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Finding a niche for your legal blog

In a landscape littered by lifeless legal blogs, a few lawyers have found the key to developing readership: go where no one else has gone

Lawyers are often counseled that if they want to bring in business, they need to think big and have a highly visible blog. The result has been an Internet littered with the remnants of legal blogs, once started with grand ambitions but now discontinued or only rarely updated.BLOG keyboard

Better, perhaps, for lawyers contemplating the leap into blogging to instead think small—finding a niche in a corner of the blogosphere where no other attorneys have yet staked a claim.

For no specialty of the law is too small, it seems, for a well-written, frequently updated blog, and some attorneys are reaping big blogging benefits by being patient, persistent and practical.

Knicole Emanuel, now a partner in the Raleigh office of Williams Mullen, was an associate at another firm in 2012 when she decided to start blogging about Medicaid law in North Carolina. At the time, she was a blogging neophyte, and Medicaid law was only a small part of her practice, but it was an area of the law that no one else was writing about, and she geared the blog toward potential clients.

“Associates are pretty fungible. I was looking for some way to make myself stand out, to make me not so fungible,” Emanuel said.

Traffic picked up slowly at first—a common refrain for legal bloggers—but started growing, and Emanuel started getting calls from clients based on the blog. She estimates her book of business has grown more than fifteen-fold in the last year.

“I think even many of my own partners don’t realize how much of my practice is a result of my blog,” she said. “They think I brought this big book of clients with me. They don’t realize that it wasn’t like this a year ago.”

Investment of time, not money

Although there seem to be more legal blogs than ever (there’s even a blog devoted to equine law in North Carolina), unexplored frontiers remain. Emanuel, whose clients include “mom-and-pop” medical providers, advises attorneys to think about what kind of clients are going to use a Google search to help them find an attorney.

Kevin O’Keefe, the CEO and publisher of LexBlog (whose personal blog is called Real Lawyers Have Blogs), says that nearly any area of the law can be made suitable for a blog. The important thing, he says, is that attorneys choose an area of the law for which they have a passion.

“If you blog well on a niche, proving information of value, you won’t be able to keep people away with a stick,” O’Keefe said. “If you do seek out a niche, make sure you enjoy that area of the law and have a passion for it. But if it’s an area you think you’d enjoy doing and like to grow a practice in, by all means do it, because it will be successful.”

Matt Cordell of Ward & Smith in New Bern is another attorney who writes a niche blog, on banking law in North Carolina, a specialty that hasn’t yet attracted any other bloggers. While occasionally a client will call him out of the blue because of his blog, Cordell says that’s rare. But he says that if he has an existing connection to a client, the blog can be very helpful in solidifying that bond.

“More than anything, the blog is way to, particularly for a young lawyer like me, establish a reputation and some credibility in an area. If you can use a tool like a blog to expedite that process, you’ve done yourself a favor.” Cordell said. “Obviously, it’s a lot easier to get attention when you’re the only voice in that space.”

Maintaining a first-rate blog costs little to no money, but taxes an even more precious resource for attorneys—their limited time. Emanuel and Cordell both devote several hours a week to their blogs.

But writing a niche blog can minimize the amount of attention needed to cultivate a readership, O’Keefe said: “The tighter the niche, the less often you have to blog because it’s must-have content.”

If readers are interested in the information and can’t get it anywhere else, they’ll keep coming back whether an attorney posts twice a week or twice a month – although O’Keefe recommended trying to post at least once a week, or twice if time allows.

‘Make it short and simple’

Authors can see the kind of interaction they’re getting with great precision thanks to analytics from Google, which is something of a mixed blessing, since blogs take time to build an audience. Cordell said his blog, which he started in 2011, has now had over 15,000 readers, and the vast majority of those have come recently. The most important hits, he says, comes from others sharing links to his blog on sites like LinkedIn.

So patience, along with passion and persistence, is important. Another piece of the puzzle is writing in a more practical tone than might befit, say, a legal brief. Emanuel peppers her blog with references as varied as Pokémon cards to the Stepford Wives. Cordell invests time in finding free art and graphics to make the blog more visually interesting.

“What’s not intuitive is that even if your target audience is made up of lawyers, nobody wants to read legal memos in their spare time. Use conversational language, make it short and simple. If you can take something complicated and make it short and simple, people are really going to value that. The worst thing you can do is try to impress people with your legal writing,” Cordell said.

Emanuel, who was once flown out to New Mexico to testify about Medicaid to a legislative subcommittee there, now has three associates working for her and “can’t even tell you” how many clients she has. Information about Medicaid law in North Carolina is very much a niche product, but it turned out there was definitely a market for it.

Follow David Donovan on Twitter @NCLWDonovan

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