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August 07, 2004

ACS Blog via Lexblog

A few weeks ago the ACS was seeking applications from law students to act as volunteer editors for a new ACS blog. Well, the ACS blog is now online, staffed by a crew of six law student editors. So far all posts come courtesy of the editor in chief, but I assume that will be changing soon. The site looks good, and considering the amount of support for the ACS nationwide, this blawg is well-positioned to become very popular and influential. I'll be visiting often to see how it grows.

But since it's still just getting started, what's most interesting about the ACS blog at this point is a little logo in the bottom left-hand corner for something called LexBlog. LexBlog apparently "builds blogs for lawyers."

Yeah, that's right. Someone is now in the business of building blogs for lawyers.

LexBlog offers several packages, the most extensive of which take care of every possible detail of building and maintaining a blog, including the writing of content. LexBlog even claims its "lexPremium" plan comes with a "customized plan to establish lawyer or firm as 'go to' resource on topic." And it's all powered by Movable Type.

So law blogging has now taken the next step toward commercialization. On one hand I'm thinking, "why didn't I think of that?" Who needs a J.D. to build and maintain blogs for lawyers? Also, if the culture of law school teaches you anything, it's that you have to pay people to get stuff done. This makes lawyers a rich market of suckers who are pre-programmed to pay exorbitant fees for people to do things for them that they could do for themselves if they gave it half an effort (e.g. BarBri). Mr. LexBlog Kevin O-Keefe might make a mint this way. Nevermind the fact that thus far blogs have been almost completely noncommercial, an anomalous little pocket of the web and the world where there's virtually no profit to be gained or lost, where value is driven and measured by links rather than money. Nevermind how wonderful that is, and how fresh the air is in the blogosphere when it's unpolluted by profit motives. Nevermind that the foundation of the blog as a form is that it allows individuals or small groups to express themselves to a wide audience for free or virtually free, and that it offers very little incentive for manipulation or dishonesty, that the blog as a form has become a phenomenon precisely because of its honesty and freshness and originality and candor. Nevermind all that. I'm sure there's lots of money to be made here.

Don't you look forward to the day when you can pay a fee to become the "go to" resource on a topic? Forget about building credibility and earning the respect of your readers by dint of effort and intelligence and the love of what you do. In the brave new world of for-profit blogging, you'll be able to work as hard as you like to build a popular and reliable online resource, but there will always be someone (i.e. a big corporate law firm) with enough money to pay an army of bloggers-for-hire to make sure its own "blog" is the "go to" resource on your favorite topic. Hooray.

I anticipate comments reminding me that people have been making money from blogging for years now. For example, Radio Userland started charging for its blogging software years ago, and Movable Type recently started charging for its software, and you have to pay for hosting, etc. People have also been running ads on their blogs, trying to make money from them. And I'm sure LexBlog isn't the first blogger-for-hire. I know all that. It's ok. I understand that the complete commercialization of blogging is almost inevitable. I wish LexBlog a bright and prosperous future. Like I said, part of me wishes I'd thought of it first. Still, just because I understand how our world works, that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Ambivalence rules.

Posted August 7, 2004 08:20 AM | general politics law general meta-blogging

i think you hit the nail on the head about lawyers: their time is precious, but their money is not. so they're willing to pay people to do things that would take up a lot of time. so i think the laywer-blog market might make some good cash.

Posted by: monica at August 7, 2004 08:45 AM

Thanks so much for linking to us at ACSBlog. To answer a few points you brought up:

1. Yes, starting Monday we will be having content produced by someone other than myself. Each weekday will be managed by one of five daily editors, who will produce the lionshare of blog content. As Editor-in-Chief, I am largely a facilitator. Passing information from the national office to the daily editors, and connecting writers with editors.

2. Speaking of writers, I am also in the process of hiring as many as ten Editors-at-Large, who will each produce biweekly articles examining current topics in the law. We also will be frequent featuring guest commentary from legal experts. If all goes well, Professors Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke and Michael Seidman of Georgetown will be the first two commentators featured next week.

3. It's worth mentioning that Kevin of LexBlog not only designed our blog for us, but he did so pro bono. ACS is very grateful to Kevin and LexBlog for this service, as no one on our staff could have produced the beautiful site his team designed. I hope Kevin finds great success in the future, he's earned plenty of good karma from helping us.

Thanks again for the shout out, I'll add a link to this site on ACSBlog.

Ian Millhiser

Posted by: Ian at August 7, 2004 11:58 PM

Your points are well taken. Lawyer blogs do not work well unless there is experience, care and passion from the actual blog publisher. I have made that clear to law marketing professionals and lawyers I speak with. The text on the lexBlog site implying that we can do everything for a lawyer when it comes to a blog needs to and will be be revised soon.

There may be some money in empowering lawyers with personal publishing platforms and helping them understand how to use them (lawyers do well communicating with lawyers and judges but very poor when communicating with the public in a way average people can relate to). But money is not my chief goal - though I do need to support my family of seven.

I answered online thousands of lay people's questions on legal issues. I built a virtual law community dedicated to people helping people, lay people and lawyers alike. I am of strong belief that practicing lawyers in this country have so much to offer ordinary people by sharing practical legal information on the Internet. To date there has not been an easy way for lawyers to publish this content.

Blogs may be the answer. In addition lawyers who are willing to help people by publishing a blog with helpful information benefit by the marketing they are doing - showing people they care, they have experience in a particular area of the law and they are passionate about what they do. Looking at info like that is a heck of lot better than calling a lawyer who has a goofy ad in the yellow pages or a glib ad on TV.

It is very frustrating when lawyers tell me I want to market tastefully on the Internet but I do not want to lift a finger to do it. My knee jerk reaction is to say why the hell did you become a lawyer - law is a profession where the goal is to serve people. But as I get older and from the years of practicing law I have learned to be practical.

Practical here means leading the lawyers to water. Helping provide some content. Sending them questions they can answer in a paragraph or two that can then be published to a blog. Giving them ideas on what to blog and how to blog. Putting up some information and news they can comment on. Ultimately they see how easy it is to publish helpful info on a blog, see it takes less time and money than doing seminars & long articles for Bar and trade magazines and can be weaned off our help.

That's the goal - we have a ways to go. But some day with a little persistence on my part and some scary days of starting another business, people will turn to the Internet, do a search relating to a legal issue they face and find a ton of info on point coming from lawyers in their city or state. That will be a win/win for all - people get info they need, image of the legal profession will be improved and lawyers will have a tasteful cost effective way to market the legal services they offer.

By the way - great blog. Though not a subscriber, I have read your stuff before. Law students publishing like you are will hopefully be leading our legal profession in the years to come.

- Kevin

Posted by: Kevin O'Keefe at August 8, 2004 12:21 AM

Comments above the post? Huh?

Posted by: justin at August 8, 2004 02:37 AM

Ian: The site really does look great and it sounds like you have a great plan for how to build it out. It's also great to hear that LexBlog did all that for you pro bono. I think the blog could add a tremendous amount to the ACS's goals, so it's great to know it's being built on a solid foundation.

Kevin: I'm sorry if my comments came across as negative in some way. I think what you're doing is terrific in many ways, and like I said, I just wish I'd thought of it first. ;-) Law school isn't painful, but I think I'd rather be building websites than going to class. I completely agree that lawyer blogs have great potential to bridge lots of gaps in our society between "civilians" (non-lawyers) and practicing attorneys, so the more lawyer blogs the better. I also understand that there might be a certain resistance you need to overcome to get lawyers to take the plunge, to try out blogging, and to learn that it need not be painful or onerous, and that it can in fact be a lot of fun. The sales text on your site makes it sound like lawyers can just pay you to take care of everything, but your comments here make it sound like you're more of a tech wizard/consultant/collaborator than a blogger-for-hire. That sounds absolutely wonderful; if the text on LexBlog is working to lead the lawyers to water, I see no reason to change it. I'm obviously not your target audience, since I've consumed the blog kool-aid, so to speak. I wish you nothing but success in your LexBlog endeavors.

But, and so, as Justin points out, what's the reason for having comments and permalinks above the post?

Posted by: ambimb at August 8, 2004 05:07 PM

The comments above the posts are part of LexBlog's template. You'd really have to ask Kevin why he choose that design, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that he generally designs blogs not to be read by chronic blogosphere residents such as you and me, but instead by potential clients and other such folk who stumble upon the blog as part of their googling for a plaintiff's attorney. Viewed in that light, it makes sense to have the fact that readers can ask questions of the siteowner be something placed more up front than we are used to.

For ACSBlog's purposes, I agree that having the comments on top will take some getting used to, but our blog is not only intended as a resource for geeks like me, but also for our thousands of members who may not yet know what a blog is. For them, having the comments on top probably makes sense as well.

We'll resume blogging on Monday at ACSBlog. Coming up is an article on Black Box Voting which includes some resources to help keep this election honest, our Monday News Roundup, and hopefully the commentary from Professor Chemerinsky.


Posted by: Ian at August 8, 2004 05:25 PM

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