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February 1, 2004

Ghosts Will Kill the Legal Weblog Community

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 3:57 pm

ghost small Weblogger, JD?

The notion of ghost-written weblogs scares me.   It looks like they’re coming, and they signal a new kind of weblogging devoid of the very spark of life that has put magic into this way of communicating and created a community.  [See yesterday‘s and today‘s Netlawblog, where Jerry Lawson tells of four vendors “selling blogs to lawyers.”]

Going from weblog as “the unedited voice of an individual” to weblog as the fabricated voice (and image) created for an individual lawyer will turn this fresh community into a stale commodity.  And it won’t work as a marketing tool, because what makes a weblog “good” and attracts repeat visitors is a strong personal voice, content that is interesting and well said, and rapid response time.  [“The Good, The Bad and the Blogly,” by Glenn Harlan Reynolds]   Those are three elements very unlikely to come from Blogs-R-Us (or, better, Weblogs-B-We).

There are times when I hate being the gadfly or prophet of doom.  The role is particularly uncomfortable when the ox that I might be goring is owned by people who I admire and like.  Jerry Lawson said yesterday that “Kevin [O’Keefe]’s approach looks promising, and not just because the Perry Mason photo is priceless.”  Jerry has been a constant supporter of this website, helping it gain credibility and an audience.  Kevin not only gave me my first cyber-pulpit at (and signed the checks), but is creating a wonderful tool for serving legal consumers with his Project Lawyers Serve.  [I don’t even hold a grudge that Kevin continues to use the ugly little word “blog,” despite admitting “the term ‘blog’ sounds funny.” ]

Despite my esteem for Jerry and Kevin, I must protest that the notion of creating content for weblogs — especially postings — threatens to turn weblogs into merely a marketing tool, as opposed to being a special, personal platform that is also a marketing tool.  Besides set-up, Kevin’s maintenance & publishing services include:

  • Consumer-friendly content in area of lawyer’s practice
  • Law & news in relevant area of law regularly placed in blog
  • Cyber publicity & search engine optimization

When answering the question “Why have a professional set up your blog?”, Kevin notes (emphasis added):

“[O]nly a small percentage of lawyers, best labeled as early adopters of technology, take the time to learn how to do [the things necessary to make a weblog successful]. It’s even a smaller group of lawyers who continue to execute over time. . . .

For lawyers who do not have the time to regularly publish content to their blog so has to keep syndicating content to folks and stay at the top of search engines, we’ll do it for them – again at a very reasonable cost.”

haunted house That spectre of the absentee weblogger worries me the most. Visitors won’t know (or will be misled about) whose up-to-the-minute expertise they are reading.  On a page that answers the question what is a blog?, Kevin notes that “Blogs are usually personal publications as opposed to published by an entity or organization.  Readers get an honest feel for who the blog publisher is and tend to form a stronger bond with the publisher than with a firm that publishes a Web site. ”   Kevin ends the description of weblogs by saying:

“Come to think of it, a blog sounds a awful like a Web site with a few bells and whistles that make it a more powerful marketing tool for a lawyer than a typical Web site. Erik Heels, a pioneer on the law and the Internet, may be right when he defines blogs as websites created and maintained with weblog software.”   (emphases added)

That’s what weblogs will certainly become if they are not truly personal in nature.  For weblogs to remain more than a convenient way to create a website; for weblogs to create a community of colleagues and fans; for weblogs to actually become more effective marketing tools than traditional law firm sites (or e-brochures, or power-point presentations) — for them to be more than a technology and a fad — they must have a personal voice (even if there are multiple personalities).

  • By the way, webloggers, please raise your hand if you’ve found that your weblog has brought you new clients.
  • One more consumer advocate question:  If the lawyers who are the market for vended weblogs don’t have enough time to produce the weblog themselves, just where are they going to find the time to give competent and diligent service to the expected flood of new clients?
  • FOLLOW-UP: This post sparked quite a few more here at f/k/a:  Especially see Selling the Perception of Expertise (April 14, 2004), which is my most complete explanation of what is wrong with a lawyer buying blawg content in order to establish himself or herself as an expert; and see Lawson Not Spooked by Ghosts and Lively Debate Over Ghostly Weblogs (April 15, 2004); plus making sausage and weblogs (April 17, 2004).
  • update (March 14, 2006): Two years later, Death & Taxes is struggling with the idea of weblogs and ghost-writers; and see our “haunted by Frankenblawg“.


  1. Your points are well taken David. But there is no right way or wrong way to define a blog. They mean different things to different people. I do agree they need to have personal input from the ‘blogger’ to be effective.

    My goal is to empower lawyers – to provide them a platform which they will learn to use to publish to the net and interact with people who may come to their blog. By doing so I hope to get helpful legal information out to ordinary people, who God knows need help. I also hope to provide good lawyers an opportunity to market themselves by distinguishing themselves from other lawyers. There are good lawyers on main streets across our country who charge a reasonable fee for their service. Why not try to help these lawyers help folks faced with a legal situation?

    Lawyer Web sites have failed the public and lawyers. Two thirds of people coming to a lawyer Web site are looking for legal information first and after understanding a little about the legal issue facing them are ready to hire a lawyer. Lawyers do not put up info to help people on their Web sites – one because it is too darn hard for them to do so with a Web site and two because they have little guidance as to what to put on their site. Web developers do a lawyer’s Web site, hand it to the lawyer and wish them luck. Those Web developers could care less how helpful that site is to ordinary people needing legal information. The result is that the sites do not work well for marketing of the lawyer’s services.

    Now what if we used a blog that made it easy for the lawyer to post content? What if someone were standing behind the lawyer helping them understand what to put on their blog? What if someone could help supply consumer friendly content for one category of blog posts? What if a lawyers analysis and commentary in their blog allowed people to conclude a lawyer looked pretty good and may be able to help them out?

    Lawyers need some help with how to use the net – how they can present helpful information to people, how they can share what they know, how they can show a personal side of themselves while still being professional. I think I can help lawyers – not become ‘absentee bloggers’ – but to become effective in using perhaps the best marketing medium ever to help ordinary people and turn help themselves by doing so.

    Let’s not limit the definition of blogging – let’s embrace this wonderful personal publishing platform to see where it can take us.

    Comment by Kevin O'Keefe — February 1, 2004 @ 5:27 pm

  2. Thanks for responding so thoughtfully and quickly, Kevin. I share in a lot of your ideas about helping to inform the public and clients. But, I’m not sure that a weblog is a useful educational tool without a major Resources section (like at this site).

    If “weblog” starts to mean any website using that particular platform — without having the intense personal input of the “editor/publisher” — it won’t be special enough to generate traffic or business, or to create a reputation.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 1, 2004 @ 5:49 pm

  3. >>If “weblog” starts to mean any website using that particular platform — without having the intense personal input of the “editor/publisher” — it won’t be special enough to generate traffic or business, or to create a reputation.<<

    I think you are right about this. While out running this morning, I actually worried about creating too much of a turn key solution for lawyers – one that would not have the personal input of the blog publisher.

    My goal is to empower lawyers – give them tools, give them knowledge and feed them with resources to get their blog platform seeded. If I continue to help lawyers like this I believe I can get a good number enjoying the process of blog publishing and the results that will be forthcoming.

    And for some lawyers they are going to want to be a news-wire, if you will, on a niche topic or area. If they do not some help maintaining such a filter for information on the topic, we’ll help them out.

    – Kevin

    Comment by Kevin O'Keefe — February 1, 2004 @ 8:39 pm

  4. David:

    Enjoyed the post – I have two points on the value of blogs for education and marketing, discussed below.
    As to education, I think I tend to agree somewhat with Kevin in that even mass produced “Mc-Blogs” can educate the public by providing information to consumers. Think, for example, if divorce attorneys in every jurisdiction ran a blog, just basically posting brief case summaries or links to articles which show how assets are divided, criteria judges examined in awarding custody or evaluating mediation vs. arbitration – the public would learn so much more about the legal process. For all the legal websites and resources on line already, much is still very general and not jurisdiction or statute specific. Weblogs enable – and make it worthwhile to delve into that level of detail.
    As to marketing, here I will show that I can be as skeptical as you! If you read my recent piece on blogs in (link is here –, I don’t believe that blogs serve as a marketing tool anymore than printing business cards. In other words, just because a lawyer prints up business cards, doesn’t mean he or she is going to get clients and just because a lawyer runs a blog, it doesn’t mean that clients will find, retain or decide to hire that lawyer. But…blogs are all part of the marketing puzzle – when lawyers start a blog with a personality and a voice, they get exposure which leads to quotes or articles in the media which leads to opportunities to “show off” to prospects by sending those articles as part of a marketing package. Or maybe someone will see the article you’ve been quoted in as a result of a journalist finding you via the blog. But despite what blog marketers may say, there’s no way that blogs are generating business for lawyers nor have I seen or heard evidence of clients finding a lawyer by virtue of coming across a blog.

    Comment by Carolyn Elefant — February 1, 2004 @ 11:40 pm

  5. Carolyn,  I’m very grateful that you so often take the time to add your perspective to this website.  Here’s why I’m a bit skeptical about the use of a “typical” lawyer weblog as an education tool for the public:

    If you’re a layperson interested in a particular field of law, such as divorce, you probably have a particular problem/issue in mind.  What’s the chance that even a topic-appropriate weblog will be covering that issue in any depth at the same time that the consumer is heading to the site? 
    Unless the site has a very good search function or category system, the consumer very often would be better off learning a few basic research tools, or checking to see if there’s a helpful self-help center online for his/her state.

    I’m not sure the audience is there for specialty-specific weblogs, but if it is, the weblogs are going to need jurisdiction-specific, in-depth resources, and easily searchable, for most consumers to find the site “useful”.  To turn a consumer into a consistent, repeat visitor will take a lot of marketing prowess.
    Which reminds me, I forgot to mention in the main posting just how little I care for the whole notion of search engine optimization.  Indeed, I hope the major search engine soon figure out how to defeat all such “placement” ploys. 

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 2, 2004 @ 12:25 am

  6. Hello, PP.   As you can see above, I can’t read your pointer information.  Please try again.

    Comment by David Giacalone — September 23, 2004 @ 8:09 pm

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