name. Another was to have an “idea garage sale” a la Matt Homann and publish them by that approach. The other idea was to write a question that introduced each of them and have an “all request” day.
I liked the last approach because it suited the pieces well, had some theatricality to it and might even lead to people sending me requests. And it has.
My concern was that people would see what I was doing and criticize me for pretending to answer “real” questions from my “audience.” I decided it was worth the risk, and that it would be fun.
So, over a period of weeks, I put the “all request” day together and had a whole set of posts collected in a Word document.
On the appointed day, I sent the posts out over the course of the day, trying to give the illusion that people couldn’t stop asking me questions. The people I talked to seemed to get the joke, and there was a lot of good material in those posts that would still be sitting on my hard drive if I hadn’t taken that approach.
I ended up getting some questions from readers that I’ve answered on other Tuesdays.
Lately, I’ve become aware that my effort has raised fundamental concerns about the use of blogging by lawyers.
How so, you ask?
Let me try to describe the concern. Apparently I am a better writer than I thought I was, because a good number of people seem to have thought that I spent the day answering questions from my incredibly enthusiastic audience. The key clue – they studied carefully the times of my posts!
For the record, I’ve never paid attention to the times of anyone’s posts. As most bloggers know, the time of posting and the time of writing can be hours, days or even months apart. Some bloggers even set up automatic posting at future dates and times (what I might well have done for that “all request” day if I had gotten around to learning how to do that).
So, I now find that people have taken two fundamental misapprehensions – that I was actually answering questions in real time and not publishing “old inventory” and that I was writing and publishing in real time – and jumped to the conclusions that (1) I spent the entire day blogging, (2) I spend all day every day blogging, and (3) most disturbing, they are concerned that I am not serving my legal clients. Some have even written about this without bothering to check with me.
Whoa! I hope that they put more effort into research and logic with their legal work than they did in constructing that argument.
They have gone on to raise the question whether a lawyer who blogs can devote adequate time to doing legal work.
I can’t believe that I have to make the effort to explain this stuff, but here are a few things to think about. Please excuse me for taking the liberty of combining some of the questions and comments I have heard and making the kinds of generalizations people seem comfortable using when discussing bloggers. In other words, I may be using rhetorical techniques like hyperbole to make my points. As I said, I’m irritated by all of this.
1. In St. Louis, many lawyers have season tickets to Cardinals baseball games. If you factor in time spent watching away games on television, playoff games, and the like, a lawyer might well spend 800 to 1,000 hours a year in baseball-related time. Where is the vocal criticism of the devastating impact of this common activity in keeping a lawyer from servicing clients or generating enough billable hours? Writing 3 to 5 blog posts a week might take a couple of hours a week. How am I supposed to take the comments about blogging and its negative impact on lawyers seriously?
2. When you live in the world of billable hours, you put a price on your time, not a value. I’m surprised that these critics do not raise the issue of elimination of sleep – a fundamentally unproductive use of billable time.
3. It probably will come as no surprise that, as someone well-known throughout my career for meeting deadlines (and getting things done quickly and early), that the insinuation that I am ignoring clients to blog irritates me greatly. I haven’t checked the ethics rules, but I do know that those kinds of unfounded and unconfirmed comments about other lawyers are corrosive and destructive to the profession in general. I can only be responsible for the way that I manage the expectations of my clients, not for the way that you manage the expectations of your clients. Believe it or not, I might not practice law, or live my life, like you do or you seem to want me to do.
4. I left my old law firm to practice law on a part-time basis and to leave the world of accounting for my life in 6-minute billable increments. If I were still in that world, I might not blog in the same way I do now. I’m still confused why people hold me to the same standards as those who are most immersed in that world. I’m trying not to be like them.
5. I’m willing to take the chance that my clients and others out there like them are more interested in finding someone with my personality, my interests and my approach than they are a totally law-focused billing machine. I’ve grown to believe that many of the problems we face are made more difficult to resolve because of lawyers who focus on legal issues without a consideration of broader issues.
6. So what even if I would have taken a day to concentrate on blogging all day long? Who cares? I don’t raise hell when you spend a day golfing. In fact, I’d encourage you to take a day off to get out to the links to release a little of that pressure you seem to be under lately.
7. I’ve said this hundreds of times: I started my blog as a writing experiment. That’s what it is and what it is about. It’s not an advertisement for my law practice nor is it intended to be. I know what a blog to market a law practice should be like and it’s not what my blog is. No one ever believes me about my blog being an experiment in writing, but that’s what it is. I woke up one day with 300 publications, decided I was a writer, and decided that to keep things interesting I wanted to write in new ways and see if I could develop a new audience. A blog was the perfect vehicle. I can’t understand why people don’t want to believe me about that.
8. I think that the critiques show more about the psychology of the critics than it does about anything else. I’ve tended to find that the people most concerned about others goofing off and not taking care of their clients are the ones with the most problems in those areas. I’m not being critical of anyone, just making a general observation – just like they did about me.
9. I don’t bother you, so why are you bothering me? Why didn’t you ask me a few questions directly before jumping in with both guns blazing on a subject you know way too little about and then painting all legal bloggers with a negative broad brush.
10. Back to work. To what client are you planning to bill the time you spent reading this post and thinking about a reply? Not implying anything – just raising an issue for discussion. As you might say to me, nothing personal.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

An Abundance of Electronic Discovery Resources

Julia Wotipka at DiscoveryResources.org told me about the growing collection of free podcasts (webinar downloads) on electronic discovery topics now available at http://www.fiosinc.com/events/podcasts.html. Discovery Resources.org is the premier collection of resources on electronic discovery now available on the Internet. As an example, here’s a PDF on the site with the proposed electronic discovery amendments to the Federal Rules.
If you like audio / webinar programming on electronic discovery, don’t forget about Merrill’s excellent collection of free short topical programs on specific electronic discovery topics at http://www.merrillcorp.com/law/. You’ll notice several of my programs available there.
The best article I’ve read on practical electronic discovery issues is called A Gold Mine of Electronic Discovery Expertise: A Conversation Among Veterans of Electronic Discovery Battles and it is currently featured in the May “Best of” issue of Law Practice Today.
Mary Mack’s Sound Evidence blog is the newest of the electronic discovery blogs that I’ve seen. It’s definitely worth a look – see her coverage of the recent Morgan Stanley decision.
Want to learn a heckuva lot more about electronic discovery? Consider my new half-day seminar called Preparing for the New World of Electronic Discovery: Easing Your Transition from Paper to Electronic Discovery for your firm, corporate legal department or other group.
[Originally published on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Bert Stern, Teacher and Dennis Kennedy, Student

This post is dedicated to Evan Schaeffer.
Evan Schaeffer wrote eloquently about his teacher Walter Ong in a post unfortunately obscured by the interest generated by the change in the name of his blog.
The post helped me understand and appreciate what Evan is trying to do with his blog, his approach to writing, his immense talent as a writer, and the gift of having a great and influential teacher. Forget about the discussion of changing the name of Evan’s blogs and blogs as lawyer marketing tools – the post on Walter Ong is the post from Evan that you should be paying attention to.
As I’ve , Bert Stern is the kind of teacher for me that Ong was for Evan. Evan’s post and Bert’s recent essay called Being Here prompted me to dig back through my archives and pull out an essay I wrote in 1997 on the occasion of Bert’s retirement.
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Bert is fond of the Eastern saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” So am I.
Twenty years ago, I was a sophomore math major who had just learned that Bert would be my professor in my second semester of the required “Cultures and Traditions” class. I received a number of vague warnings about Bert from my frat brothers, mainly about the possibility of a downward movement in my g.p.a. I was a bit wary, but never expected how the next three semesters would rock my world.
What I remember about that C&T class is how day after day Bert opened doors, finding clear connections between things that once seemed to have no connection. His classes were the most challenging and powerful presentations I’d ever experienced and every day I thanked Wabash’s random number generator for assigning me to his class.
I spent many hours over the next three semesters (Bert was on sabbatical in my senior year) sitting in Bert’s office, talking away the afternoons. Bert invited me to take English 97, the course for junior majors, as my very first English course. I struggled that semester with thoughts of big issues, punk rock and of the inadequacy of my math classes to give voice to what I needed to express.
I remember one afternoon when Bert and I talked at length about Yeats and, as I rose to go, Bert said, “So, when are we going to get you to be an English major?” I was one class away from meeting the math major requirement. I would have to take eight or nine English classes in the next three semesters to become an English major. I took the path to the English major.
I did most of my best work at Wabash for Bert, although usually on the second try. Bert is a great editor. He’s very hard to please, but you gradually realize that he’s not working to get you to please him, but to please yourself, to raise your own level of excellence.
In English 97, Bert suggested that I do a paper on Yeats and I immersed myself in the process, reading everything I could find and talking to Bert on a regular basis. I wrote a draft of the paper and gave it to Bert.
I remember his disappointment with that draft. Not that it wasn’t good in its way, but that it could have been better.
I walked back to the fraternity house, mulling over his comments. I sat down in my room and then began to write. For a period of six or eight hours, I kept writing, without a pause, completely re-doing the whole paper. I typed it up and knew that I was much closer to the real paper that had been inside of me.
I gave that paper to Bert, and the smile I saw after he read it let me know that it was much closer to the paper he had seen inside me and that he saw the enormous step I had taken.
Bert and I have stayed in touch ever since Wabash and we were talking, by e-mail, before his retirement event. He has a friend who is a shaman from Central America and they had been talking about the need for ritual and ceremony at a point of transition like a retirement. Typical of Bert, the ceremony he was thinking of involved the sacrifice of a large farm animal.
But it also called for the exchange of small gifts which had special meaning. As those who attended the event know, the Department gave everyone a copy of Bert’s “Little Poem” on hand-made paper. I gave Bert a bound copy of the Yeats paper.
The animals made it through the event safely.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog)]

Bert Stern, Being Here and Communities of Trust

Bert Stern is the most influential teacher in my life. So much of what I try to do flows out of what I learned from and with him as a college student and through a 25 year correspondence.
I want to share with you a recent essay by Bert that appeared in the newest issue of Wabash Magazine. It’s called Being Here and captures something essential about Bert and what it takes to create a life that has meaning. It was a joy for me to read and I sincerely hope that you take the time to read it as well. Trust me on this one.
There is a phrase Bert uses in the essay, “community of trust,” that captures perfectly an idea I’ve been working toward over the last few years. I often use the term “communities of interest,” but that never felt quite right. “Communities of trust” describes it perfectly.
It won’t surprise you that Bert is someone I’ve been trying to edge closer to the idea of blogging.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]