One of my readers, a 3L who’s planning to solo on graduation recently emailed this [paraphrased] question:
What are your thoughts on a law student starting a blog in preparation of starting a firm? I understand that I’ll need to include disclaimers that I am not an attorney or giving legal advice, but can blogging be useful to establish a presence on the web and network with other lawyers and potential clients in my area?
I can list at least five reasons why blogging can produce huge benefits for law students, whether they’re thinking about hanging a shingle after law student or finding traditional employment. First, blogging on a regular basis (at least twice a week for the first six months) about almost any law related topic shows commitment to the profession, interest and most of all initiative. Those traits will catapult you to the front of the line when it comes time for interviews or referrals from colleagues.
Second, a blog can also help to open doors by offering an online introduction to lawyers in distant communities where you hope to wind up or to role models whom you’d like to emulate or meet. Although to be sure, not all lawyers blog or read blogs, the blog can serve as a conversation starter in other fora – for example, if you’ve blogged about a case you just studied in contract law that’s relevant to dialogue on Twitter, you can offer it up without feeling like you’ve rudely butted in. Likewise, if you attend a law school event where a famous judge or legal figure or tech CEO is speaking, you can summarize their talk in your blog and send them a link — a much better introduction than fighting with a dozen other law students to ask a question after the event.
Third, though a blog done right can take time, it can earn you money too. Despite a high unemployment rate, as I’ve said before, law school doesn’t make it easy for lawyers to hire their students. Instead of waiting passively for law school to help you find a job, put yourself out there with your blog and you may find lawyers approaching you, asking you to take on short research projects or help them research blog posts.
Fourth, blogging improves your analytical and writing skills. Seriously. Since readers don’t have short attention spans and many RSS readers only pick up the first sentence of what you write, blogs require you to get right to the point with a seductive headline, strong lede and cogent analysis (I know, I don’t always follow those rules). Also, just like judges and their clerks read hundreds of mediocre briefs that fade into oblivion, so too blog readers are inundated with stuff. So formulaic posts (Five top reasons that law professors should be more like Lady Gaga) no matter how over the top won’t cut it, nor will “Here’s an interesting bit” followed by a lengthy quote. Use the blog to experiment with different voices and different styles and practice to reduce the time needed per post (still working on that also!)
Fifth a blog can serve as the centerpiece of a broader presence on the web by disciplining you to produce content that you can repurpose in multiple sites. I discussed that concept several years back here and if you click on the embedded video, you can see how it works in practice.
Alternatively, you can include your blog along with other briefs and papers you’ve written in an online portfolio, a concept recently recommended in the New York Times for job seekers.
With these five reasons come two caveats. First, to get the most mileage out of your blog in the legal community, you need to blog about legal or law related issues. When I say to blog about law related issues, that doesn’t mean that have to analyze every federal circuit decision in your jurisdiction as they’re issued or even discuss court cases at all. You can write about current events like the recent health care decision or a celebrity divorce, but highlight what you view as significant legal issues. Track an issue that’s still unfolding — like the law of social media, e-discovery or online privacy; just giving quick summaries of recent cases can provide a huge service to lawyers. You can write about your introduction to law practice – perhaps an internship or an experience in a clinic and what you learned or what you would improve when you open your own firm. Write about law related movies or books and assess their realism; blog about the old chestnuts that you’re learning in law school and discuss whether they’re still relevant. You’ll bring back old memories for fogies like me (back in my day, it was Sibbach v. Wilson in Civ Pro, Hadley v. Baxendale in contracts [no hairy hand!] and Palsgraf v. LI RR in torts) and demonstrate how you can simplify the complex.
Second, I’d avoid blogging about topics obviously aimed at prospective clients – stuff like “Why You Should Incorporate Your Business,” or “Ten Ways to Avoid Liability When You Fire An Employee.” For starters, as the law student noted in his email, a student blogger would have to include so many disclaimers as part of these posts that they wouldn’t have much value. And most clients would skip over the posts anyway when they see that the advice is from a law student. Moreover, many of these topics, though they seem simplistic, require a little bit of time in the trenches to ensure accuracy. If you’re really interested in learning to write materials of use to clients, volunteer to work with practicing lawyers to draft blog posts for them, but don’t target clients until you’ve been admitted to the bar (side note: just because you’re not targeting clients, doesn’t mean that they’re not reading you. Many lay people have an interest in what law school is like or understanding recent court cases or news developments so they may follow along anyway).
Still, there’s one last reason that law students should start blogging that’s beyond the scope of the question, but I’ll close with it anyway: posterity. A blog is your precedent; a picture of you as a law student, at a place in time where your profession lies in front of you and where you’re still excited and eager — maybe naive or at least, not yet jaded. Blogs capture the insight and curiosity and passion and yes, stupidity of the soon-to-be-lawyer and serve as a True North that you can look back on and use to re-orient yourself if you ever lose your way as a lawyer.