By Kimberly M. Johnson, Special to CPN
In addition to attending seminars and CLEs, paralegals across the country are increasingly turning to blogs to gather information about the profession.
Everything from current legal news, the latest employment trends and even humorous office tales are available on paralegal-oriented blogs. Most are written by paralegals themselves, but attorneys have also jumped on board and are posting content as well.
Winston-Salem, N.C., paralegal Lynne DeVenny uses her blog, Practical Paralegalism, to provide a look at legal commentary and general news geared specifically to support staff. Topics include tips on social networking, office relations and professional advice.
For example, one post provided a cautionary tale about a legal secretary who was fired for violating her firm’s e-mail policy.
“With so many blogs and publications focusing on attorneys, I wanted a place online to recognize the other critical part of the legal team: the talented staffers whose work is necessary to the practice of law today,” said DeVenny.
DeVenny was inspired to create her own blog from reading existing ones and co-writing materials with her supervising attorney.
“Inspired by some of my favorite legal blogs, such as Above the Law and Legal Blog Watch, I decided a paralegal blog was the way to go. There aren’t many paralegal blogs in the blawgosphere, so I hoped there was room for one that focused on paralegal news, legal humor, technology and career development,” she said.
North Carolina Paralegal Association president Patti Clapper has also picked up on the blogging trend. Her blog, Patti’s Paralegal Page, provides entries that range from acknowledging paralegal students to providing tips on scams and other news. It also spotlights free and low-cost informational websites.
“I started reading other legal blogs and decided I wanted to do one. I have taught seminars for many years on how to find information on the web and a blog seemed like the best way to share the websites I had found,” she said.
California-based Chere Estrin said that inspiring paralegals and legal assistants has been the key to her success with her blog, The Estrin Report.
Estrin envisions her blog as a support system for paralegals. She said she wanted readers to know “that things will be better in the morning … that losing your job may turn into a good thing, that getting a bad review may turn you into a fantastic paralegal, that there are options out there and lots and lots of paralegals who are successful and happy.”
Estrin’s website hosts an array of employment-related entries to help paralegals navigate the ups and downs of the workplace. Categories include paralegal compensation, office management, legal technology and humor.
Use with care
Estrin stressed that she does not use her blog for personal reasons. She warns blog authors to be on guard for those who send anonymous e-mails to colleagues and employers and post videos on the Internet.
That advice is based on personal experience. Estrin said she was once embroiled in a situation in which a blogger used YouTube to harass her. Eventually, the person was caught and reported to the authorities.
But Estrin did not use her blog to chronicle the events.
“No, I wouldn’t write about that. I went through hell because of her viciousness, maliciousness and lies,” Estrin said. ”We traced her ISP, found out who she was and reported her to the FBI. She has admitted to sending the e-mails and making a video about me.”
For those interested in setting up their own blogs, determining its purpose and structure is important, paralegals said.
DeVenny wants readers to learn and to be entertained.
“I want to raise the profile of the paralegal profession and recognize the many educated, intelligent and multi-talented legal staffers working behind the scenes, as well as provide information for career development. And some posts are simply intended to entertain readers. The legal profession can be stressful and fast-paced. Sometimes we need a place to go where we laugh at ourselves,” she said.
Clapper, DeVenny and Estrin agree that the easiest part of maintaining their websites is providing inspirational stories. Free blogging tools such as Blogger help to create a user-friendly format, they said.
DeVenny adds that layout and design skills and marketing are part of the package.
“While a simple blog is not difficult to set up, creating an attractive template and deciding how to make the best use of the space on your site is more challenging,” she said. “More advanced blogging skills include learning how to add sophisticated elements to your posts, such as video, as well as mastering marketing and search engine optimization techniques to bring traffic to your blog. I learned these skills on the job by reading a lot and studying other blogs.”
The most challenging part of blogging is updating the content, according to Clapper and DeVenny. Sifting through websites and electronic outlets can be overwhelming, they said.
Some bloggers may use shortcuts and repost old news stories or outdated blog entries. Clapper suggested that would-be bloggers thoroughly research material and then market the finished product on media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Most importantly, be sure you are updating the blog to keep your readers,” she said. DeVenny also recommended joining forces with an attorney.
“The blawgosphere definitely needs more dedicated paralegal blogs. If you’re seriously thinking about blogging professionally, check your employer’s social media policies, get your supervising attorney’s blessing, have a plan for your content and commit to publishing a post at a minimum several times a month,” she told Carolina Paralegal News.
Be original and newsworthy, Estrin added.
“Write to your audience. Write what they want to hear, not what you want to preach. Understand your audience and speak to them in a way that establishes you as a leader in their minds,” she said.
Here’s a list of paralegal blogs to check out:
• Practical Paralegalism: www.practicalparalegalism.com
• Patti’s Paralegal Page: http://lglduck.blogspot.com
• The Estrin Report: http://estrinlegaled.typepad.com/my_weblog
• New York Paralegal Blog: www.newyorkparalegalblog.com
• The Paralegal Mentor: http://www.paralegalmentorblog.com
• Paralegalese: http://para-mel.blogspot.com
• The Empowered Paralegal: http://theempoweredparalegal.com
• Paralegal Pie: http://kimwalker.typepad.com/paralegalpie