Saturday, December 1, 2007

The American Bar Association's Top 100 Blawgs and Why I Write

After getting some rather pleasant and surprising compliments about this site, I had a very pleasant e-mail from who runs the Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Blog. He quite graciously mentioned me in a list of family law blogs. He has just started his blog. This blog has almost reached its first year. I was thinking about a response to e-mail about his start in blogging when I ran across two separate articles (Deliberations In The ABA Journal Blawg 100 and Who goes to the top? - you decide) about this ABA list. Both those lead to a third post, Law Blog vanity contests : ABA adds to the silliness. You can find the list by clicking here. No, you will not find this or any of my other blogs there. (By the way, blawg has been adopted by some lawyers for law-related blogs. I think it is lame and a difference without any important distinction.) My thoughts on these two subjects ran together into this post. Please excuse the introspection and the inside-baseball nature of what follows.

Generally, I agree with Kevin O'Keefe (which means I also means I am agreeing with Anne Reed of Deliberations and Nick Holmes of Binary Law) on the general point:

To select 100 chosen Whiz's of lawyer blogs confuses those who do not understand blogs. Last month I was doing a tele-seminar on law blogs hosted by the National Law Journal. Very worthwhile program. But the program host presumed that the 'good law law blogs' were limited to those 30 blogs in the Law.com Blog Network. When I mentioned that there were some wonderful blogs not included in the network, I was asked to 'name one.'
Although, I do like how Nick Holmes makes his related point:
Blogging, and Web 2.0 in general, is not about publisher A or B selecting and promoting what is best; it is about all the Xs and Ys contributing to the conversation in their field of interest and the Zs voting with their mice. The best will rise to the top and we don’t need anyone to select the short-list.
Many commenting on Kevin's blog are bloggers I read and have great respect for and certainly out of my league.

However, I got more annoyed when I look at the list and see that it is supposed to be about blogs for lawyers. Rush Nigut's comments on Kevin's blog match my reaction: these are not blogs I read for law. But I would except one category from that generality. That category being "The Lawyer's Toolkit." I think I have all but two bookmarked or on my RSS feed. Amongst the remaining categories there are several that I kept in reasonable contact with and some I read occasionally, but I found almost nothing where I expect something applicable to my practice. I doubt my opinion to be very far out of the mainstream. The comments on Kevin's blog make this same point over and over again. Finding so little that does speak to me as a lawyer grieves me especially as I know that there are far more informative to me (and only one blog by Grant Griffiths?).

I wonder what lawyers knew to blogging will think. I put off starting a blog for years because I thought that Marcia Oddi at The Indiana Law Blog pretty much cornered the market in Indiana. Only after reading more blogs and being a member of the Solosez and (for a short time) the Solomarketing newsgroups did I take the plunge. Even with the compliments this blog has received recently, I question how well I do what I do. This blog straddles between being for lawyers and for non-lawyers. I think a good many lawyer blogs so the same and perhaps for the same reason I straddle this line. I cannot limit those reading this blog to just lawyers or to non-lawyers, so I take the opportunity to communicate with both.

I must admit to no small concern that I am only adding to what amounts to a tempest in a teapot. After all, we are talking about the Internet here. It may be that Kevin O'Keefe's article is but only the first reaction and we will soon see blog after blog with their own "Best of List." Ms. Reed provides something worth thinking about here:
...It's true that there are wonderful blogs that won't show up on any national "best" list, but at least in my own case, any map I could get was very helpful when I was first learning the territory. You find blogs you trust when they're cited in other blogs you trust, and you have to start somewhere. I've gotten a startling number of visitors today from the ABA Journal site, and I hope some of those visitors come to rely on other blogs they learn about here.
You can find most of the blogs that impress me in my links list on the right hand side of this screen.

It may be that other lawyers will read this blog and decide they can do a better job. I will warn them now that this blogging thing can approach a compulsion. I certainly did not think that I would find much of interest to write about as often as I do, but now I have the opposite problem - I am finding much to write about.

Coming back to the ABA list, I guess I dislike the idea that these blogs are the best for lawyers. Mr. O'Keefe makes the very good point about how the general public will take this list. We have a small difference in what we see to be worst about the list but I think we have some similar concerns about its influence on blogging. Blogs provide lawyers the best means ever to demystify the legal system for the general public. Looking at where my traffic comes from, I think the potential for blogging has not even begun to be realized by the general public and by only a few of our fellow attorneys. From what I see of how people use this blog, they do not understand how to use its internal resources. I doubt most understand that a blog is not static but dynamic and so they do not use the subscription service or the RSS feeds.

I know some of the user side problems I just describe will not end entirely. There will those who need or want only a specific answer to a specific question. We will see the educational benefits for non-lawyers (and for lawyers, too) when they become more knowledgeable about the workings of a blog. When the readership becomes sophisticated enough, then I do expect to see Mr. O'Keefe's description come to fruition:
Law blogs represent disintermediation of publishers and gatekeepers. No more are those in supposed power and control going to screen and serve up what they think is important. A lawyer in a town with a water tower, an old grain elevator and 3 four way stops is on equal footing with a lawyer who clerked for a Supreme Court Judge. The democratization of publishing and dialogue we get through law blogs is at the very heart of what we stand for in America.

6 comments:

Kevin OKeefe said...

Nice post Sam, and I wouldn't say that any one of those who commented at my blog post as out of your leaugue.

I've run across your blog in my keyword feeds on more than one occasion. You're putting out some wonderful information for the people of Indiana dealing with divorce and family law issues. You know more than anyone the stresses people go through in the absence of helpful legal information. You're meeting a heck of need.

It's for exactly this reason that the top 100 law blogs is ridiculous idea. Is your blog not an important one for thousands of Hoosiers?

Sam Hasler said...

Oh, boy. Here I was hoping to get back on make a few changes to the article before anyone noticed and you had to be the first one to comment!

I must thank you for the compliment. I am trying but I am seeing only a modest but somewhat dedicated readership. Maybe I will be The Velvet Underground for Indiana. That is the Velvets never sold many records but seem to have inspired a lot of musicians.

I have always that thought that lawyers make too much of a mystery about what we do. I tell my clients that I am going to tell them a lot because they are more helpful to me if they know why things are done in such and such manner. I see my practice blogs as being an extension of this. I also have a tendency to leave my clients a bit dazed and confused with all that information.

From what I have seen of my stats, I would say I may have reached a thousand readers this year. I hope to increase that. But I would certainly include The Indiana Law Blog as the most important Indiana blog for lawyers (even if Ms. Oddi is basically about providing news without much commentary). I do not feel slighted by the ABA but I am much more proud of comments like yours and others from fellow lawyers.

Grant Griffiths said...

Thanks for the support and great post as always.

Anne Reed said...

Thanks for the link and for a thoughtful post. I grew up in Indiana, so I'm glad to see this blog thriving.

www.rushonbusiness.com said...

Sam,

I have really enjoyed your blogs and I totally agree with your comments about lawyers making a mystery about what we do. Your blogs are written in a practical way and I am sure your readers appreciate that. Keep up the great work.

Rush

Steven Ballard said...

Hey Sam!

I love your post, and the related posts you cited.

The ABA list and its promotion smacks of the elitism I see in the big city bar associations that only recognize the big law firms and their areas of practice, but ignore the general practice areas, like divorce, criminal law, real estate, personal injury law, etc.

Just take it for what it is. As you mentioned, I made my own list of the top 11 family law bloggers in the US (not 10 - sort of an accident that I found 11 rather than 10, but I thought that was funny, and that that odd number would reveal the arbitrariness of the whole enterprise, and thus express the appropriate sense of humor and humility I was after), a mere month after starting my own family law blog. But I had my tongue in cheek. (If anyone wants to see my own list, read Sam's post about it on this blog :)

My own list was partly for fun, partly to throw some well-deserved recognition from me to more established family law blogs I have been reading, like Sam's - and partly, to be honest, to sort of throw myself out there to get noticed in the family law bloggosphere. I even named my list "Ballard's Best" (as I said, in the interest of alliteration and self-promotion) and admitted that I don't meet the criteria for my own list (and I don't).

We all shouldn't take ourselves too seriously. Let's leave that to the ABA Journal editors!

Cheers,

Steve Ballard
Massachusetts Divorce & Family Law Blog (NOT on any list, not even my own)