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Pick an area of law — trademark, employment, appellate, whatever — add the word “lawyer” to it and search that phrase on Google. Odds are that you’ll find a legal blog among the top-ranking results — often at the very top of the list. At a time when talk of online legal marketing invariably turns to the pseudo-science of search-engine optimization, many law firms are missing an often more sure-fire route to the top of the search-engine heap — blogging. Higher search ranking is just one of the marketing advantages that blogging offers lawyers — all for little or no cost and with virtually no technical knowledge required. To understand how to use blogs as a marketing tool, you first need to understand blogs themselves. Simply put, a blog (short for Web log) is a Web page with frequently updated content that is typically arranged in reverse chronological order, much like a print log or diary. Each entry is stamped with the author’s name, along with the date and time it was made. Entries are usually no more than a paragraph or two, although some can be much longer. They usually include a headline or title. Blogs started on the Web as personal journals, read mostly by friends and families. They made headlines in 2002 when Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., resigned his post as Senate Majority Leader, after which political observers attributed the move to criticism leveled at him by a handful of political bloggers. Blogs made news again when Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean started a blog and made it a central component of his campaign organization. The final stamp of credibility came in the summer of 2004 when political bloggers earned press credentials to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. While big-name journalists and political pundits who blog have attracted much of the spotlight, blogging has become prevalent within the legal community, perhaps to a greater degree than within any other profession. Blogs written by lawyers number in the hundreds, if not thousands. Many provide general commentary on substantive legal topics and law practice while others focus on specific areas of law. Think of these more specialized blogs as legal news services in that they prove reports and comments on new developments almost as quickly as they occur. Blog writers range from nationally prominent lawyers and law professors to young law firm associates and law students. Blogs cover virtually every major practice area, with others focusing on particular courts, agencies or jurisdictions. For lawyers who practice in these areas, blogs serve as valuable means of keeping current — pocket parts for the digital age. Lawyers who write blogs often become recognized as authorities in their fields, building up regular readerships that can number in the thousands. Potential clients read blogs, too. Businesses and individuals follow legal blogs that cover topics of relevance or interest to them. They also use blogs to gauge a lawyer’s knowledge of a topic. To understand why blogs are such powerful marketing tools, it helps to know something about the technology that powers them. Blogs are nothing more than Web pages. The problem with Web pages is that you need to go to them in order to read them. Revisiting a number of Web pages on a routine basis is impractical. A few years back, Internet news providers began to encourage the use of “push” technology — meaning software that would push Web content to your desktop computer without you having to find it yourself. It never caught on, but it helped spawn a variation known as RSS, which stands for “really simple syndication.” Using RSS, news providers on the Web can format stories in a manner that allows them to be “syndicated” — that is, distributed to readers automatically. As with the old push technology, the reader installs a software program — called a “news reader” or “news aggregator” — on his or her computer. Using that program, the reader can select news feeds to receive. This is called “subscribing,” although most feeds are free. Fire up your news reader every day, and it downloads headlines from the New York Times, CNN and whatever other news sources you have selected from the multitude that offer RSS feeds. Throughout the day, it continues to download new stories. Although developed for news, RSS has since come to be the fuel that also powers blogs. Just about every blog has an RSS feed (or an RSS alternative called Atom). Whenever you run across a blog that interests you, it’s easy to subscribe by adding it to your news reader. New blog entries are then sent immediately to your computer. Now turn your attention to a concept known as viral marketing — meaning information that spreads like a virus (though in this case, presumably, a benign virus) from person to person. This is what underlies blogging’s power as a marketing tool. Consider this illustration: Let’s say Fred is a trademark lawyer who decides to write a blog that tracks developments in the field. After he tells a few colleagues about it, some of them subscribe to Fred’s RSS feed and start reading his postings on a regular basis. One of those colleagues, it turns out, has his own blog and posts a comment there about something that Fred has written, along with a link to Fred’s original posting. This results in new readers logging on to Fred’s blog. Meanwhile, others are finding their way to Fred’s blog through search engines or links on other sites. Some of them subscribe to Fred’s RSS feed. Some may even be bloggers themselves, which can drive more readers to Fred’s site. In short order, Fred’s handful of readers grows exponentially to hundreds or even thousands who regularly read his blog, many of whom are other lawyers and business people from around the country — indeed, from all over the world. Not so long ago, a lawyer could become known as an expert in a field by writing a treatise or by publishing frequently in legal periodicals. In the digital world, Fred’s online postings can help him become recognized as a leading commentator in trademark law. Out-of-state lawyers may well refer cases to him. Thanks to his blog, Fred has established his name and reputation as a knowledgeable trademark lawyer. As an added benefit, Fred’s blog has most likely propelled him to the top of the search engine rankings. Here’s why: Google, the world’s most popular Internet search engine, pioneered a technology it calls Page Rank. Simply put, Google interprets a link to a Web page as a kind of vote for its quality cast from among the Internet’s democratic masses. The more sites that link to a page, the more valuable it must be, according to Google’s reasoning. Applying this technological premise, Google ranks search results based on what it believes will be the most valuable pages that match a query. Other search engines have similar methods of ranking pages. So here we have Fred the trademark lawyer. Among his thousands of readers are other bloggers who frequently mention and link to Fred on their own blogs. Many provide lists of links on their site to other bloggers they find valuable, including Fred. Likewise, non-bloggers add Fred to their own pages of links, under headings such as “Trademark Law Resources.” With all these links to Fred’s blog, Google now presumes that it must be a valuable site for anyone searching for information about trademark law or for a trademark lawyer. While other law firms are paying consultants to optimize their Web sites for search engines, Fred has managed to catapult over them without spending a dime. Here is the best part: Anyone can start blogging in a matter of minutes, with no technical know-how and no investment of money. The simplest route is through a free Web-based service named Blogger, owned, as it happens, by Google. It even provides free Web hosting, although you may use your own server if you prefer. No software is required; everything is done through your Web browser. Once you complete Blogger’s free registration, it walks you through the process of creating a blog. Choose a name, select a design template, tweak a few minor settings — and you are ready to start blogging. To post an entry, all you need to do is type your message in the Blogger template, add a headline in the space provided and click “publish.” In seconds, your first posting appears on the Web at your blog’s URL. More sophisticated blogging programs provide more features and controls. Among the most popular is a program called Movable Type, which you can download from www.movabletype.org. It must be installed on your Web server and requires at least an elementary level of programming, although the company will install it for you for a fee. The same company offers a Web-based variation of its blogging program called TypePad. While not free like Blogger, it offers more sophisticated options. Although blogging requires no out-of-pocket investment, you must be willing to invest some sweat. In particular, be prepared to post new items frequently. The most popular bloggers post at least daily and some post frequently throughout the day. And if your goal is to establish your credentials, you had better have some idea of what you are blogging about. After all, once you hit that “publish” button, your words are out there for all the world to read. Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., and vice president of Jaffe Associates, a legal consulting firm Jaffe Associates, writes a blog about lawyer-related Web sites, which can be found at www.legaline.com.

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