Anatomy of a Blog

By Micah U. Buchdahl, Esq.

Law Technology News, 2006

Young Conaway Associates go from “what’s a blog?” to DelawareIPLaw.com in 30 Days

It started the traditional, old-fashioned way. A senior partner reads an article and passes it on to an associate in her practice group. It happens every day.

“Look at what this young associate did for his firm,” said the senior partner who passed on a magazine highlighting a successful intellectual property law web log (blog) to one of her associates. The associate, who had never visited a blog site, immediately followed up and got the “message”—you too can be doing something to market our practice.

This true tale of technology and marketing all happens in less than 30 days (if you take out summer vacation days). One day you are asking “what’s a blog?” and the next day you are a blogger yourself.

The partner is Josy Ingersoll, who together with section leader John Shaw, run the intellectual property law practice at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor in Wilmington, Delaware. With more than 100 attorneys, one of Delaware’s largest law firms features substantial national practices that include bankruptcy, corporate law and intellectual property litigation. The associate is Karen Keller. “To be honest, I was not 100 percent sure what a blog was, but I checked it out,” said Keller. “While I saw how this site was extremely useful for keeping up with the federal circuit at the appellate level, it occurred to me that our practice could offer something unique in the form of a blog as well.”

Keller approached two fellow fourth-year associates, Chad Stover and Andrew Lundgren. “Where do our peers go for legal research?” she asked. “Not books. We Google things. And so I went to two of my peers with an idea that I though would be a nice way for a few associates to help make a name for ourselves.”

Keller also realized that it would not be long before she would make partner (she hopes) and be expected to bring in business. “Other than sending holiday cards, I needed to do a better job of marketing. This seemed like a good concept. I had been looking for a business development activity that would suit my interests.”

You need a niche.

Today, there are plenty of wide-ranging web sites and blogs for overarching practice subjects like IP, environmental, bankruptcy or labor law. Your best chance for true success is to become an expert in a niche. The “go-to” source for a particular part of a law practice. In this case, the subject matter is Delaware patent and IP case law, combined with news from the District and commentary on pending legislation.

“Delaware is so unique in our case law, local rules and small bench—that a site dedicated to IP law in Delaware would probably be of great interest to co-counsel, in-house counsel and colleagues,” said Keller. “While it would certainly promote the firm, it would actually be a nice way of promoting IP law in Delaware as well.”

Most blogs are just a single person’s point of view. By sharing the duties among three attorneys, the site provides a unique twist with differing perspectives and analysis.

“Our concern was that someone might have the same idea,” said Lundgren. “So getting thing moving quickly was a definite concern. Once the niche is filled, it is filled.”

Approval process

Unlike many large law firms, where the approval process for a marketing initiative can be slow and burdensome, the three associates found that with the help of their marketing director, the approval process would be quick.

“Delaware has a unique place in the practice of law throughout the nation and globally,” said Michael Nestor, Young Conaway’s marketing partner. “What happens with IP cases in Delaware has a ripple effect that goes well beyond our own borders. This marketing initiative provides relevant data to practitioners and in-house counsel everywhere. It is always encouraging to see our associates come up with an idea and just do it. No road blocks. Just the assistance and resources they need to make it happen.”

The Cost -- Peanuts

“While the actual hard-dollar cost of a blog is next to nothing, for a major law firm there is value in spending a few dollars to add some brand consistency, feature sophistication and protect our blog’s niche target. For a few hundred dollars, it is a no-brainer,” said Elise Martin, the firm’s marketing director.

There is value in ensuring the blog looks and feels similar to the law firm’s web site. In this case, the firm’s web designer was asked to build the blog. In this instance, they used the no-cost Nucleus platform.

“We wanted them to incorporate our website design and customize some features that we felt were important, such as a registration system that was required before you could post a comment, maximizing the blog for search engine effectiveness and giving me a little more control over the back-end console.”

When their first choice domain name was available, DelawareIPLaw.com, the firm also purchased a number of derivatives of Delaware, IP, patent and litigation in the dot-com and dot-net formats. “That cost all of a hundred bucks,” said Martin.

The Real Cost – Billable Hours

“We probably each put in over 100 hours in one month,” said Stover. “Getting the blog off the ground was time intensive and took up a lot of non-billable hours, but we think it is worth the investment for us as individuals, the practice and the firm as a whole. Going forward, we’re each looking at four to six hours each week.”

The three associates now have a standing Monday morning meeting to discuss who is watching which decisions, which judges and track filings, as well as what is going on with other blogs out on the web.

It makes us better lawyers.

Something the three associates realized was an additional benefit to blogging was that the process of monitoring cases, reading opinions and drafting an analysis was going to make them better lawyers.

“We would be reading these decisions and legislation anyway, so adding a little recap in the form of an analysis was actually making us read them a little closer and a whole lot quicker,” added Stover. “Now, when co-counsel calls you about a decision, you can say you’ve seen it, read it and have an opinion of your own.”

The downside.

The associates realize there are some downsides beyond the ongoing time commitment. They noted that in some cases, you could argue that the blog postings might eliminate the need for a client or co-counsel to call the firm right away. But, the reality is if you read the posting and are really interested in the case, you’ll need more information. Ultimately, it serves a publicity function for the bloggers and the firm.

Keller, Stover and Lundgren also note that they need to keep aware of matters that directly involve clients, relevant ethics rules, and making sure the postings are thought out and of the highest quality.

“We want to provide candid views and not be seen as writing ‘firm propaganda’ to have our blog be as widely read as we hope,” said Keller. “In the end, you want to associate knowledge of IP in Delaware with us and our firm.”

As with the thousands of blogs on the Internet today, time will tell if this particular one becomes the “source” they desire. Timeliness, upkeep and expertise are the keys.

In some ways, the blog is a microcosm of society today,” said Lundgren. “It is a real-time culture. You have to adapt.”

TIMELINE

August 14, 10:42 am – Senior partner at Young Conaway approaches associate with an article about a successful IP blog created by an associate.

August 14, 10:47 am – Associate asks herself, “what is a blog?”

August 14, 11:27 am – Associate says, “oh, that’s a blog” and finds it to be quite the useful resource.

August 15, 8:43 am – Associate comes up with an idea for a blog of her own and enlists the help of two peers in the firm’s IP practice.

August 15, 9:12 am – Peers think to themselves, “what’s a blog”, but agree to participate anyway.

August 16 – Associates Karen Keller, Chad Stover and Andrew Lundgren flush out ideas for DelawareIPLaw.com.

August 18 – Associates ask the firm’s marketing director, Elise Martin, for help. She is thrilled at their eagerness, but makes sure they have the blessing of IP section leader John Shaw and marketing partner Michael Nestor. She then promptly leaves for a one week vacation.

August 28 – Back from vacation and well rested, Martin meets with the associates to discuss domain name registration, blog features and content creation. But, more importantly, the pros and cons of creating and maintaining a blog.

August 31 – Plan is set out, and a proposal is requested from the firm’s web developer.

September 6 – The total cost is about the equivalent of lunch for four, so they go ahead and approve it.

September 11 – The project moves forward. Expected turnaround is one week. Associates create content and select features and categories.

September 20 – The first post. DelawareIPLaw.com is a reality.