Chalk one up for the solos and small firms. For what it’s worth, we dominate the ranks of the Third Annual ABA Blawg 100. By contrast, only two large firm blogs made the cut, Mark Herrmann observes at Drug and Device Law, one of the chosen.
Mark contends the lack of an engaging voice accounts for the omission of most big firm blogs from the ABA Blawg 100 list, and of course he’s right on that count. Voice makes a blog as addictive as the morning cup of coffee that usually accompanies its read. But more importantly, an engaging voice breeds the kind of wild loyalty that sends readers into such a public frenzy when a favorite blog is overlooked that the omission never recurs. You just don’t see that kind of fan base for most big firm blogs.
So why don’t big firm blogs engage? Mark suggests that:
writing in a distinctive voice is risky and that this is the real explanation for why most big firm blogs don’t draw large readerships (or accolades from the ABA)
Just as it’s risky to be provocative in a brief — because the benefits are so small, but the costs so potentially large — it’s risky to be provocative in a blog.
If we write something funny here, you might smile. But you’d never send an e-mail to our colleagues praising us for being a laugh riot.if you read our attempted humor and are offended, you might not be so constrained. You might write directly to us (and some of you have) or you might write to others in our firm to complain about us (and some of you have done that, too).
Solo practitioners don’t have to worry about that risk: If Scott Greenfield embarrasses himself at Simple Justice, no one can complain to his colleagues. Not so for those of us in the AmLaw 200.
Though I’ll agree that big firm lawyers who push the envelope on a blog face some risks, getting hassled by a colleague or even losing a client are small potatoes compared to losing one’s license, a prospect that this solo faced when the Florida disciplinary committee brought ethics charges against him for complaining about a judge’s unfair procedures at his blog. Likewise, if Scott Greenfield or another solo embarrass themselves, their online reputations are toast, which could impair their ability to generate business in the future.
The point here is that while big firm attorneys do face risk, so too do the small fry. The real question is why are solo and small firm lawyers willing to accept that risk when their colleagues at big law won’t?
Perhaps solo and small firm lawyers benefit from blogging more than our large firm peers. Mark points out that the risks of blogging for a big firm lawyer aren’t worth it when compared to the “awfully intangible benefits.” By contrast, I’ve found that my law firm blog has enabled me to establish a name for myself in my industry which compensates for the lack of a big firm pedigree (a factor that still plays an important role in hiring decisions, according to a recent study).
Still, while benefits like client generation might motivate the average solo or small firm blogger to accept the risks associated with blogging (and as in big law, there are plenty of bland solo and small firm blogs), they don’t matter much to the bloggers who made the Top 100. The lawyers who are writing the kinds of blogs that engage or provoke or inspire sufficiently to attract the attention of the ABA editors aren’t motivated by benefits, real or intangible. Instead, they’re driven by a passion and enthusiasm and a powerful curiosity about their subject matter so forceful that it compels them to write, notwithstanding the risks.
When you read the great law blogs (and I should caveat that there are many excluded from the ABA 100), the author’s passion and enthusiasm for the subject is palpable. At some blogs, that passion manifests in a breezy familiarity with the topics covered or the unbelievable level of detail, or the consistent message articulated with forceful elegance or the pride of being a real lawyer representing people the trenches or the practical blogosphere.
Most big firm attorneys aren’t consumed by that level of passion for what they do (though you can tell from Drug & Device Law that Herrmann and Beck don’t fall in that category). And I don’t mean that pejoratively. Big firm lawyers are very, very good at practicing law, but I suspect that for many, their time spent at big law is just a job (albeit an intellectually stimulating, financially rewarding one), not their life’s work or a calling or a part of the legacy that that they want to leave behind.
Let’s face it — without passion, you can’t do much more than phone it in on a blog. So, it’s not surprising that so many large firm blogs (and indeed, so many lawyer blogs generally), while strong on substance, not only fail to engage but fail to endure. Because if what you blog doesn’t thrill you or compel you to write or make you feel as if you just might be be able to change a little piece of the world, then really, what’s the point?
Update: Here’s Scott Greenfield at his finest.