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They’re called Webblogs, blogs and “blawgs,” and in a nutshell, they are online diaries or chronologically-ordered journals on the Web. The beauty of blogs is that they allow any business person, including lawyers in big and small firms alike, to market themselves directly to clients and prospects.

There were an estimated 600,000 blogs online as of July 2003, according to the National Institute for Technology & Liberal Education. The number is growing every day. While blogs have been around for more than a year, they came to widespread public attention during the Iraq war, when news correspondents would file on-the-scene reports in their “war blogs.” News junkies worldwide read their blogs to get up-to-the-minute reports, and the notion of blogs took off.

There are hundreds of law-related blogs focusing on appellate, criminal, Delaware, ethics, health, immigration, products liability, securities and tax law, just to name a few topics. A good list of law blogs or “blawgs” is maintained by New Orleans lawyer Ernest Svenson, radio.weblogs.com/0104634 (or just look up “ernie the attorney” in Google).

These blawgs were created by lawyers who write about their area of expertise and update readers with new opinions and developments in the law. That’s why blogs are excellent marketing vehicles: they let a lawyer demonstrate expertise in a particular topic. A well-done blog is very impressive to clients and is a great business-getter. Examples include:

• HIPAA blog, hipaablog.blogspot.com, maintained by lawyer Jeff Drummond, who discusses medical privacy issues.

• SCOTUS blog, www.goldsteinhowe.com/blog, maintained by the law firm Goldstein & Howe, which tracks U.S. Supreme Court cases.

• How Appealing, appellateblog.blogspot.com, maintained by lawyer Howard Bashman of Philadelphia, on appellate law topics. He is famed for mentioning an error in a court opinion in his blog, which the judge read and then corrected.

Here are the compelling reasons for lawyers to start their own blogs:

Simplicity.

Blogs are easy to set up and use. Simply go to Blogspot at www.blogspot.com or Radio Userland at radio.userland.com and download the software.

These are the two most popular programs in the “blogosphere.” Install one and follow the self-evident instructions. You don’t need to know HTML code, and can simply type in the text of your message in an online box. To post your message, just click on the appropriate button. The software will select a Web address for you.

Price.

They are cheap. You get a month’s free trial of the software, and pay about $40 when you purchase it. This is much cheaper than hiring a developer to create a Web site for you.

Visibility.

Blogs are highly visible and quickly draw visitors. Search engines rank blogs highly because they predominately contain text and they are updated frequently — two things that attract search engines. The aforementioned Ernie Svenson’s blog gets more traffic than the Web sites of many major law firms.

Pick your subject.

They can be about anything. A blog can simply recount a person’s thoughts, viewpoints and news. They can also be used for firm announcements, client newsletters, legal updates and answers to common client questions.

Who is the expert now?

You are. Blogs give the author instant credibility and expert status on the topic.

Early bird special.

If you fail to set up a blog on your special topic, someone else will claim it before you do. The attention and traffic goes to the early adopters, not the lawyers who wait to decide to join the trend a year later. You’ll be missing out on the hottest new trend on the Internet.

PRACTICE GROUP BLOGS

Business executives are already setting up corporate blogs because they provide a way to talk informally to customers. For example, Alan Meckler, the chief executive of Jupitermedia in Darien, Conn., keeps a blog at weblogs.cdxpo.com/meckler/. He views blogging as a great marketing opportunity.

Similarly, Tim O’Reilly, president of O’Reilly, a Sebastopol, Calif.-based producer of technology books and seminars, started a corporate blog at www.oreillynet.com/weblogs/author/27. He estimates that it has more than 10,000 readers. John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, runs a blog at blogs.law.harvard.edu/palfrey.

Smart law firms will set up blogs for an entire practice group, so that multiple lawyers in a group can add information to it. Some firms already allow lawyers to maintain high-profile blogs.

Obviously, only trusted employees should be allowed to post to a practice group or industry group blog. It should also carry a legal disclaimer that the blog is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Bloggers should be aware that libel laws of the print world apply equally to online messages.

New law blogs spring up daily. They provide an excellent way to distribute firm news and gain a nationally-recognized voice. Don’t let this trend pass you by.

Bodine is the regional director for North America of PM Forum, an international association of marketers in law, consulting and accounting. His legal marketing blog can be found at www.LarryBodine.com/blog.

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