Letterpress BlogAttorneys looking for a strategic edge in a tough economy should take a few minutes to read how some New Hampshire lawyers are enhancing their practices and raising their profile.

Their solution? Blogging. And the lawyers interviewed by the talented Dan Wise of the New Hampshire Bar Association share the reasons that a law blog makes the difference. Here’s part of the story opening:

“‘I thought [blogging] was a great idea, but I figured other people must already be doing it,’” says [attorney Kysa] Crusco. ‘When I went home and did a web search, it turned out that there weren’t many, if any, family law blogs. The nhfamilylawblog.com URL was available, so I reserved it and contacted Lexblog. They got my blog up and running, and I started writing. I was able to see an immediate effect in articles that I posted and the potential clients that were calling for a consultation.’”

Kysa touches on what continues to be a surprise to me, 15 years after the first law blog was launched (though there’s debate on who was first): The surprise that, all these years later, relatively few lawyers write a blog. And that is a missed opportunity.

Let’s examine the necessary elements:

  1. There are 26 tools—if you count every letter of the alphabet.
  2. There is some modicum of writing ability.
  3. There is some practice knowledge.
  4. There is a small (and shrinking) technology aspect.

We already know that lawyers avoid math, not words, and every lawyer I know possesses a large amount of practice knowledge. So … what’s the boggle?

Typically, it comes down to a misunderstanding of strategy or—more particularly—differentiation. Here’s what I mean.

You probably think that potential clients can distinguish you from other lawyers in your practice area because, um, you went to a good law school. Or because you were in the Order of the Coif. Or served as Assistant Managing Editor on your law journal.

Of course, none of that distinguishes you (except to your mom, who always asks what was up with that “Assistant” in your title).

What does distinguish you is something that is wholly unique. No, not your fingerprint or hair whorl. I mean—writing.

The “creating content is hard” worry may be a significant one to you. But remember that more and more people will gauge your abilities not by your resume, but by a smidgen of content on your website. And they will devour that content; if it’s helpful stuff, they will come to you for more.

New Hampshire Bar Association logoThose who want to buy legal services are not seeking a terrific writer, so don’t let that put you off. But they do seek a person behind the website. They want to hear how you think.

A blog can do that. Sure, it takes a commitment of time. But at least it’s not math.

I was particularly intrigued by some of the findings of the New Hampshire Bar:

“To research this article, Bar News reached out to Bar members to submit information about their blogs and we have compiled a selective list. We also have conducted numerous searches on Google—just as many potential clients do—to find New Hampshire lawyers’ articles and blogs. The results were disappointing. There are only a few freestanding blogs offering timely advice that showcase the ability of lawyers to plainly explain current questions of law. Unfortunately, many blogs or articles on law firm websites are either out of date or populated by content designed not for readers, but for search-engine robots.”

blogging cartoon via AMP

Blogging: It’s just not that hard. (click to enlarge.)

I wonder what my results would be if I were to search for Arizona lawyer blogs. This past year, we did start a Blog Network on which any Arizona lawyer may add their link (and where we currently have more than 60). But there must be more out there.

And before you abandon blogging plans as a fad or idea that doesn’t gel with the profession, remember, as Dan Wise writes, “While SEO techniques are helpful in the 21st century world of digital marketing, certain old-fashioned values still apply: Success comes to those who prepare carefully and commit themselves to a strategy for the long haul.”

Sound like you? I thought so. Now, go back and finish that New Hampshire story.

Please contact me if you ever want to talk about blogging. I’m curious how it affects your practice.

American Bar Association Bar Leadership Institute 2014 BLI logo

Last Friday, I had the chance to present to leaders of three sizes of bar associations—small, medium and large. Among the three, the best audience was those from bar associations that were —

Hold it. Let me pause before revealing who was the most engaged of my audiences at the ABA Bar Leadership Institute.

creating content that influences member engagement requires a plan and support.But I will tell you now that one thing I learned most as I prepared for my presentation was this: Everyone—even a bar president—seeks to be engaging. Even when we get the opportunity, though, we must have a plan, preparation and sufficient support to execute well.

To kick things off, here is what I opened with to each group:

“My modest charge this morning is to recommend ways for each of you to create phenomenal written content, fearlessly and with joy.”

“How hard can that be?” I may have continued.

It was a real privilege to be able to address attendees on one of their reported biggest concerns—Presidents’ messages or columns. My overall message to them—which I hope they appreciated—is that the primary job of a bar president is Chief Engagement Officer. And that there are techniques they could adopt that would help them create compelling content.

I wrote about this presentation a few weeks ago, and I thank those who offered suggestions for content and messages. As promised, those who shared ideas that I borrowed got a shout-out in my PowerPoint. Thank you especially to Dan Wise of the New Hampshire Bar, Brad Carr of the Alabama Bar, and Rick DeBruhl right here at the Arizona Bar. I also benefited from the insights of the past 15 years of Arizona Bar Presidents, a huge portion of whom responded generously to my queries about what makes an effective column.

My PowerPoint—minus its animated possibilities—is here. (It begins on the fourth page.) If I can figure out how, I may upload the robust version to SlideShare.

In my 14 years as editor at Arizona Attorney, I’ve read more than 150 such columns in our own magazine. Plus, I receive about 20 other bar magazines monthly—and yes, I try to read those, too. So I’ve come to be highly attuned to the challenge a president faces when she or he takes pen to paper. That’s why I ended my presentation with a toast (PowerPoint style).

Law and Order: "If you can lead your bar well, while making your practice thrive and keeping your family happy, I toast you."

“If you can lead your bar well, while making your practice thrive and keeping your family happy, I toast you.”

Finally, let me share the unofficial results of my assessment of audience engagement. I’d have to say that, all else being equal, the small and medium-sized bar groups were each highly engaged. If I were forced to choose, I suppose the medium group came in a nose ahead.

Let's give it up for ... the ABA BLI 2014 medium-bar group!

Let’s give it up for … the ABA BLI 2014 medium-bar group!

Both of those groups laughed and nodded in all the right places and ended with a bunch of questions. And the medium-bar group shouted out queries that even surprised me (“What was your favorite president’s column?” is something I am chagrined to say I had never considered—though I managed a response.)

Small but mighty: ... the ABA BLI 2014 small-bar group

Small but mighty … the ABA BLI 2014 small-bar group

So the large-bar group—my own people, you could say—take the number-three spot. But I won’t be too critical. After all, it was the final session of three, so they may have been a little shell-shocked. And as I headed into my third presentation, I faced a dry-mouth quandary, so my own delivery may have been on the decline. We got through it—together.

Don't be a (sleeping) giant ... the ABA BLI 2014 large-bar group

Don’t be a (sleeping) giant … the ABA BLI 2014 large-bar group

But what a privilege: To take some time to consider an important subject and to share ideas with smart and curious people—that may be one of the markers of a rewarding day job.

Tomorrow, I recommend to you the efforts of a law school that examines how the legal profession should be reinvented. I had heard of its work, but I learned more from someone who also spoke at the Bar Leadership Institute. But you’ll have to wait another day to know more.

I wrote yesterday about the terrific programs offered at the NABE Communications Section workshop. In that post, I bemoaned the fact that I had failed to snap a photo of some participants.

Barry Kolar, of the Tennessee Bar Association, righted that wrong by sending me the evocative photo below (click to make the great picture larger).

Congratulations again to the panelists in “The Title Fight: Print v. Digital”:

Nashville, a city for music and creativity

When was the last time you wrote a song? And when was the last time you had a truly fine educational experience?

For me, the answer to both questions is “Last week.” And, yes, they were related.

Happy Change of Venue Friday. I wrote before about attending an annual workshop in Nashville, where communicators from bars across the country gathered to share ideas, trends—and the odd song or two.

If you have ever sat through a continuing legal education seminar—or any educational seminar—the prospect of days of them can give you pause. For although a large number of them are well done and conveyed in a compelling way, a substantial portion of them may be, let’s just say, lackluster.

And is a little luster too much to ask for, I wonder? Am I shooting for the moon to expect that a subject-matter expert might lend a moment or two’s thought to the manner of presentation?

I say that is not shooting for the moon, and that we should expect nothing less.

Well, I am pleased to report that the seminars were pretty uniformly stellar. They engaged me and others, and they delivered important material without any of the drip drip drip of the educational I.V., draining a pedagogical bag while doing the same to attendees’ spirits.

Dan Wise, New Hampshire Bar Association

Of course, these presenters are communicators. Our jobs require that we focus not just on content, but also on presentation (like how I did that, how I shoehorned my own non-presenting self last week into the ranks of those who actually performed? Pretty good, eh? That’s what communicators do!).

But amidst all the good programs, let me explain how a few truly captivated attendees, not through a bludgeon or a tantalizing promise of a pee break. No, they did it by engaging people on a deep level.

I have to remind readers that I did not attend all the seminars offered, because the two tracks competed for attendees’ time. So these stories are examples, not a complete picture. But each of these developed a strategy that put the listener first, rather than subjected them to the grandeur and majesty of the material.

One of the most appealing was titled “The Title Fight: Print vs. Digital.” Audience members likely arrived expecting a mildly rousing rendition of some of the trends facing publications today.

What we got was quite a bit more. In the 10 minutes between sessions, panelists dervished through the hotel conference room, lofting chairs up, down and into a huge semi-circle. Perspiration on brows, they raised an old-time prizefight microphone. And then, in a moment of genius, a bowtie was affixed to the collar of the event’s moderator–referee, Dan Wise of the New Hampshire Bar Association. Stunned and surprised, I failed to snap a picture of the redoubtable Dan—my last disappointment of the day.

A spirited seminar led by Dan Wise, referee

So before even one word had been uttered about pages or bytes, the panel had already busted their you-know-whats to serve the audience.

Their delivery was just as impressive. Staccato yet substantive, Wise and his cornermen (and -women) launched us through multiple rounds of challenging topics. Speaker lectures and audience questions could not drag on, for a ringside bell (via an iPhone) would signal a new topic. It may have been a prize fight, but audience members were the winners.

A second notable event was a seminar titled “The Un-Conference.” There, the Tennessee Bar Association’s CLE Director, Mindy Thomas-Fulks, led attendees to the water of conference alternatives, and encouraged us to drink.

Now, I don’t put on too many conferences, but I was interested in how to increase reader engagement, which is a similar topic. How do we encourage participation and make people feel at home in our pages or our conference rooms?

Mindy Thomas-Fulks, Tennessee Bar Association

A few of the topics Fulks covered included opportunities for hands-on learning, more audience involvement, even changing how we create nametags and handle registration. Each of those steps in the conference process, Fulks pointed out, is a chance to engage attendees and lead them to adopt the meeting as their own.

Could we create alt-conferences for every single portion of our meetings? Probably not, Fulks said. But altering even part of the experience may lead to more involved and attentive attendees.

Fulks did not just talk to us about these topics. She encouraged us to interact with each other and develop our own ideas. Despite my more solitary inclination, I have to admit that it was, well, fun.

The last example from Nashville also has to do with sharing ideas—and songwriting.

Gary Burr

The “Songwriter Session” was led by four noted (you guessed it) songwriters. They divided the attendees into two groups, and we brainstormed and wrote a song.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t that, but it was certainly enjoyable. The session opened with audience members offering song titles that would anchor our efforts. The winning idea was “I Drink Because,” served up by Stacy King of the Federal Bar Association. Now that’s a federal mandate we can live with.

Our group’s assigned songwriters were Gary Burr and Jim Photoglo, accomplished industry professionals both (go ahead, click their sites and even Google ’em). They exemplified the creative process for us communications folks, and they did it with humor and talent. At the end of 40 minutes or so, we all had collaborated to pen a hilarious rendition.

Jim Photoglo

I’ll see if I can post some audio from the song. In the meantime, though, here’s what I took away:

Creativity requires engagement. Engagement must be encouraged. Encouragement requires creativity.

Congratulations to those who put together a successful workshop. Now let’s see how much creative encouragement we can muster in our own shops.

Have a great—and creative—weekend.