Friday, February 29, 2008

Why Are Blogs Undervalued?

Yo, Adam Smith, Esq! Kevin at LexBlog! You other legal marketing and management pros! (Click through those links, guys -- it'll get their attention.)

We have a question for you.

Why do big law firms undervalue blogs?

There's a weird network of lawyers at big firms who have never met each other, but feel a certain kinship because they blog under similar circumstances. And we've been contacted recently by others at large firms whose institutions either do not help, or affirmatively obstruct, their blogging efforts. We haven't encountered many problems at our firms (although the smart money says that the firms' ignorance is our bliss).

One thing, however, has crossed our mind: The two of us, toiling alone, with no financial help from our firms, have (to our complete surprise) almost accidentally created the most widely read product liability blog on the internet, now receiving more than 25,000 pageviews per month. In that situation, wouldn't you expect at least a few of your colleagues to wander down the hall and ask two questions: (1) How did you do it? and (2) How can we replicate it?

Our firms surely benefit indirectly from the attention that this site receives. Wouldn't our firms also benefit if they were affiliated with (or even sponsored) the most widely read securities law blog on the internet? Intellectual property blog? Tax law blog?


Why aren't our colleagues beating a path to our door to try to replicate our little experiment?

We propose four possible answers:

First, we're breathing our own fumes. "Most widely read product liability blog on the internet" is like "world's tallest midget." 25,000 pageviews is a drop in the bucket, and there's essentially no institutional benefit to blogging. If the two of us -- Beck and Herrmann, the blogging morons -- want to waste our Saturday mornings feeding this beast, we should go ahead and entertain ourselves. But no one should think this has any institutional value.

Second, influential lawyers are too old. They're basically folks over 50 who start their days sipping a cup of coffee and reading the Journal. Only people under 40 start their days sipping a cup of coffee and checking Above the Law, the Law Blog, Overlawyered, and other blogs. People who have never visited a blog can't believe that anyone else does, either. The power of the blogosphere is simply beyond their comprehension.

Third, blogs attract the wrong demographic. The target market for big firms such as ours is the general counsel and C-level management of Fortune 500 companies. With all due respect to our visitors -- and we love you guys; really! -- you folks are younger and less important. Although a blog can be widely read, it's widely read by the wrong eyeballs and so not worth the effort.

Or, fourth, blogging is too much work for too little financial reward. It takes many hours of effort each week for the two of us to provide regular, fresh content to this site, and the amount of business generated doesn't justify the effort. If the two of us get some personal satisfaction from blogging, no one will interfere, but firms do cost-benefit analyses of marketing initiatives, and this one flunks the test. (If that's the answer, it's cool with us. We surely aren't doing this for the financial rewards.) (Come to think of it, why the heck are we doing this?) (Wait! An awful lot of drug and device companies visit this space regularly. If those folks would like to help us provide a financial justification for the existence of the Drug and Device Law Blog, our phone numbers are easy to find.)

We're curious to hear the reactions of others to our question. So we'll see if Adam Smith, Esq., or the others choose to answer our call, and we'll be interested in reading your comments to this post.

(When we write heresies such as these on-line, we have to be careful about including our firms' names in the post. If we type in our firms' names, many of our colleagues will receive "Google Alerts" telling them the firms have been mentioned on-line. On the other hand, Google doesn't pick up misspelled names. So, if anyone from Dxchert or Jxnes Day comes to this site, Beck and Herrmann each deny that they wrote this post. It's the other guy's fault. Or a hacker. Or something.)

14 comments:

Kevin OKeefe said...

Is your assumption right? I don't think so.

Blogs are not being being undervalued by law firms as compared to other technologies.

The uptake on blogs by the legal profession is greater than email and websites.

5% of law firms are using blogs. A few years after the advent of email use by businesses, 5% of law firms were not using email. Same for websites.

Eric Turkewitz said...

Although a blog can be widely read, it's widely read by the wrong eyeballs and so not worth the effort.

Would you have been quoted in the press in Riegel if not for the blog?

B. Martin, MD said...

Ok, I'm an MD (and blogger--www.pathophilia.com), but I do like lawyers (well, a few), and I find your blog (what I understand of it) very informative.

Anyway, I wouldn't discount the general apprehension among lawyers to write or say something publicly, which is probably a generalization of their fear that clients will write or say something publicly.

That, and blogging is work.

Kevin OKeefe said...

May be that blogs are being undervalued in your firm because your blog looks so amateurish.

Bloggers may understand Google's free blogger service and it's all fun to say we can do this for free.

But what about the lead partners in your firm and huge multinational clients? What do they think when they look at it?

Looks mean a lot. Show up to meet to meet a new corporate client in a suit, shirt, tie, and shoes from Goodwill. Your partners would be less than impressed when you rave about it being fun, the new thing, and free.

They're also probably less than impressed with the next blog link in your blog network. I just got this one when I clicked on the link at the top of your blog site:
http://mariposamm.blogspot.com/

David said...

Your 4th answer ("blogging is too much work for too little financial reward") would indicate that perhaps do not undervalue blogs but properly value them.

As to Kevin's comment that law firms do not undervalue them, I am not sure that the blog penetration stat shows that blogs are not undervalued by law firms.

Do law firms undervalue, overvalue or properly value blogs? I do not know. But in order to find out, first you would have to figure out how a law firm would value it and then measure that value. My two cents: law firms value things they pay for. And once they start paying lawyers to blog (which is different that paying to set up a blog website), that would be evidence of valuing blogs.

Henry Greenspan, Ph.D. said...

A comment from this anti-preemptor will be taken with the usual salt.

Ny sense is that folks are very selective in blog-reading. You want to find one or two that have "the meat," and forget those that don't.

You guys serve a lot of meat - that's rare, in my experience. I visit only a couple of blogs with whose positions I happen to agree because I am not looking for cheerleading. I'm looking for new info. At its (rare) best, logging is a form of teaching, and I'm a teacher.

Victoria Pynchon, said...

My husband is BigLaw and over 60. At EVERY partnership party I wander into I invariably start talking about blogging. (So shoot me, I'm addicted). SOMEONE invariably goes back to some committee or administrative person or practice group head and says, "I want to start a blog." And then the quill pen and ink well crowd descend. WHAT'S THE POTENTIAL LIABLITY? ask the risk averse. I NEVER READ BLOGS, SO NO ONE ELSE MUST say the over-50's. IT'S PROBABLY ADVERTISING say the worry-warts. WHO HAS TIME say the bean counters who are trying to squeeze more hours out of partners and associates alike. They're GINORMOUS institutions now and GINORMOUS institutions have rules and hierarchies and worried people walking worried miles. Hey! you guys work in these places! Don't you know better than Kevin? Glad (and slightly envious) to hear of your stats! Way to go. Hang your #%$^@ out over the canyon of uncertainty. It's the only way to continue to have fun as everyone else becomes a cog in a giant law-cog factory.

Rick Werder said...

I don't think that there is necessarily a bias against blogging as a medium, although there might be an element of concern about the informality and quickness of the process (similar to what we often see in emails in discovery -- people will say things in emails that they'd never say in a more formal memo).

But I do think there is a legitimate concern over the possibility that blog content may be cited against the firm or its clients. It may be no worse for a blog than for other forums, but it is a reasonable concern.

I recently had a case where our adversary cited a piece from our firm's website against us in a brief. They ultimately thought better of it and removed the cite before filing the brief, but the cite could potentially have had an impact. Of course, we had identified materal on THEIR website that we could have cited against their position, but we chose not to do it because we thought it was low-class. This is not a situation that firms want to find themselves in if they can avoid it.

Disclaimers are fine and I'm sure they're legally effective. But they don't prevent someone from getting a soundbite or making the firm look bad in front of its clients.

A blog like this one probably poses minimal risk. It seems unlikely that Herrmann and Beck will be taking positions here that might have an adverse impact on their clients because their client base is well defined. But in many areas of the law, the firm can't be sure in advance what side of the issue it may be on and I think this is a deterrent to being too aggressive in publishing on issues where the firm's clients may have competing interests.

Perhaps Herrmann and Beck can successfully advocate a moratorium on citing adversaries' materials against them. After all, wasn't it Charles Alan Wright who said (probably a fictional story) -- when his hornbook was quoted against him -- that he thinks better when he's being paid for it?

Beck/Herrmann said...

We received this comment by e-mail and thought it was interesting, so we're sharing it with you here. It's not our work, obviously, but rather the work of a visitor who's thinking about these issues:

I much enjoyed your post and I have a feeling it loosely ties back to something I mentioned in a post and often harp on. In some ways, blogging doesn’t lend itself to a big firm enterprise. At least not in the way that would make big firm management jump to support it. I am sort of hedging this statement as I think more about it, because I think law firms can obviously harness the power of blogs – it’s just in somewhat non-obvious ways. Also, the benefit of the blog is not really direct to the firm –the benefits often run to the lawyer who blogs!

And that is one starting point for the discussion. What’s the purpose of the blog? Draw clients? Gain publicity? Meet and network with other lawyers? Stay abreast of the law? Appear professional, competent, and interested in the area of the law? Generate advertising revenue? All of these in some respects are the goal of every blogger or at least a byproduct of what we do. But the where these motivations fit in is very different depending on whether you are at a small firm or a larger firm.

For example, the “looking professional” part isn’t really relevant when you are at a 500 (or 1000+) person law firm. Your office building and letterhead pretty much does that for you. Meet and network with other lawyers? Maybe marginally relevant to a big firm lawyer. Generate advertising revenues? This is probably near the bottom of the list? Gain publicity (and placement in the press). Absolutely, but not as easy as it looks. Finally, the most important – gain clients? Has anyone ever really generated a client as a result of the blog? I would guess the answer is “not more one or two, at best”. And here is where the cost/benefit tips away from the blog’s favor from the big firm perspective. I would bet – given that client relationships are personally driven – that personally going out and courting clients is probably a better way to generate clients than spending 50+ hours/month on a blog in the hopes that a corporate executive or GC may happen across your blog and be wowed by your knowledge. But that doesn’t mean the blog will not help in the long run. You guys have obviously built a name with your blog. But I would bet the primary benefit is having the media come across it and ask you for your thoughts on cases and goings on. Client generation may be a part of the equation but it’s nowhere near the top of the list – at least not in a direct manner.

Venkat said...

I much enjoyed your post and I have a feeling it loosely ties back to something I mentioned in a post and often harp on. In some ways, blogging doesn’t lend itself to a big firm enterprise. At least not in the way that would make big firm management jump to support it. I am sort of hedging this statement as I think more about it, because I think law firms can obviously harness the power of blogs – it’s just in somewhat non-obvious ways. Also, the benefit of the blog is not really direct to the firm –the benefits often run to the lawyer who blogs!

And that is one starting point for the discussion. What’s the purpose of the blog? Draw clients? Gain publicity? Meet and network with other lawyers? Stay abreast of the law? Appear professional, competent, and interested in the area of the law? Generate advertising revenue? All of these in some respects are the goal of every blogger or at least a byproduct of what we do. But the where these motivations fit in is very different depending on whether you are at a small firm or a larger firm.

For example, the “looking professional” part isn’t really relevant when you are at a 500 (or 1000+) person law firm. Your office building and letterhead pretty much does that for you. Meet and network with other lawyers? Maybe marginally relevant to a big firm lawyer. Generate advertising revenues? This is probably near the bottom of the list? Gain publicity (and placement in the press). Absolutely, but not as easy as it looks. Finally, the most important – gain clients? Has anyone ever really generated a client as a result of the blog? I would guess the answer is “not more one or two, at best”. And here is where the cost/benefit tips away from the blog’s favor from the big firm perspective. I would bet – given that client relationships are personally driven – that personally going out and courting clients is probably a better way to generate clients than spending 50+ hours/month on a blog in the hopes that a corporate executive or GC may happen across your blog and be wowed by your knowledge. But that doesn’t mean the blog will not help in the long run. You guys have obviously built a name with your blog. But I would bet the primary benefit is having the media come across it and ask you for your thoughts on cases and goings on. Client generation may be a part of the equation but it’s nowhere near the top of the list – at least not in a direct manner.

Regarding Kevin's comments, I agree that layout and design are fairly important. However, on the other hand, the layout of this blog is in keeping with the blog's sometimes irreverent tone. Anyone could (and obviously people do) in a manner of 20 seconds read this blog and realize that it's written by practitioners who are closely following developments and offering their own substantive comments.

Ray Ward said...

We don't do it because they like it. We do it because we like it.

Bob Klass said...

If this blog were not in a public blog space (if it was in the usual professional space occupied by Beck and Herrmann's firms), it would lose some of the loose, independent, and "public information" feel. In the blog space where I operate (various somewhat obscure technical topics), blogs are an essential source of information and misinformation.

I agree with the comments that analyze why we blog. It's all the above: to appear expert, appear interested, stay at the forefront, etc. There is a certain amount of pride and glory that can be derived from the process. I am always pleased to see people interested in the technical posts on my blog.

Finally, Mark, we would have trouble blaming a hacker for your content and please don't blame your technical support personnel!

Ron Miller said...

One thing I don't think anyone mentioned is how much you learn by actually taking the time to write a good blog. As you know, I blog myself (www.marylandinjurylawyerblog.com) and I've stayed current on developments that help my clients and my practice just from the exercise of gaining information to write what I do.

Few people who are writing a quality blog - like this one is even tho I disagree with the slant - do so for a single reason. I write my blog for many different reasons. Folks that blog solely for client development purpose either fade our fast or post regular "there was an accident on I-97 today, according to my local paper" entries. That said, if I didn't think it brought some value to my law firm I would have a hard time justifying putting the time that I do into it during the work day. I'd be curious if you guys - who bill hours - put this down as nonbillible time and I wonder what degree of credit your firm gives you for the time you spend on it. Because it obviously has an impact on your billible time unless you have banished your families to Wasilla (another Palin reference to get more Google hits for ya).

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