I’d really like to attend BloggerCon II this weekend, but my body is just not up to being behind the wheel from Schenectady to Cambridge (too darn much weblogging, again). Is anyone going to be near Albany/ Schenectady on the New York Thruway heading to the Conference? Maybe we could carpool (don’t worry, ethical Esq, haikuEsq, and Prof. Yabut only take up one collective seat).
Speaking of BG2, John Palfrey pointed tonight to a Christian Science Monitor article about the conference: “Blogs: here to stay — with changes,” by Gregory M. Lamb, 04-05-2004, which has some interesting observations on the weblog phenomenon.
Lamb talked to Rebecca Blood of rebecca’s pocket about building a reputation through one’s weblog:
Although making a living just blogging is nearly impossible, a blog can have a great deal of career value by demonstrating one’s expertise and writing skills, thus serving as a “reputation builder,” Blood says by phone from San Francisco. “You can quickly establish yourself as an expert in your field by becoming a kind of one-stop source for information.” (emphasis added)
Earlier this week, of course, we mentioned Rebecca in two posts – quoting from her book and paraphrasing her, too – on the same topic. I wonder what she thinks about turnkey services like lexBlog‘s as reputation-builders? [Okay, I promise to stay off this topic for a few hours -- unless I hear from Rebecca.]
It’s so sad that the crushing weight of taxes has kept America an economic peon and military pygmy, with an impoverished population that will never enjoy the benefits of consumerism.
If you surfed over here, looking for tirades about our tax burden and tears over Tax Freedom Day, you can just ride the tide away from these shores, and float over here, here, or there, instead.
. . no yabuts on this one!
For more on Tax-Whiners see our posting Scrooge was Surely a Tax-Whiner.
Afterglow (04-16-04): For some income tax humor, check out The Best of TaxLetter, a collection of the publication’s 31 funniest stories.. Also, for a new-agey perspective, see Cosmic Income Tax at the InnerSelf website.(thanks to Nancy at Stark County Law Library Blog for the pointers).
As if that’s not dispiriting enough for NY bar members like myself (ret.) and Carolyn Elefant, Carolyn will not be at all happy about the explanation of Timothy J. O’Sullivan, the executive director of the State’s Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, for the disproportionate amount of money stolen from client real estate, trust and estate funds by lawyers practicing within NY’s Second Department (Nassau and Suffolk Counties). According to John Caher’s New York Lawyer/NYLJ article (04-13-04)
Mr. O’Sullivan attributed the imbalance to the real estate escrow problem, the size of the Second Department and the fact that it has many solo practitioners, who are more likely to steal. Agency records show that most thefts are carried out by middle-aged male attorneys working alone. Alcohol or drug abuse is often at the root of the misconduct, according to the fund.
In her MyShingle.com role as defender-in-chief of solo and small-firm lawyers, Carolyn has often complained about the bad rap solos get — and about discrimination in the discipline system against small-firm lawyers. (See, for example her Not-So-Secret-Secret posting, also published here). So, she will surely respond to Mr. O’Sullivan.
let’s make this one to Cash. .
I’m afraid, however, that she’ll also dislike my take on this problem: While many of the best and most honest lawyers I have known have been in solo and tiny firms (and I spent almost a decade as a solo), most of the least competent and least trustworthy lawyers I’ve run across have been in solo and duo firms. And, yes, I believe there is an explanation for this phenomenon. Solos and duos are
more likely to have sloppy book-keeping than larger firms
far less likely to have anyone monitoring them within their firm — increasing the temptation to alleviate personal financial problems by “borrowing” from clients; and
often working on their own because they’ve been asked to leave larger firms or saw they had no future at such firms
Of course, I believe that most small-firmers are just as competent and honest as other lawyers. But, in a State with 197,000 bar members (ain’t that scary!), it only takes a small discrepancy in overall professionalism, and in the opportunity to engage in misappropriation, to result in bigger numbers in the tally sheet of offenders. [Soon, I hope to write more on whether there is actual discrimination in the lawyer discipline system against small fry.] Each lawyer needs to be judged on his or her own personal integrity and record, but that doesn’t mean that trends don’t exist and can’t be discussed in public.
: Carolyn Elefant has posted thoughtfully in reply to Mr. O’Sullivan’s remarks at MyShingle
Kevin O’Keefe has replied to my qualms [e.g., here and there] over the “turnkey” weblog services offered by his new company lexBlog Inc. My concerns, to be more precise, are that services like lexBlog may
- be overselling the ability of weblogs to generate clients for lawyers;
- be overstating a weblog’s ability to build the reputation of the editor/owner of the site, when initial and ongoing content will be provided by the service, not the lawyer; and
- create a false perception, among members of the public and the profession, of the expertise of a weblog’s lawyer-editor (who may simply be “publisher” rather than “editor” of the site)
Kevin’s first comment dealt mostly with the issue of attracting clients. In my response, I stated, inter alia, that I was concerned about a lawyer using services such as LexBlog to buy the content, commentary, and compassionate caring upon which his or her ”reputation” will be built. That prompted Kevin’s second Comment, on the ”ghost-writer” issue that I call Absentee Weblogging or “reputation by proxy.” Here’s his argument:
“Assume we offer content that is helpful to thousands of average Americans and lawyers complement that with their own contributions because they now have an easy to use site and better yet the lawyer begins to interact with ordinary people via the comment feature on their blog. What is bad about that? If a lawyer does not supplement the content and people still receive helpful info they are not getting now, is that bad? If we have violated the rules of the ‘blog police’ that only content written by the lawyer hosting a site because the site is being operated on blog software as opposed to a very expensive data base driven content management site, that most lawyers could never afford, I plead guilty. But I will be proud of my effort to provide lawyers an easy to use tool that helps people. – Kevin”
It’s hard to disagree with Kevin’s info utopia — free, accessible, useful information is good. However, if a lawyer wants to start a weblog, and plans to personally provide the content, there would be little reason to hire a turnkey service to design and set one up – good-looking, multi-featured weblogs are simply too easy and inexpensive to start (see elawyer’s “necktie” analogy). Of course, I would have no problem with a lawyer choosing to pay for a start-up service, so long as he or she has been given realistic expectations about its marketing potential.
However, from its description of itself, lexBlog’s focus seems to be providing “content, content, content” for the lawyer who “do[es] not have the time to publish content,” rather than providing services for the hands-on editor. LexBlog is marketing its premium services as a magic plan “that will utterly solidify your reputation as a trusted expert in your field and locale” – with the new weblogger “launched to the forefront of your area of practice, perceived as a leading authority by the public, colleagues, the media and clients.”
Kevin asks “what is bad about this?“ I say
- It’s bad for the client or referring lawyer, if they are deceived about the level of expertise (or caring) of the weblog owner.
- It’s bad for the lawyer paying for the content services, if he or she believes that spoonfed content will create the personal touch that has been the hallmark of successful weblogs.
- And, it’s bad for the weblog community, if the personal voice and integrity that have nurtured the weblog phenomenon are diluted with ersatz personalities, ersatz caring and ersatz expertise.
LexBlog is selling the perception of expertise. By analogy, it’s reasoning suggests that owning an Olympic Medal is just as significant when it was bought from a pawn shop as when earned in competition. Kevin quotes Rebecca Blood from The Weblog Handbook, saying that weblogs really do build reputations quickly, but he leaves out the all-important basis given by Blood for that reputation: The individual editor demonstrates (and may actually acquire) his or her expertise and integrity through the process of searching the Web daily for information, news, and articles; then sifting through it, and choosing, summarizing, analyzing the material selected. (see Blood’s quotation in our prior post)
- Evan Schaeffer says in his Comments to the original posting: “Am I troubled that a law firm might publish a blog that isn’t written by one of its lawyers? In my opinion, there should be a clear indication on the blog that someone other than a firm lawyer has provided the content.”
As ethicalEsq opined in February, “The notion of ghost-written weblogs scares me. . . . [T]hey signal a new kind of weblogging devoid of the very spark of life that has put magic into this way of communicating and created a community. Going from weblog as “the unedited voice of an individual” to weblog as the fabricated voice (and image) created for an individual lawyer will turn this fresh community into a stale commodity. And it won’t work as a marketing tool, because what makes a weblog “good” and attracts repeat visitors is a strong personal voice, content that is interesting and well said, and rapid response time. ["The Good, The Bad and the Blogly," by Glenn Harlan Reynolds] Those are three elements very unlikely to come from Blogs-R-Us.
Kevin and LexBlog stress that the legal profession is one of the least reputed in American society, and says that “blogs can help” improve the lawyer’s public image. The well-organized, informative weblog that demonstrates the knowledge and humanity of an individual lawyer or firm may indeed increase public trust. But, I fail to see how letting lawyers purchase a “reputation as a trusted expert” will do so.
- lexBlog wants to piggy-back on the goodwill generated by the weblog phenomenon, without assuring its main ingredient — the personally-involved editor. It reminds me of the time my Mother told me she never puts saffron in her paella. “You ought to call it something else,” was my reply. Maybe “lexSite” would be more palatable.
Afterthought (04-14-04): lexBlog and similar marketing services offer to help the weblog owner with search engine optimization. ethicalEsq is run by a guy with no patience for manipulating tags, templates and keywords (whatever that means). Nontheless, we’re pleased to see that we just came in second on Google when searching “lexBlog +lawyers.” We came in fourth when only searching “lexBlog,” just behind Lex Alexander’s Blog on the Run, and a lexblog on zogblaster (edited by an interesting, 20-something young woman in NYC). We snuck in ahead of leXblog on skyblog, which is in French, and on April 6th posted a picture of the front and back of a $20 bill and a $50 bill. Even the clueless can stumble into optimization.
- Update (04-22-04): I’m pleased to report that Kevin O’Keefe has re-written the lexBlog premium services page, removing a quotation from author Rebecca Blood, which we discussed above (as well as here), noting it was taken out of context (leaving out the importance of hands-on weblogging for achieving expertise and authority status), and which seemed to suggest that Ms. Blood endorsed lexBlog’s services.
- post retirement follow-up (Feb. 1, 2010): The ever-vigilant Carolyn Elefant, Scott Greenfield, and Mark Bennett are still patrolling against ghost-written blawgs. I’m glad they’re willing to stand up against this blight on our profession and the blawgisphere, but it sure is sad that this mangy dog wasn’t put down a long time ago.