Tuesday March 31, 2015 is World Backup Day. I think it is important to focus on this often neglected task as it is often lost in the hustle and bustle of getting the work out. But with the recent attacks of ransomware on all types of businesses, law firms included, having a proper back up that is not infected has assumed increasing, if not vital, importance.
Furthermore, having a proper backup is not just for your business. Consider all your digital photographs and personal files..how would you feel if they were lost?
So the focus of this article is to motivate you to implement backup solutions at your office and at your home.
Why back up?
Protection against malware, viruses and trojans including Cryptowall and other ransomware (1 in 10 computers infected with a virus each month, according to ICSA Labs/TruSecure, 2002)
Protection against disasters, either man-made (pipes bursting and the like) to natural disasters such as storms, lightening and such.
Preservation of precious memories that once gone, are gone.
What are the best practices when it comes to back ups? Here is a list of some things to consider.
Have a data retention plan
Without a plan, you are left to haphazard backups. The worst time to realize that you don’t have a current backup is precisely when you need it most.
Plan for increasing amounts of data
Your storage should be scalable since you will be generating increasing amounts of data in the future.
Ensure that your current system can be scaled up to handle greater and greater amounts of data without any disruption in your office.
Have a redundancy plan – backup your backup
What if the same disaster hits your backup as well as your systems?
Consider having both a physical backup in your office and a cloud based backup that is unaffected if your office is hit with a disaster.
Have your data readily available
Cloud backups are wonderful as a ‘last resort’ but they do take time to download.
Consider having a local NAS or other device in the office just in case your servers fry and you need a fast locally accessible copy of your data.
Data security and integrity are priorities
Always consider physical security and data security.
Follow best practices in data security.
Consider backups and archival copies
Backups are snapshots at any point in time
Archives are historical records – unalterable and therefore important if you need to go back and show what happened when.
The important thing to consider is your risk management position. Have you considered the cost of restoring your data and the potential of losing vital data and having to explain that to your clients? You may perceive the incidence of loss to be low, but the cost of recovery can be very high indeed. In fact not having a proper backup may result in a significant disruption of your business or even its failure.
If you suffer such a loss, you certainly want to be able to go back to where you once belonged.
New York City’s embattled, progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, has in rapid order acquired a bit of a reputation for failing to arrive on time. His tardy tendencies have even launched a new cottage industry in the press, the “De Blasio was Late Again” outrage-of-the-day story.
Naturally, the most civic minded among the journalistic order have taken it upon themselves to be solution-oriented. Thus, we are not surprised at the inevitable spawning of a sub-genre of well-intentioned suggestions for the Mayor, such as How Not to Be Late: A Self-Help Guide for Bill de Blasio.
There is even a Bill de Blasio “Lateness Excuse Generator” (pictured above), where technology meets tardy, and perpetually late landers can have appropriate mayoral excuses created for immediate use on virtually any occasion.
Now back home, here in the legal profession, lateness can be serious business, particularly in America.
The Canadian attitude toward tardy lawyers is, predictably, somewhat more measured. As noted by Robert Bell and Caroline Abela in a 2009 paper for the Advocates Society, A Lawyer’s Duty to the Court:
Being late for court, although highly irritating and a waste of time, is generally not conduct that is considered egregious and neglectful of a lawyer’s obligation. However, in our view, tardiness is a breach of a lawyer’s duty to the courts because it, among other things, causes delay and disruption to the court process. Tardiness effects the administration of justice. For example, in LSUC v. Ducas, the Law Society hearing panel found, inter alia, that the lawyer had breached his duty to the court by appearing 25 minutes late for his own motion by which time the motion had been dismissed.
In fact, recent rulings in Ontario make it clear that even the bench must avoid precipitous action in the face of tardy counsel.
The Justices of the Peace Review Council upheld two complaints against the Old City Hall JP: that he was “arrogant and sarcastic” when courier Alexander Leaf appeared before him without a lawyer on Nov. 22, 2012 to fight a charge of driving with a handheld device; and that he abused his position by dismissing an afternoon session of 68 charges on Dec. 4, 2012 because the prosecutor was one minute and 10 seconds late.
The prosecutor, Brian McCallion, had been preparing for one of the cases by reading a psychiatric report on one of the accused people and didn’t hear several pages for him.
Court records show that after court had reconvened, the judge waited all of one minute and 27 seconds before throwing out the entire docket.
Now, to be clear, your faithful writer has perhaps also had the “occasional” tardy moment. This is by no means a point of pride. It might, however, inform the interest with which I view these developments in mayoral, lawyerly and judicial timeliness.
For late-at-heart lawyers, I am glad to note there remains hope when confronted with the challenge of improving time management in an era of of Too Little Time. Via Good Housekeeping writer Frances Lefkowitz:
WHY YOU’RE IN THIS FIX: “There are so many misconceptions about lateness,” says time-management consultant [Diana] DeLonzor. Top false assumptions: People who are late are inconsiderate, selfish, controlling, lazy, or looking for attention. In fact, many people who run late have trouble accurately judging time and thus underestimate how long things will take. Psychologists call this the planning fallacy — and it’s part of being human. “We have an idealized version of how things go,” explains Steel, “and we edit out how much time things actually require.” Chronically late people fall prey to the planning fallacy in spades, misjudging the time needed even for things they do regularly, like fixing breakfast or driving to work. Call her optimistic, idealistic, or unrealistic, but if a person who tends to run late once got to work in 19 minutes — on a good traffic morning, catching all green lights — she assumes she can bank on this swift journey every day. “Late people time things exactly, according to the best-case scenario — but of course the world doesn’t work that way,” says DeLonzor…
SIMPLE WAYS OUT: First, confront your magical thinking with cold, hard facts: Spend a week timing your daily tasks — what DeLonzor calls “relearning to tell time.” Once you know how long it really takes to shower, get the kids dressed, and feed the dog, you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Second, always plan to arrive early, factoring 15 extra minutes into every trip. Chances are you’ll end up on time; in the worst-case scenario, you’ll have a few minutes to relax, get a drink of water, and fix your hair. Like Hall, late people often view time spent waiting as time wasted. But if you carry a book, knitting, or your cell phone, you can use a few extra minutes productively. Finally, have a strategy for each day. “A lot of people with time-management issues don’t have a clear sense of how their day is going to pan out,” says DeLonzor. So make a list, with your revamped time estimates written next to each item. Then you’ll be able to tell if you’ve scheduled 30 hours’ worth of activity into a 24-hour day.
Today’s tiplogically follows. Address any tendencies toward lateness by taking a hard look at your time management. In particular, assess the accuracy of your estimates about the time required to complete tasks and to get from point A to B.
John Heckman, a long-standing and highly acclaimed legal technologist, has published a review of the book. I felt the review was a good one and here it is with his consent:
Does It Compute?
John Heckman’s Take on Practice and Document Management, and Other Legal Technology
February 23, 2015
Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide
This is the eighth yearly edition for the Solo and Small Firm Technology Guide by Sharon Nelson, John Simek and Michael Maschke. There are also very useful chapters by Jennifer Ellis on social media and in particular security, privacy and ethics considerations in using them and on the “iPad for Litigators” by Tom Mighell and Paul Unger.
Why should you read this book? There are two reasons. Obviously if you are starting up a small firm or considering upgrades it provides invaluable advice. There is a second reason, perhaps even more important. As Jim Calloway notes in his introduction, the ABA revised its Model Rules to require that lawyers be competent with the technology tools they must use today. If you sometimes wonder whether the technology you use is actually productive for your firm or if you are losing ground to competing firms, reading this book will bring you up to speed and give you a pretty good idea of where your firm stands from a technology point of view, even if you choose not to make changes. Once, when I was working a law firm I proposed to one of the name partners that the firm adopt a particular program. He thought about it, and then said, “no, I don’t think we can do that at this time, but keep the suggestions coming because every program I don’t use represents a potential competitive advantage for competing firms.” Good advice.
Sharon Nelson sums it up even more harshly:
“The raw choice is that lawyers must choose between adaption and extinction. They will no doubt choose the former en masse, but reluctantly. The slower lawyers are to adapt to the digital age, the harder it may be for them to survive as events overtake them.”
This is particularly important in the rapidly-changing area of social media and dealing with the implications of the fact that there is no privacy any more (the combination of Google, Facebook and the NSA has effectively eliminated privacy). Be sure to read Jennifer Ellis’ chapter attentively.
As the authors note, since the book comes out at the beginning of every year many chapters remain current, other items are only a few months behind (although it seems longer than that in Internet time).
The thing I have always appreciated about this book is that the authors actually have opinions and are not afraid to express them. Of course, it also helps that by and large I agree with them, although with the occasional caveat. In addition, they cover what is necessary for a complete office starting from scratch – hardware, operating systems, peripherals, printers, scanners, monitors, etc. If you follow their recommendations you may not make the best decision possible, but you won’t make a bad one. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
The only point I have a serious problem with this year is their recommendation of Kaspersky internet security. I switched to Kaspersky last year and when it came to upgrade to the 2015 version it was a disaster. It regularly choked on downloading Outlook messages (I am not using Exchange) and would not release the memory. As a result I had to reboot my computer two or three times a day. A call to the paid Kaspersky support (which was very good) wound up with their saying “nothing we can do about it.” So I had to switch to a different program.
A friend of mine used to say “every year I know 10% more and fall 15% further behind.” Reviewing software is like that. The book simply cannot provide detailed reviews of software, so the authors stress the need to get trial versions of anything you are planning to use and “kick the tires” a bit.
The book rightly pays a lot of attention to security issues, especially for mobile devices. They quote the rather amazing statistic that 12,000 laptops were stolen in U.S. airports every week in 2011 (with Chicago in the lead). At the same time, they are realistic (“we know so many lawyers will ignore our advice…”) and offer fall-back options that may at least deter casual hackers or simple thieves who grab your laptop or smartphone. They strongly recommend against using iPhones based on its woefully inadequate security provisions. They rightly insist that the main way to protect your data is to encrypt your entire hard drive. If you do any substantial traveling not to do this is like never locking your door. You should definitely change passwords periodically (they refer to a judge who has had the same password for 10 years!!) or use a password manager or program such as eWallet. I just bought eWallet based on their recommendation and so far have been very happy with it.
I thought the section on Time & Billing applications was somewhat weak (although I certainly agree that QuickBooks is not a good choice for lawfirms). You might want to consult the “Buyer’s Guide to Legal Billing Software” published by Technolawyer for more choices (you need to subscribe to Technolawyer to get it, but subscriptions are free). I agree with their assessment of the decline of LexisNexis products, first and foremost Time Matters. They note that they have not done a single new installation in about 10 years.
Lastly, the book contains a chapter on “favorite utilities” which can be useful. Note however some more industrial strength programs may include functionality provided by single-function utilities. Thus for example, the using Worldox document management system would eliminate the need for a separate indexer or viewer.
The book is available from the ABA store. If you are starting an office, are at a point where you need to make a decision about where to go next, or just to want to keep up to date on what is currently available, this will be an invaluable primer.
Thanks John for a great review! Full disclosure: I wrote the chapter on Going Paperless.
This is a great book for anyone looking at upgrading their current office technology and are not quite sure which way to turn.
The typical mobile device retains information on the locations of all calls, all wifi-networks joined, photos taken, and apps that utilize location services. Text messages – even those deleted – will remain on the device until overwritten, as will browsing histories. Even encrypted data may be accessible.
And of course, there will also be all the usual email, documents and other app data that will be readily available from the device, without any forensic voodoo.
Four-digit passcodes present virtually no obstacle to forensics experts seeking access to mobile devices, according the the Lekowski article. Even a rudimentary Google search will yield an avalanche of results as to forensic software suites that are available to assist in data harvesting from mobile devices and the cloud-based mail and data storage applications they are connected to.
There has been much jurisprudence in a criminal law context as to the necessity of obtaining warrants prior to police searches of mobile devices. In R. v. Manley, a 2011 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, Mr. Justice Sharpe noted:
Cell phones and other similar handheld communication devices in common use have the capacity to store vast amounts of highly sensitive personal, private and confidential information – all manner of private voice, text and e-mail communications, detailed personal contact lists, agendas, diaries and personal photographs. An open-ended power to search without a warrant all the stored data in any cell phone found in the possession of any arrested person clearly raises the spectre of a serious and significant invasion of the Charter-protected privacy interests of arrested persons. If the police have reasonable grounds to believe that the search of a cell phone seized upon arrest would yield evidence of the offence, the prudent course is for them to obtain a warrant authorizing the search.
In a civil context, orders may be obtained for production of cell phones and hard drives for forensic analysis (see: Comisso v. York Regional Police, 2010 ONSC 3620), subject to assessments of relevance and proportionality that may significantly narrow or limit the scope of such analysis (see: Warman v. National Post Company, 2010 ONSC 3670). Further, the ease with which electronic evidence may be destroyed has been cited as a factor in considering the appropriateness of granting an Anton Pillar order for the seizure of computers and mobile devices (see: Irving Shipbuilding Inc. v. Schmidt, 2014 ONSC 1474).
While forensic analysis of mobile phones and their data will clearly not be appropriate on a routine basis in every case, counsel should consider whether such evidence is relevant and whether production for forensic analysis would be proportionate to the claims advanced. Further, bear in mind that such evidence can be exculpatory, and is not always damning. Consider whether your own clients’ mobile data could be of assistance in advancing their claims.
Our courts continue their attempts to find a balance between the protection of privacy and the temptation to litigants of the voluminous, potentially-relevant data on mobile and other electronic devices. As a result, determining whether mobile data is necessary and potentially discoverable must be included on the litigator’s to-do list in prosecuting a civil action.
So today’s tip: Know that smartphone – it might be litigation a game-changer.
The world of marketing remains a bit of a mystery for many legal professionals. We know enough about it that many of us become do-it-ourselfers for our websites, blogs and even our branding.
Nonetheless, there is much we can learn from true marketing professionals.
To that end, I have the pleasure today of introducing the first in a series of videos on Marketing for Lawyers and Legal Professionals I’ve done with Sandra Bekhor of Bekhor Management and Toronto Marketing Blog. Sandra’s firm provides marketing and practice management services nationwide to lawyers and other professional practitioners.
In this installment, Sandra discusses marketing for lawyers and provides 5 tips on taking your firm’s marketing endeavours to the next level:
Here are Sandra’s key tips from the video:
1. Track where your client enquiries are coming from.
Generate data on what’s working for your firm today by asking your intake staff to ask new clients how they became aware of your firm and by including a question on your intake questionnaire that asks this same question. And, of course, remember to thank your referral sources.
2. Analyze your marketing budget (and spend wisely)
Be aware of how much you are investing in each of your marketing initiatives over the course of the year, and determine which of those initiatives are delivering a good return. If an initiative isn’t working, discontinue it. If you are seeing success, consider how to extend and build on that success.
3. Decide what you want your marketing to generate for you, and use marketing to shape the practice you intend to build.
Consider the “80/ 20 rule:” 20% of your practice drives 80% of revenue. Decide what you want more of, and direct your marketing efforts toward those outcomes. Develop a sense of who your “ideal” target client is, and target those clients.
This applies to each individual lawyer. Take a look at your practice – the kind of work you are doing and the kind of work you’d like to be doing. Focus your marketing efforts on reshaping your practice to align with your professional aspirations and goals.
4. Develop a plan
After analyzing what has already been working, deciding where you want to get to and establishing your budget, you will have compiled much necessary information to feed and direct your law firm’s marketing plan.
While there are many steps to getting there, ultimately your marketing plan is an action plan. It tells you what projects you should be working on – develop a logo or tagline, expand your engagement on social media, arrange speaking engagements, or update your website, as examples.
It will likely include marketing activity that the entire firm will participate in, as well as personal level activities that are customized to each lawyer’s strengths and interests.
If a stated goal is to open x new files in a preferred area of practice or to drive y dollars in revenue by end of year, your plan will also help you determine how many of these marketing activities will need to happen (and at what frequency they must happen) to make your goals a reality.
5. Implement your plan before the ink dries
In fact, start implementing even before you finish the plan.
6. Bonus Tip (from me): Involve Marketing Professionals
Marketing professionals bring objectivity, understanding of the marketplace and an assortment of strategic and creative skills to any law firm marketing initiative.
But perhaps most importantly, marketing professionals can help law firms to identify and clearly articulate their authentic identities and strengths. They then can work with us to translate these articulated strengths into marketing initiatives aimed at building the kinds of practices we all genuinely aspire toward.
It’s not quite as simple as “if you build it they will come,” perhaps.
But if you build it and market it appropriately and professionally – and your firm delivers the quality of service it promises to deliver – you are likely to have a very successful career in the practice of law.
For the professional practice of today, I’d suggest, marketing has become one of the necessary – and unavoidable – components of such success.
So many articles on retirement all deal with the issue of finances and how to plan so you are not caught off guard on the money side. Since that aspect has been explored in detail, this article is going to take us in a totally different direction. As lawyers, we get so much of our personal identity from simply being lawyers that the idea of hanging up our robes and walking out the office wearing the title “Retired Lawyer” causes us panic and a sense of dread. Just *what* would we do with all that….time?
Furthermore there is the fact that as a lawyer, you are accustomed to spending large amounts of time at the office. After retirement, you are now faced with spending the rest of your life with someone that you may have only been seeing on a limited basis for the last while. You now need to start living life together and not in parallel.
Not surprisingly, according to A Satisfying Retirement Blog“[F]or married people over 50, the divorce rate has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Some lawyers report up to 25% of their clients are men and women over 65.”
Accordingly, I think that a good place to start is by asking ourselves “What is the vision that we (you and your spouse or loved one) have for our retirement?” Do you see lots of travel ahead? Spending time with family and grandchildren? Playing sports and being active? Getting to know one another…again?
Another aspect to think about (and sorry for the dark undertones): What would you want people to say at your funeral about you? Have you spent time on the activities for which you wish to be remembered? Now is the best time to start working on the legacy that you wish to leave.
Start a list of all the things that you (and your spouse or loved one) would like to do with the rest of your lives together. Use that to start a conversation on how to plan to check off as many of these as you can together. It is much better knowing that both of you are working in the right direction than to find yourselves at cross-purposes and disappointed about the turn of events in your ‘golden years’.
Retirement can have a very stressful effect on a relationship and when you add in possible health-related issues related to aging and the diminishment of income, you can see that you have the potential for a perfect storm. Like most challenges, dialogue and preparation can help you deal with complications if, and when, they arise. You want to craft a life together that meets each partner’s physical, emotional and other needs and that allows you to take each partner’s feelings, desires and dreams into account.
The other factor to consider is the activities that you plan on enjoying in retirement. You don’t just start doing them on day 1. You need to ease into them by taking the time ..now..to build a base and look forward to getting better at them in retirement. Whether it is golf, tennis, playing a musical instrument, pursuing photography, travel – you need to start enjoying them while you are working in order to really get the benefits of them in retirement. After all you don’t want to look forward to playing the guitar only to find out that your hands are just not working the way you wished at this point in your life.
You also need to establish boundaries – there are still activities that you will want to enjoy with a group of friends that may not include your spouse….and visa versa. Respecting that each of you need and desire this ‘apart’ time makes the situations more bearable when one person goes off to have lunch with the girls or a golf game with the guys.
One final issue for this column (but certainly not the final issue you will face in retirement) is the readjustment of tasks around the home. If one spouse has been working full-time and the other perhaps has been taking a bigger share of the home chores to accommodate, this allotment of chores needs to be adjusted after retirement. Set up ‘blue jobs’ and ‘pink jobs’ (our designation around our home) with expectations of how and when these will be done. To keep the magic happening, if you are the one who does the ‘blue’ jobs, do a pink job occasionally in addition. Believe me, it will be noticed..and appreciated in your golden years. Of further note, “blue” and “pink” jobs depend on your individual circumstance, background and understandings. The underlying understanding is that we support our spouse in whatever ways we can when we are looking up at the sky and saying life has begun.
Launched in 2003, Skype was one of the first mass market freely available forms of internet video conferencing. It took advantage of early developments in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to allow users to communicate with each other using their microphones and webcams. Previously video conferencing had been prohibitively expensive for the general public and was largely only used by companies. The burgeoning popularity of broadband over the last few years has led to an increase in the use of a constantly improving VoIP and a surge in the popularity of Skype. Microsoft purchased Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion, together with its database of some 600 million users.
The Skype-call has become a routine entry in my calendar over the last year or so. In fact, it is an increasingly-rare week that does not have at least one Skype meeting booked with an out-of-town client.
The videoconference via Skype offers many obvious advantages over the traditional voice call.
The opportunity for an eyeball-to-eyeball connection facilitates a much deeper rapport between lawyer and client, and in the process, helps build and strengthen the trust that is the necessary foundation of the lawyer-client relationship. This is especially important where distance or disability make face-to-face meetings rare or impractical.
Perhaps there is something to be said from the client’s perspective for the opportunity to speak to one’s lawyer from the familiar surroundings of one’s own home or office. A Skype call allows for professional communications in a context that is a bit more relaxed, convenient and comfortable for the client than a hectic law office. That lends itself to the better and more natural dialogue that typically emerges.
There is probably a simple explanation for the increasing frequency of the virtual meeting via Skype in my office – we made a concerted effort to offer this option to our out-of-town clients. Once they were made aware of the availability of virtual meetings, they embraced it, almost unanimously.
Connection glitches can still be an occasional, but generally manageable issue, however. It’s not perfect, but Skype is very good.
Our clients are already on Skype, connecting regularly with friends and family worldwide. It makes good sense, therefore, that they are increasingly ready to meet virtually with their lawyers and other professionals, using a technology that is already familiar to them, from the comfort of their own surroundings.
Skype, and videoconferencing generally, is truly is the “next best thing to being there.” While it doesn’t replace direct human interaction, it comes close – much closer than the phone call does or can, I’d suggest. Adding to the convenience, free mobile versions of Skype allow lawyers and clients alike to connect with smartphones from anywhere.
Ultimately, it’s hard not to foresee the videoconference eventually replacing the typical office visit with most clients on an increasingly frequent basis. The opportunity to avoid parking costs, traffic snarls, scheduling difficulties and wait times might ultimately become too attractive an option for our marketplace to turn down.
So here is today’s tip: Offer your clients the option of video meetings with you via Skype. They are probably already using this technology, and may jump at the opportunity to meet virtually with you, too.
The New York Times on Wednesday Jan 21 published an article “The Benefits of a Lunch Hour Walk” by Gretchen Reynolds. It has important implications for those feeling stressed, out of shape and suffering from a less-than-optimal mood. She states:
“A new study finds that even gentle lunchtime strolls can perceptibly — and immediately — buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work.”
What is different about this study is that it doesn’t focus on long term results – it looks at the short term results of walking just 30 mins at lunch.
This study was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and involved researchers at the University of Birmingham and other universities.
According to the abstract of the study:
“During the intervention period, participants partook in three weekly 30-min lunchtime group-led walks for 10 weeks. They completed twice daily affective reports at work (morning and afternoon) using mobile phones on two randomly chosen days per week.”
This is not getting out and running 6 miles at noon. It is simply walking – getting out of the office, hitting the sidewalks and taking in some (hopefully) fresher air, sunshine and conversation.
What did they find?
“Lunchtime walks improved enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work, although the pattern of results differed depending on whether between-group or within-person analyses were conducted. The intervention was effective in changing some affective states and may have broader implications for public health and workplace performance.”
Gretchen Reynolds stated:
“To allow them to assess people’s moods, the scientists helped their volunteers to set up a specialized app on their phones that included a list of questions about their emotions. The questions were designed to measure the volunteers’ feelings, at that moment, about stress, tension, enthusiasm, workload, motivation, physical fatigue and other issues related to how they were feeling about life and work at that immediate time.”
And what did they find from those who went for a walk?
“On the afternoons after a lunchtime stroll, walkers said they felt considerably more enthusiastic, less tense, and generally more relaxed and able to cope than on afternoons when they hadn’t walked and even compared with their own moods from a morning before a walk.”
All the volunteers showed gains in their aerobic fitness from the exercise. Unfortunately many could not continue with their exercise as they felt pressured by management to work through their lunch. Just a suggestion, but when it comes to improving people’s performance at work, perhaps management needs to take a walk…
With the 10 year anniversary of Wise Law Blog rapidly approaching this April, my thoughts have turned recently to the nuts and bolts of law blogging.
There are numerous articles online about the virtues of law blogging, and all the benefits becoming a blogger can bring to you and your firm.
These positives include increased profile, better optimization for your firm’s website, and the genuine professional advantage of being current and engaged in topics of interest to you and your clients.
There is somewhat less guidance online, however, on “how to blog.” Not surprisingly, this is a question new writers often struggle with. I thought I would provide a couple of Tips therefore, on law blogging itself.
So here we go, with tips on becoming a law blogger.
Both Blogger and WordPress provide free platforms for blogging. The set up is intuitive and simple, and should not be an obstacle to anyone who has managed to make it through law school.
Keep it simple. Do not try to write a textbook within every blog post. People who are looking for textbooks will read textbooks. Pick one narrow topic, address one recent issue or developments in the law, and describe it concisely in plain, readable English.
Many of the best blog posts are short, often no more than five or six paragraphs. Some excellent blog posts can be only one or two sentences long. Less really can be more. Try it!
Clever headlines attract readers, but you should take care to ensure your headline has some relationship to the content of your article.
While I would not propose a specific “formula” for writing your blog posts, do consider including the following information:
1. Identify the legal development your post relates to – e.g. “In a landmark decision yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that….”
2. Explain why this development matters, and give examples of the changes that may flow from it – e.g. “The Court’s ruling brings major changes to the law of ___, as we have known it. As an example, Canadians will now be able to…”
3. Include an excerpt from the relevant court ruling, press release, or other primary document your blog article is describing. Try to limit your excerpt to a paragraph or two.
4. State your opinion about this development. Is it a positive or negative? Consider the possible ramifications of this development and employ your crystal ball to let your readers know what may lie ahead.
5. Close with a personal observation or pithy comment that brings it all home to the reader.
6. Always include hyperlinks to all cases, statutes, releases and journalistic materials you are citing. Ensure the hyperlinks are programmed to open in a separate window, so that your reader will not lose her place in your article if she travels to another site to view one of your references.
7. Give credit where credit is due. If you became aware of this development because of another blog article or newspaper story, give a bit of link love to the original writer. At its best, blogging is a dialogue between various writers, each providing a specific insight and often commenting, pro or con, on the opinions of other writers on the same topic.
A few other pointers:
Don’t plagiarize, post photos or graphics you are not authorized to use, or run afoul of the ethical duties that remain applicable to you, online and offline.
And fergawdsake, don’t even think about letting a ghost writer near your blog!
Avoid sweeping, general comments about the macro state of the law. There will likely be at least two dozen cases at least partially to the contrary. Be careful. Be accurate.
Be considerate of your reader by being interesting. The purpose of a blog post is to educate, entertain, or even provoke. Your post is not intended to be a substitute for prescription sleeping medications.
Don’t worry about the Google machine when you write. Avoid keyword stuffing and other similar tricks. They tend to make blogs robotic and unreadable, and they don’t really work as optimizing strategies, anyways. If your content successfully addresses your topic, the important phrases and keywords will naturally find their way into your content in a way that Google and humans alike will appreciate.
Finally, be yourself. The more you write, the more comfortable you will be utilizing your new, online voice.
The most engaging blogs are those where readers come to have a personal connection with the writer. Those are the blogs that people naturally return to, because they are interested in the writers’ takes and thoughts on legal developments as they happen.
Like it or not, law firms are increasingly vulnerable to malicious actors online; we are also perpetually vulnerable to the consequences of our own neglect within.
One solution to these very real threats is to institute an Annual Digital Checkup for your firm.
Have a qualified professional inspect your systems to identify any potential vulnerabilities, and to provide recommendations as to any necessary steps your firm should be taking to protect its data.
In an era where it has become predictable that hackings and security breaches will regularly affect even the largest and most secure of our nation’s institutions and enterprises, lawyers need to become more proactive in fulfilling our basic ethical duty to protect our digital data through appropriate security safeguards, backup procedures and in-house computer-use policies.
Where does your firm stand on this? How well do you protect your digital data?
As a basic step, we should all get a professional opinion on the state of our digital defenses. I fear that many of us might be surprised by the results.