Blogs can be more effective than almost any other marketing tool in showing a clear return on investment, according to one legal marketer.

And according to a March survey by LexBlog, a company that helps firms create their own blogs, AmLaw 200 firms are blogging much more frequently.

It may be the “smaller” of those firms, however, that get the best return.

In the last six months, the number of blogs by the country’s largest firms has increased by 49 percent, the “State of the AmLaw 200 Blogosphere” determined.

The survey showed that 53 of the AmLaw 200 firms in 2007 were blogging a total of 110 blogs. Of those blogs, 82 were “firm-branded,” which the survey defined as a blog where the firm’s name was prominently displayed.

“I don’t know of many people that have blogged well and not generated a decent revenue as a direct result,” Micah Buchdahl, president of High-Tech Marketing for Lawyers, said.

Blogging “well” means frequently updating the blog, he said.

For firms or attorneys looking for ways to effectively market on a small budget, blogs are the way to do it, he said. But they should be tailored toward a niche practice with a specific audience in order to gain credibility and relevance, he said.

It costs only a few dollars, if any, to start a blog, Buchdahl said. The real money comes in when paying a company to set up the blog in a way that maximizes search engine hits.

“Blogs are still one of the most effective ways that you can spend a few dollars and be able to show some sort of result,” he said.

An effective blog also means you have a targeted audience in mind. General counsel are typically too busy to read blogs, and Buchdahl said he rarely suggests his clients blog for the benefit of general counsel or other decision makers at Fortune 500 companies.

“I’m still not sure I’ve ever met a GC at a large company and heard them say they had read a law firm blog,” he said.

Instead, Buchdahl said, they should be directed toward a consumer audience, a small-business person or the media. In that regard, it might often make more sense for smaller firms to blog.

Jason Lisi, president of Legal Internet Solutions Inc., said he has been receiving a higher number of inquiries by firms about creating blogs and it’s generally from the smaller, more entrepreneurial firms.

Using blogs creates an opportunity for firms to have more placements in search engines. The best way to do that is to create the blog in a separate domain name and link it to the firm’s Web site as opposed to having the blog directly on the firm’s site, Lisi said. That’s good for driving traffic to the site and will put two different links related to the firm for search engines to pick up on.

Blogs have circumvented some of the search-engine optimization dollars Buchdahl said he might have traditionally put in a firm’s marketing budget. They can be another way to drive traffic to the main Web site without paying a company to optimize search results, he said.

A few Pennsylvania firms made the list of AmLaw 200 firms that are busy blogging. Fox Rothschild, at nine blogs, is second only to Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton and Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, each at 12, in terms of the number of blogs by AmLaw 200 firms.

Fox Rothschild’s blogs range in topic from Pennsylvania family law to tax litigation to a blog about the Employee Free Choice Act. All of the blogs are done through LexBlog, the site that did the survey.

They are written by partners and associates, and are all under the firm’s banner on its Web site with the exception of partner Francis G.X. Pileggi’s “Delaware Corporate and Commercial Litigation Blog,” which is on a separate site that mentions the firm’s name.

Partner Charles Meyer, who heads up the “Pennsylvania Family Law” blog, said even Pileggi’s blog is supported by the firm.

Meyer originally came to the firm with the idea of the blog to disseminate information with three basic goals in mind.

He said he wants to offer legal information to other family law practitioners, give clients and potential clients information and have a forum to talk about professionalism and civility in the family law bar.

There is clearly a marketing aspect, he said, as the blog lends credibility to the firm’s family law practice. Meyer said he has received “significant” cases through his blogging.

He worked on it for about a year by himself, but it became too time consuming. Now a majority of the firm’s family law attorneys in the state contribute. Meyer said he still edits all of the postings for style and content. The goal is to have every writer post two blogs a month.

There is a blogging policy in place, but Meyer said the firm trusts his judgment and doesn’t really interfere with the posts. He said the blog wouldn’t be offensive, take political positions or comment on the politics of proposed legislation.

Saul Ewing has three firm-sanctioned blogs, including ones on New Jersey zoning laws and personal wealth.

Communications Director Leslie K. Gross said the blogs were created out of the interest of some of the firm’s attorneys who wanted to communicate with existing and potential clients without the formality of a client alert or press release.

The firm monitors the sites for technology issues as well as to capture any additional marketing opportunities through re-purposing some of the material, she said.

The blogs were rolled out slowly in the fall of 2006 to see how things would go and are now open to anyone in the firm who is interested, she said.

Steven E. Carrington, Saul Ewing’s director of marketing, said blogs wouldn’t succeed if they weren’t updated. He said the firm’s only real requirement for bloggers is that there is an attorney or group of attorneys interested and excited about making the blog successful.

Buchdahl said he would much rather see an enthusiastic associate or partner handle the blog than a ghostwriter or a firm’s marketing department. That’s the only way the firm is going to show real expertise, he said.

Saul Ewing Harrisburg associate Edward G. Lanza heads up the firm’s “Utility News Blog.” He created the site before joining Saul Ewing in 2004 and continued to blog on his own until the concept moved its way through the decision-making process at the firm and was accepted.

He culls utility industry news daily and posts what he finds interesting. Lanza, who is still the only one in the practice group handling the blog, refrains from posting any commentary. He simply links to sites he thinks might be useful to anyone curious about the utility industry.

“I’m a little leery of having too much of my input,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to be seen as taking sides.

There has been talk, however, of moving the blog in the direction of commentary, similar to the other two Saul Ewing blogs, he said.

He has seen some new business from the blog, but it mainly serves as a conduit for calls from reporters and seminar organizers, Lanza said.

Downside of blogging

Issues have arisen at some firms in terms of ownership of blogs and whether they are truly sanctioned by the firm, Buchdahl said. At some large firms, individual bloggers working out from under the firm’s banner have created angst among some of the partners, he said.

If the blogger is a practicing lawyer writing about his practice, it would be difficult to argue it’s not under the firm umbrella, Buchdahl said, particularly when the blog is used as a business generator.

Another downfall of blogging is the creation of false experts. He said blogs allow people to assume an “expert status” when they might not be. The best experts are usually too busy to blog, Buchdahl said.

Blogs can also bring with them several tricky ethical questions. As far as Buchdahl knows, he said there haven’t been any ethics opinions on blogs because they are still considered fairly new. But he cautioned attorneys to be careful anyway.

“A blog is a Web site,” he said. “Web sites, in the vast majority of cases, are clearly lawyer advertising, thus they need to adhere to the related rules.”

When blogging, often done in a less-formal style, attorneys don’t always think of the same restrictions they might face when writing a brochure or biography, he said.