Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2005

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 SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER

BY PAT YEVICS  

"Look, Ma, I'm Blawging!"
By Pat Yevics

In May’s column, I mentioned that information about blogs and bloggers was clearly the “buzz”. Since there has not been much tech-”buzz” lately, I wanted to learn more about it. The bleeding-edge people are always going on about the latest technology that will change the world.

They have a mixed record when it comes to predictions (see “paperless office”), but they were right about the Internet, and I think they may be right about blogs, or the legal version, “blawg”.

In this month’s column, I am going to tell you about my experience setting up the MSBA LOMA Blog, which can be found at http://loma.typepad.com/. Please go to it and let me know what you think. Although many blogs are for personal use, I am only going to discuss how solo and small firm practitioners can use them.

Let’s start with a definition. A “blog” is a Web log, which is like a diary or log of information that you list on the Internet. A blog is not a website. You do not need any real technical skills to create a blog. If you can use the Internet, read directions and use a word processor, you can create a blog. Having said that, you can use more complicated sites to produce your blog, but it is not necessary and I do not recommend it.

Tips to Get Started
1. First, decide where you want to host your site. There are a few places you can go for free sites, but I do not recommend them if you are going to be using it for your firm or practice. The free site www.blogger.com will set you up and host your blog, but it is very limited. I just tried using another free site, www.myblogsite.com, and found it very difficult, and when I finally received confirmation that the account was activated and I tried to access it, I was told it did not exist. As they say, you get what you pay for.

(If you wish to get a list of various sites to host your blog, visit http://weblogs.about.com/od/listofweblogsoftware/. However, do not spend too much time worrying about which one is better as the cost is so small and most are fairly easy to use.)

I use TypePad (www.typepad.com). There is a 30-day free trial and there are three levels of service: $49.95 per year, $89.95 per year and $149.95 per year. I first purchased the $49.95 option but quickly upgraded to the $89.95 to get more design flexibility. In addition, we get 100 megabytes of storage space. The LOMA blog is hosted at Typepad. This level will also allow you to create three blogs.

2. What are you going to call your blog? Unlike websites, most blogs will not have typical domain names. Most will have the name of the host listed in the name but you will be able to use whatever name you wish, so consider what you want to call your blog. Although you can change it, you will not want to do that once you get started. Had I thought more carefully about it, I would have called ours “msbaloma.typepad.com” instead of just “loma.typepad.com”.

3. What are going to say? Before going into “technical” details, let’s first consider who should have a blog and why. I think that “blawgs” are a great way for solo practitioners who do not currently have a web presence to get on the net quickly and without much additional work. They can be a great marketing tool for practitioners who may have a niche practice. Although there are many blawgs where attorneys do not limit their topics of discussions, I think that having a blawg focus on just one or two specific topics or areas are easier for the practitioner. Blawgs can be used for practitioners to give information about what is happening in his/her area, links to other resources about those areas and allow comments from others.

4. How are you going to say it? Although there does not seem to be any rule, blawgs seem to work best when the practitioner adds information daily (or at least every few days). Since it requires no technical skills and can be done from anywhere, it is not as overwhelming as updating a website. You can see a good list of blawgs at (yes, you guessed it) www.blawgs.com.

An example of a niche blawg is http://www.legalaffairs.org/aboutus/disclaimer.html, while one of the oldest and most popular blawgs, Ernie the Attorney (http://www.ernietheattorney.net/) hosts a large variety of topics.

In addition, you will need to decide if you are going to put original information on the blawg and/or references to other sources that relate to the “theme” or topic of your blog.

For most busy solo/small firm practitioners, I think a combination of both original material and references to other resources is best to help you put up information regularly.

5. What features are you going to include? Unlike websites, the features that can be included are more limited. But that is actually a good thing, as it is these very limitations that make blawgs appealing for solo and small firm practitioners. This is truly where content is king (or queen).

Include detailed information in the “About Me” category. This is a great location for your online resume or firm brochure. You can also easily include photos.

If you decide to have a blawg about more than one topic, you can put your posts into categories. You can even cross-reference your posts into more than one category.

You will be able to have a link to your e-mail (you need to include that).

You will also be able to include a welcome and a disclaimer on your site using what is call a Typelist, and I highly recommend that you do both. You can include the welcome in the “About Me” area, but I recommend a short disclaimer on the sidebar.

There is also the ability to allow comments from others who come to your site. You have the ability to allow comments on individual posts, so you may decide to allow comments on some and not on others.

One of the uses of the blawgs is that you can reference other items that you want readers of your blawg to know. You can easily link to government or court sites if you are talking about a particular area of the law. You can link to sites that relate to your practice area. It is the way you can use your blawg to keep both current and potential clients informed of what is going on with your area of practice. You can then comment on some of the referenced sources.

Getting Started
It will take a few hours of your time to get the blawg to look the way you want and to get some posts on your site. The online manual is very helpful. Since I am not software-intuitive, I have had to refer to it on many occasions. I cheated and printed it to save time from toggling back and forth between the manual and the blawg. However, since I started using the manual and upgraded to the TypePad Plus it has been pretty easy. If you want to take it to a higher, more complicated level you can, but it is not necessary.

If you want step-by-step details on how to get started using TypePad, I have prepared an online tutorial which can be found at http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/index.htm under Tech Stuff. If you are using something other than TypePad, About.com has an excellent set of online tutorials for other services at http://weblogs.about.com/od/bloginstallationtutorials.

There is a wealth of additional information about Web logs at http://weblogs.about.com.

In the coming months, I will talk about other features of the blawg, how to use RSS Feeds and marketing with blawgs, but that is all for this month.

If you set up a blawg, please let me know the location. I will highlight blawgs by MSBA solo and small firm practitioners at the MSBA LOMA Blawg (http://loma.typepad.com).

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June, 2005

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