What cable television did for TV and blogs and Twitter did for the internet—vastly expand the number and diversity of voices that people could choose from—the podcast is doing for your daily commute (or your workout). Whereas your drive-time listening options were once constrained by the bandwidth of your radio, your smartphone contains a multitude of voices, on seemingly every topic. And if for some odd reason there isn’t already a podcast devoted to your interests, it’s not very difficult to create one.
A number of lawyers in the Carolinas have done exactly that, leveraging the power of podcasting as a platform to discuss the issues that interest them. While their numbers are small, and will likely remain so, the diversity of law-related podcasts out there is already impressive. Their motives are diverse as well, but two common threads emerge: producing a podcast on a regular schedule is a lot of work, but for these attorneys, it can also be a lot of fun.
Mark Henriques, a partner at Womble Bond Dickinson, started producing Bulldog Bites in October 2016. (As part of the firm’s post-merger rebranding, it is being rechristened as The In-House Roundhouse, offering “Quick tips for busy GCs.”) Henriques said the idea bloomed from a brainstorming session at one of the firm’s meetings about different ways to reach clients and prospective clients, and that the podcast is aimed at a smaller but important audience of in-house attorneys.
Podcasts follow various types of formats. Some feature guests, while others largely don’t; Henriques’ falls in the former category. He says that the opportunity to sit down with attorneys outside of the billable hour context and build relationships by talking about issues that interest them is one of the main advantages of producing the podcast, and has helped him pick up some extra work. The guests, who sit down with Henriques in a studio (see picture) designed by students at the Charlotte School of Arts, make the podcast more interesting for listeners, he says.
“One of my goals is to have laughter and legal insights in the actual podcast, and not have people feel like this is some sort of prerecorded CLE. I try to do it in a way that’s light and entertaining,” Henriques said. “I look for people I think my listeners would find interesting, a guest that is engaging and I enjoy talking to. I try to pick guests that I would enjoy having a beer with, because I think that makes for a more interesting format.”
Conversation is a built-in feature of the Law Sisters podcast produced by Leto Copeley and Valerie Johnson of Copeley Johnson & Groninger. The two attorneys have been practicing law together for nearly 20 years, and started doing the preparatory work for their podcast last summer. The initial plan was to start with a limited series on sexual harassment in the workplace and then move on to other topics. As it happened, their choice of topic proved to be extraordinarily well-timed, and the revelations of 2017 have provided them with a tsunami of sexual harassment-related news to talk about.
Copeley and Johnson had at one time considered writing a book on legal topics, but opted for podcasts because they enjoy listening to them themselves, and the format enabled them to keep their information more current. Their format includes regular features (“Bad Boss of the Week” is a particular favorite) reminiscent of a traditional radio program.
“We’re giving people information in a way that they want to listen to,” Johnson said. “You never know what’s going to happen if you put something like that out there, and so I’ve been very pleased with how well we’ve been received … It seems very egalitarian to me that people can sit down with not a lot of equipment and give people information that they can use.”
Functionally, a podcast is basically a radio show that you can listen to whenever it suits you. That ability to time-shift means that podcasts can be almost any length—though something you can consume in one commute or one trip to the gym tends to be popular—and producers don’t necessarily have to put out new episodes on a rigorously fixed schedule. Both Law Sisters and In-House Roundhouse run roughly 40 minutes an episode, although with significant variance, and produce new episodes once or twice a month—all fairly typical for podcasting.
But some podcasters, like attorney Greg Doucette of Durham, North Carolina, make an especially strong commitment. His podcast, “#FSCK ‘Em All!” covers topics both legal and political in a format that runs past an hour and drops new episodes each Monday. Whereas most attorneys’ podcasts are targeting an inherently niche audience, Doucette can claim over 1,700 subscribers in all 50 states. He also receives donations from listeners that allow him to make a small amount of money from his effort.
“My idea was I wanted to talk about the justice system, and it’s grown bigger than I anticipated. I wanted to keep it to 30 minutes apiece, but I realized we were never going to run out of material,” Doucette said. “It takes time to build up an audience. Our first episode had about 300 downloads. By June we were getting 1,000 downloads, and our highest point in October, we had 1,600 downloads. It’s something where you’ve got to keep building at it. You’ve got to constantly keep your stuff going to get new listeners and keep the listeners you already have.”
Copeley and Johnson said that they each spend about three or four hours per episode, and Henriques figured he spends five or six. Doucette estimated his commitment at 10 hours a week. (All of these attorneys said they had someone who helps them with the technical aspects of making the production sound crisp.) Planning each episode is crucial; just sitting down in front of a microphone and winging it does not make for an entertaining podcast any more than it makes for a good oral argument.
Fortunately, listening to a podcast requires substantially less effort. Several apps for playing them can be downloaded for free to any smartphone. (The name “podcasting” derives from the medium’s early days, when most listeners accessed them via an Apple iPod.) From there, listeners can search for whatever interests them and subscribe to what appeals to them. Individual episodes can then be downloaded, and once on your phone, can be listened to with or without an internet connection.
For many fans, listening to podcasts has replaced listening to the car radio. Despite the similarities between the two mediums, however, none of the attorneys who were interviewed said they had any experience in traditional radio before they got into podcasting.
“I do enjoy talking—but that doesn’t put me in an unusual category among lawyers,” Henriques said.
Follow David Donovan on Twitter @NCLWDonovan