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Why Would Anyone Want to Blog? .... Or Should I Say Blawg?
By Beth A. Grimm, Attorney and "Blawger", California

There are many possible reasons why a person might blog. They may want to reach out and find a social network, communicate with family, stimulate discussion on a subject, find out how other people feel about things, share daily or weekly thoughts, chronicle travels, learn about babies or raising kids, share resources, talk politics, argue politics, vilify politicians, or create a persona very different than the obvious.

There are many possible reasons why a person might want to "blawg" (run a law blog). Like me, they may love to write; they may be looking for a web presence and recognizable identity; they may want to enhance their reputation, educate, find a way to compete, market, increase their audience, give something back, help people who don't have easy access to legal or practical information on a difficult subject, increase their own level of knowledge, gather and produce material for books and publications, provide service, and build a specific kind of law practice. They may want to trigger dialogue or comment with other lawyers or the public, or both.

There are many reasons legal bloggers (hence, "blawgers") have for keeping a running blog.  Blogs tend to be an extension of a lawyer's identity. Lawyers and legal scholars often want the opportunity to express themselves and some feel frustrated for a lack of appropriate venue. Some like to verbally spar with others, argue legal theories, positions, analyze cases, and pontificate.

What is a Blog? How does it differ from a website?

What I found in adding a blog to my website that had been around for years was that I gained recognition more quickly and had more visitors to my site because of the blog. Blogs tend to provide more fresh information and the web search engines like that. And if you link up with a host that has potential for many hits, and your website is popular, the "back and forth" clicks increase the traffic to both sites, and the search engines like that too. And furthermore, if your blog is interesting or provides valuable information, your audience will grow exponentially. People will start sending others there, and the cycle will continue. In my case, I waited a year to find the right host, and once I linked up with communityassociations.net, a site (whose originator, Joe West, is a co-speaker for the program), the result was stellar ­ the traffic to my site increased considerably, through the back door of communityassociations.net. Read on for a description of what a blog is and what you can accomplish with it.

Blogging or Blawging - What's the Difference?

A blog is a "web-log". It can be a diary; it may be as simple as a journal, but don't count on secrecy - you can't hide it under the bed or in a safe. You may try to lock it up with a password, but understand that it has to go across servers over which you have no control. A blog could be as simple as a daily list of things that you do, thoughts that you have, things you like to eat, who you see, where you go, or what you think is important. It could be an ongoing debate with yourself or others about politics, sports, movie stars or other famous people, or even movies and plots, critics, etc. You might want to share "mother-in-law" stories or what your baby is doing.

A "blawg" is different. It is a blog written by a lawyer, a law student, a legal scholar, a politician, or someone else interested in legal topics. It is a phrase coined for those that blog "legal" topics. In the Bay Area, there is a group called the "Bay Area Blawgers". We meet. We discuss all things related to legal "blogging".  The group is the "creation" of Eric Goldman, an Assistant Professor in the Stanford Law and Technology Department. It was a very interesting and diverse group. Attendees include some media reps, political critics, lawyers of various types (young to old, litigation, transactional, practicing and non-practicing) and academics. Topics included such things as gender bias, reasons why people blog, what they hope to accomplish, blogging stories, concerns, problems, what legal and moral issues arise, the value of blogs for marketing, insurance concerns, defamation and copyright claims, civil rights, free speech, the dangers of blogging, and how to handle comments and blogging on cases that have holdings contrary to your clients interests.

My Quest For The Perfect Law Job Through Working the Web, Blogging and other "Virtual" Capabilities.

My journey to the perfect law job through use of technology and the web has been challenging and rewarding. By considering parallels, it reflects the possibilities for others to "craft" aspects of their jobs through the use of technology and the web. Computer and web technology has helped me fulfill my desire to become a purveyor of valuable information, while at the same time performing a valuable service, and ... it lead to down a path to becoming a recognized resource, and making a great living. I started it more or less for the "service" aspect, but continue it for all the reasons noted, plus, its fun, challenging, and rewarding.

A few years ago I got sick of all the paper; the time, frustration, and "waste" of resources I saw in doing court work, the lawyer posturing, the client frustration and the cost of pursing litigation as a means of resolving disputes. A lot of what happens in HOAs is about the people and I gravitated toward focusing on the people issues because I found those more interesting than court and collection paperwork. I got sick and tired of traffic, scheduling, employee issues, and being limited to a small audience. So I decided to utilize the web to change things.

I was already writing articles, books, client-FYIs and newsletters; speaking at seminars and workshops, creating classes, attending resource panels, and helping people find the right resources. I have had a website for more than 5 years and created it to be a valuable resource. Writing for me is very pleasurable. This I think is important if you are going to blog. If you hate to write or type, that can really take the fun out of blogging.

In my case, I needed something to satisfy my burning desire to help people with my knowledge, and I desired an outlet for short bursts, delivering information, and creating an audience who would be in need of my information and services. My website was becoming a popular site. I had been working toward going paper-less in the office, dumping filing cabinets, training "Dragon Naturally Speaking", and eliminating employees and employee issues; outsourcing all work including assistant, paralegal and billing; and learning "Acrobat Professional", Virtual Web meeting options, and other very resourceful programs; moving my office to a cottage at my house and operating for all intents and purposes with "satellite" office suites. I stopped doing litigation, switched to mediation, beefed up the transactional side of things, cut back on providing expert witness services, and have essentially cut out all the chaff. I waste little time getting dressed up, driving around for client meetings (which can really be a drag in the Bay Area), and scheduling appointments or dealing with the calendars and time slots of others (such as in court).  And I owe my success in these endeavors largely to technology.

I meet daily on the telephone, by speaker phone, and through virtual meetings on the web with clients. I render legal opinions daily, write demand letters, analyze information and help boards, managers and even homeowners (yes the deadly 10 letter word!) figure out solutions to problems, and I write. I would rather be on my own schedule and help 10 or 20 people a day than be tied up at a Judge's beck and call and be lucky if I can help one client. I am happy in my work.

Fortuitousness helps. Staying ahead of the curve and technology is not easy, but it's worth it.  If you have a good website and blog, the next logical step is an E-Newsletter. Seen any of those? There are lots of varieties. One thing I will say from experience ­ the more good information you have on your site, the more likely others will point to it. I have been fortunate to have the California Department of Consumer Affairs list my website as a resource. I have received queries from people looking for clients. When asked how I achieved this, I have to say I assume it is from providing valuable information to the public, because I did not even ask to be listed there. The way I found out about the listing was through people who found me that way.

Group "Therapy": I was lucky enough to be asked to join the Bay Area Blawgers, and in attending Bay Area functions on "blawging", I have met others in the legal field that have used technology and blogging to further their interests and careers. For example, Ann Althouse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School (site: althouse.blogspot.com), a recent speaker in a panel at Stanford has created a blog described as "commentary concerning politics, law, and popular culture."  A visit to her site leaves one to wonder when she sleeps. To hear her describe her blogging experience, one might come to the conclusion that she is a self-proclaimed blogging "addict" who believes that anyone who wants to blog seriously has to do it every day. She describes starting her day with a cup of coffee and a blogging session, and says she often blogs late into the night as well.

Others are less committed. Some lawyers admit to adding to their blog once a month or less. I would venture to say that most legal bloggers with a method to their "madness" fall somewhere in between. However, if you want your blog to be useful, then the frequency depends on how often n legal topics and such things as women and blogging that is successful and controversial you need to get messages out to hold your readers interest. If you only blog on new cases in your field, they may come few and far between. If you blog on questions that you receive on your website, and it is popular, you might want to blog every day. My commitment, because of time constraints is to add a blog at least once a week. I could easily get into putting something up every day, but have to limit it because I do other service work besides blogging, have a busy law practice, have a strong interest in photography, and have six grandchildren, a penchant for travel, and a life outside my law practice. I do most of my blogging at night but if I start it in the morning before diving into my workload, I have a hard time tearing myself away and getting down to brass tacks.

Many lawyers have used the web and blogging to build practices. Just recently, in December, an article was widely distributed online that touted the success of some South Florida lawyers who tapped into the cyber world to capture their share of the "growing business of helping buyers recover deposits from pre-construction and condo conversion projects." (Daily Business Review, December 10, 2007, entitled "Legal Web Sites Shake Up Condo Market.")  This is a "niche" business and exactly the kind of thing that works on the web or a blog. People search for what they want and these sites had names like recovermydeposit.com and depositrecoveryservices.com.

For a great resource site on blogging, visit Eric Goldman of Stanford (mentioned above) who organized and "herds" the Bay Area Blawgers to meetings. He has two blogs (a "Technology And Marketing" blog and "Eric Goldman's Observations" blog) that have lead to considerable recognition for him and excellent PR due to the resourceful presentation of issues, cases, and all things legal related to blogging. His site can be found at http://blog.ericgoldman.org/. If you visit his site, you can find a list of the Bay Area Blawgers and check out the other lawyers websites and blogs. And, you can follow the cyberspace cases firsthand.

What are some of the things to think about when considering starting a blog?

One of the most important things to do at the outset is to determine your intended audience and your intended format. You are in charge here. Put yourself in the shoes of the audience and think about what might attract you to your own blog. Think about what you want to accomplish, what format might work for you, how frequently you want to write, and where you will get your subject matter. You don't need to blog everyday .... but you may want to. And choose an appropriate name. You will see some name samples at the end of this article. There are various ways to look at the name ­ you may want to choose something likely to be found through a name search (like mine: "California Condo & HOA Law"), or something really catchy (like "Above The Law" or "Order In the Court" ­ although these are already taken).  

What are some of the questions and issues that arise?

Taking comments ... or not. If you plan to accept comments on your blog, then you will likely feel compelled to respond to the comments. If your intention is to trigger dialogue, then taking comments makes sense. If, like me, you want to have full control of and limit your time on the blog, and want to convey information and educate without debate, then you will not want to take comments. Allowing commentary on your site triggers questions about whether you need to respond to, answer, comment upon, or even publish, all comments. Sometimes "comment-ors" get nasty; some harass; and some have unrealistic expectations. Bloggers who like to "spar" might get high on the adrenalin rush of a good argument. This aspect is very personal and again, relates directly to your ultimate purpose in having a blog.

Dealing with Cyber Harassment or People Who Do Not Agree With You ­ Are there laws? Civil penalties? Criminal Penalties?

Cyber harassment can come in many forms, and many venues. There is more press about it when it relates to children, but it is evident in the Community Associations world as well. The question is, "what can you do about it?"

The residents of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, found themselves in a really tough situation involving one of their young". Trying to find a crime or civil penalties that might apply presented a quandary. However, the City officials stepped up and unanimously passed a measure making online harassment a crime, just days after learning that the 13-year-old girl had killed herself after receiving cruel messages on the Internet. The measure did not apply to the situation at hand, of course, but was intended to send a message - the six-member Board of Aldermen declared Internet harassment to be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. The Mayor admitted that the city had proposed the measure after learning about the girl's death.

This is the situation: the girl, who thought she had met a good-looking 16-year-old boy on the social networking site MySpace last year, was smitten. But at some point he began sending her mean messages and others joined in, her family said, then abruptly he ended their friendship. Megan Maier hanged herself within minutes of receiving the last messages on Oct. 16, 2006, and died the next day. Her parents learned about six weeks after her death that the boy, Josh Evans, was not real. The boy was created by a mother down the street who wanted to know what Megan was saying about her own daughter, who had had a falling out with Megan. Her father said he found a message from the boy Josh, which he said law enforcement authorities have not been able to retrieve. It told the girl she was a bad person and the world would be better without her, he has said.

The Dardenne Prairie measure defines both harassment and cyber-harassment, essentially making it illegal to engage in a pattern of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to suffer "substantial emotional distress," or for an adult to contact a child under 18 in a communication causing a reasonable parent to fear for the child's well-being. The City attorney said that constitutionally protected activity would be exempt. The measure would apply when one of the people communicating was in Dardenne Prairie.

A small proactive step perhaps ... but we can expect more laws to develop as cyber bullying and the unfathomable acts continue to occur and, if left unchecked, escalate.

If you want more on these topics, check out cyber stalking, cyber bullies, cyber bashing, cyber harassment, etc., as buzz words on the internet. Check out Eric Goldman's site. Do a word search. There are sites that come up offering support and suggestions for dealing with these kinds of activities. At this time, most of them are geared toward children and young adults. However, similar principles apply to adults that are harassed, threatened and abused on the internet.

In the Community Associations context, the harassment occurs every day in California, and some other states as well. There are groups that attack boards, professionals and vendors on a continuous basis. Some of the "perpetrators" are former members of associations that got into fights with their boards and suffered for it. Sometimes the fights went on for years and eventually resulted in serious pain, both in the wallet and the ego. One such example of a website that disses boards, attorneys, and even judges is the American Homeowners Association Resource website,  I am told that I am one of the targets of this website, and kind of recognize it, but try to ignore it. I do not visit the site on any regular basis. To be frank, I am not interested in what is said, although others occasionally report to me. My way of dealing with this site's criticism and other negativity related to community associations is to put the energy I would otherwise spend fretting, reading and/or responding to such drivel to good use ­ instead of "rolling in the mud with the pigs", as they say, I prefer to spend my time with clean hands, creating educational materials, searching for solutions to problems (and publishing the solutions and thought processes, providing practical advice and information that helps to resolve disputes in community associations, and communicating with people who need help and appreciate a helping hand. I have to believe it works pretty effectively. I actually get emails from strangers that have visited my site, and AHRC.com, and applaud my website asking me "what's up" with them?"  When people ask me about something that is cited on "that" site and challenge the fact that I may be saying something different, I ask them to query the site representatives and ask for the case citation, law or other resource that is being paraphrased or written about so they can check it out themselves. I am never surprised when the person in the quandary comes back and says no source was identified. Truly, the best defense seems to be taking the high road and instead of engaging in dialogue with people whose motivation seems to be a grudge, just put out good information. I am not suggesting avoiding dialogue with people you do not agree with, or that question or criticize, but I am suggesting avoiding wasting valuable energy and time on an endeavor that is futile.    

What about unintended consequences? Can what you write today ­ come back to bite tomorrow?

The answer is yes. An example might be that if you start blogging when you are a law student, something you said or published might come back to bite you during a job interview (remember ­ interviewers have access to the web too).  If you are a young attorney starting out in a field and are not yet familiar with the cases or the laws and you start blogging about your perceptions or remedies, and you publish something with an immature quality or inexperienced tone, it could turn off potential clients or maybe even potential employers. This is especially important to consider in the firm setting. If you appoint your newest addition to the firm to the "web stuff" simply because they have the most time to spend doing it in between trainings, you may be sorry. You probably know very little about the person and where they might take you in the virtual world, and they may know little about the firm. It would be better to have someone involved that understands more about the persona the firm needs to project for its client pool. If you write something that takes a specific position and later on you are asked to provide expert witness services, can a blog where you said something contrary to or unfriendly to the position you are taking in the case, be used against you? Certainly it can be raised ­ whether it will really have any affect on your testimony depends a lot on the context, facts and circumstances, but you can see the dilemmas that arise when a lawyer or law student puts something out there that tags them with a certain stigma.

What happens when you contradict yourself or change your mind? If you explain yourself, note that something changed that affected your opinion, or have a reasonable claim as to why you did so, there should be little to no negative effect in changing your opinion. If you constantly contradict your own prior posts, people will certainly start to wonder about your credibility (or sanity perhaps).

What Restraints Are There To Blogging?

Self-Imposed Restraints: At this time, most of the restraints must necessarily be self-imposed restraints because there are not many books, instruction manuals or laws on the subject of what not to do. Restraints include moral, practical, and legal considerations.  One of the general areas of restraint was discussed above ­ and that is to think about what and why you are running or posting a blog and how what you post on it might come back to bite you. Another concern of course is to prevent burning bridges that you might need to cross at a later date. It would also be good to engage in self-imposed restraint by avoiding blogging when you are feeling rash, tired, emotional, angry or sad, hungry, or "out-of-sorts".  Why? For the same reason that you need to be careful about sending an email when you are feeling rash, tired, emotional, angry or sad, hungry, or "out-of-sorts". The message may not be received as it was intended, or worse, it may be received exactly as it was intended ­ and you may have been striving to send a jab, defame someone, upset someone, or contradict someone without justification or irresponsibly.         

Legal Concerns: It would be a good idea to avoid defaming anyone, avoid harassing anyone, avoid conflicts with clients and client cases, avoid reporting details of ongoing cases that deserve confidentiality, give serious consideration to whether it is wise to report decisions adverse to your clients common positions. You need to take care not to unwittingly creating attorney-client relationships and giving advice without a full understanding of what that can trigger in the way of malpractice complaints, persons acting on suggested advice without having disclosed all facts, and that kind of thing.

What to do with questions from blog readers? Different attorneys handle this differently. I have a Q and A format to my blogs most of the time. I receive many long involved scenarios that are specific to an association/owner situation. I also receive short questions. I do not want to start a dialogue with blog readers (hence the decision not to take comments). So I have a button I push in response to emails (I receive these in lieu of comments since I don't accept comments) that basically is a "signature" on my emails that thanks them for the question or scenario, and tells them that I'm very busy, receive a lot of emails, will look for something in their comments that can be turned into a generic blog question that can be answered, and that if the person wants to request a consultation, they can do so on a form on the website; otherwise, they should check back periodically on my blog.  Some attorneys at the Bay Area Blawgers meetings say that they answer readers' questions personally and provide resources or try to help those who write to them.

Insurance Concerns: Some of the Bay Area Blawgers have experienced insurance "issues", i.e., questions on questionnaires about whether they blog, notices that carriers may exclude blogging from coverage, notices from carriers that web postings, advertisements or statements are exempt from coverage, and similar responses from their insurance carriers or those with whom they apply. It makes sense that if bloggers are careless, stimulate unsavory discussions, make statements or provide opinions that are unsolicited, defame people, violate copyrights, and break laws, that the insurers will think about what they can do to avoid liability for this sort of carelessness, negligence, or intentional behavior.

The cyber or virtual world is out there and right here. Whether one wants to admit it or not, it is the future. News travels fast and furious. Newspapers, cable, tv, magazines, law review articles, and the old way of communicating ideas and opinions, are threatened by the new way. There is so much potential in this new world. I see many similarities between the transition in the world of photography from film to digital to the transition in the world of law from the written world and sea of paper to the paperless virtual world. Many resist. Many drag their feet. Many propound excuses about why the old way is better, why it will sustain for a longer time, why it is advantageous and why they are not willing to move into the internet, web, paperless train.

In photography, I have taken many classes from world class photographers and have seen more and more instructors and photographers converting to digital. As the digital products improved, and got less expensive, and more available, the interest grew. Equipment became so improved and printing capability is so improved, and people are so enticed by the immediacy and instant gratification and feedback that they were clamoring in all aspects for more digital equipment, and less film. Wedding photographers were thrilled to be able to download their work at the reception for the bride, groom, and family to see, or the day after, and encourage sales while the thrill of the event is still fresh in everyone's minds. Instructors found that students were begging for instruction in digital innovations. Many had to convert to survive in their beloved fields of work. Processes involving digital photography became more affordable for and more available to the general public. It is getting harder to find labs that develop film. It is getting harder to get film through airport security without a threat to the film itself. The movement toward digital has a short history in terms of time, but a long list of changes and improvements for that short history, and a long future, and a lot of "converts".

The web, internet, cyber world has a relatively short history in comparison with the history of law. But the innovations are many in that short history. From websites to blogs, E-newsletters, podcasts, virtual meeting and classrooms, the endless possibilities available to the average person seem limitless, and these processes also have a long future. Maybe its time to think about climbing aboard. The ride may be worth it to you!

Come to the pre-conference meeting on the 24th and you will be amazed at the opportunities that have presented themselves for those who are willing to learn to use internet and web technology to their advantage.

Just for Fun Consider these names used by law bloggers:

Bay Area Blawgers: A Brown Study Blog, A Copyfighter's Musings, Abovesupra.com, Ad Arguendo, As-Is, Barred for Life, Beetle Beat, Biting Tongue, California Bankruptcy Blog, California Condo & HOA Law, The Volokh Conspiracy, Anonymous Lawyer, May It Please the Court, Above the Law, Overlawyered, The Common Scold, Likelihood of Confusion, Counsel to Counsel, Criminal Appeal, DirtLaw Blog, DUI Defender, EFF Deep Links, ESOP Law Blog, I Fought The Law, Idea Lawyer Blog, Infamy or Praise, From Engineer to Lawyer

Seattle Area Blawgers: Beauty Marks, Cases and Materials on Business Entities, China Law Blog, Coderights, The Dark Goddess of Replevin Speaks, Digestible Law, Electronic Discovery Law, Employment Advisory, Employment Law Blog, IP Law Chat, Jones Act Law Blog, Lawlady's Divorce Blog, Marler Blog, Open-Government Blog, Privacy and Security Law Blog, Real Lawyers Have Blogs, Seattle Injury Blog, Seattle Landlord-Tenant Attorney, Spam Notes, Telecom Law Blog, Trial Ad Notes, Washington Construction Law, Washington State Patent Law Blog

And then there are bloggers that are not afraid of the "competition" and even list sites of other bloggers, as does a tax attorney in his site at mauledagain. See his listing "Links to Other Tax Blogs"

  • Paul Caron's TaxProf Blog
  • Jack Bog's Blog
  • Joe Kristan's Tax Updates
  • Linda Beale's A Taxing Matter
  • Mike McIntyre's Taxation and Development
  • Stuart Levine's Tax and Business Law Commentary
  • TaxGuru - Ker$tetter Letter
  • Tax Foundation's Tax Policy Blog
  • Taxable Talk
  • Tax Grotto
  • Taxgirl
  • Kreig Mitchell's Everything Tax Law
  • Frederic Mischler's Ohio Tax etc Blog
  • The Wandering Tax Pro
  • Talking Taxes
  • A Taxing Business
  • California Tax Attorney Blog
  • Official Blog of Tax Attorney Roni Deutch
  • Tick Marks
  • Tax Relief Blog

Beth A. Grimm is an HOA attorney and represents homeowners associations and homeowners who live in them. She is a mediator, author, speaker and problem solver. She has written two books and several other publications to help everyone including those who otherwise might have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on attorney fees to find out basic information about HOA living and how the law affects those living in HOAs, and those serving HOAs as vendors and professionals, and those selling HOA properties to the general public. She hosts a website at www.californiacondoguru.com that provides an incredible amount of helpful information and also low cost publications covering a myriad of topics HOA-related. And, she is an avid blogger, utilizing that means of communication to answer the public's basic questions about HOAs. copyright 2008, Beth Grimm

By Beth A. Grimm, Attorney. A "service oriented" attorney and member of ECHO and CAI and various other industry organizations in California and nationally, host of the website www.californiacondoguru.com; two Blogs: California Condominium & HOA Law Blog, and Condolawguru.com Blog, and author of many helpful community association publications which can be found in the webstore on her site.