November 29, 2012

Be Generous With Your Expertise (Even When the Meter’s Not Running): Another Lesson from the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100

By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm: 

Share Icon-02They say that attraction is better than promotion, and we’re pleased this blog has been attractive. We’re honored to be in the fine company of the ABA Journal Blawg 100 for a second year. If you like what you read here, feel free to give us another bump by registering and voting at the link above in the “Trial Practice” category. But – as you might expect – there is more to it than self-congratulations. Just as I noted on the occasion of our first Blawg 100 honors last year, there is a larger point to be made, and it bears on the work of litigators. In this case, the larger point boils down to one simple word: Share. Share your knowledge, share your experience, and share your skills. Generously. Yes, we are in the business of selling all three, but the reality is that we’re also entering what can be called a “new knowledge economy” where value is something that often moves freely in an open creative commons, and is not simply bartered away to paying customers.

In other words, the lesson for litigators I’ve learned in writing this blog is a lesson for how lawyers should promote, or more accurately, attract. That lesson is to be generous with your time and your expertise. Of course, lawyers need to be careful and clear about when representation is and isn’t created. But as lawyers and legal consultants, we’re in the business of getting potential clients to trust us before they hire us. Reputation, past work, or a longstanding relationship – those are all great routes to trust. But for those who we are just meeting, how do we get them to trust? A new essay in Boro Zivkovic’ blog post for Scientific American, “Nate Silver and the Ascendance of Expertise” provides some timely wisdom on this point. “Expertise engenders trust,” according to this science blogging pioneer, and as we’re becoming fed up with glib pundits and bloviators, “there is a hunger out there for expertise.” Expertise is something that you have. So the question for our post today is, “How should you share it.” 

Now, you’re going to expect me to say, “Share it by writing a blog!” As legal blog-king Kevin O’Keefe would say, it is all there in the title of his blog, “Real Lawyers Have Blogs.” But with over 1.1 million lawyers in the country, and around 3,600 blogs registered with ABA Journal, there must be many ‘unreal’ lawyers, or it may be that blogging is not for everyone. I’d lean toward the latter. Buying into the social media gold rush isn’t mandatory and many lawyers will be better off pointing energies in other directions.

But if, on the other hand, you have both the time and the temperament (Note: you need some of the former, not as much as you’d think, and much more of the latter), then a targeted blog may be a great way to connect yourself to your audience. Blogging has worked for me because I like the structure, continued engagement with interesting topics, pithy news nuggets drawn from current events, new research, and concrete recommendations for trial lawyers. No, it doesn’t cause clients to beat a path to your door, but it does serve as a great calling card and an effective way to meet those who might benefit from your perspective. But more than that, I just see it as a way of doing what I do — a way, with all due humility, of being a public expert in this one area. 

So whether you blog or whether you put your knowledge out into the world in other ways, here are a couple of reminders that are brought to mind by Mr. Zivkovic’s piece and by the ABA Journal honor. 

When You Write, Go For Substance

In the history of blogging (a relatively short history, I know), we may have started out thinking of blogging as a handy and easy alternative to publishing: a place to share short snippets of text, or a home for a kind of online diary. But today, it seems like we’ve doubled back on that original informality, and with many – not all, what makes the blogs worth reading is what makes them the most like articles. For me, that has meant: 

  • Not just sharing, but writing with a clear thesis and structure
  • Not just my thoughts, but posts based on prior research, commentary, or experience
  • Not just observations, but clear recommendations with each post
  • Not trifling, but not terribly long either: long enough to make a point, support it, and tease out a few implications

In short, I try to write “article-style” blog posts. Bora Zivkovic notes that he has also seen the lines between blogs and articles are getting fuzzier, and that is a good thing in some ways. Referring to the posts that tend to work, he captures exactly what I aim for, and what I think lawyers and other experts should generally aim for in their writing: 

Such pieces are not seen as entertainment, but as resources – something to be saved, bookmarked and shared with friends. Such pieces keep getting re-discovered and re-shared for years after initial publication. They provide value that a one-hit wonder, entertaining piece does not. They provide value that standard, short, news pieces do not – they provide context and detail and quality of explanation that comes from expertise, something that a 400-word piece cannot possibly contain, as there is not enough space for it. Longform writing works.

When You Talk, Get Beyond Yourself and Your Services 

A friend of mine recently had trouble with a home furnace installation, and one of the lawyers in my firm gave him an hour of time with the full understanding that he wasn’t the right lawyer for the case. But he could and did help my friend understand his needs and choose the right lawyer. It led to a referral, and it is of course something that happens countless times in firms like my own, and other firms across the country every day. The lawyer shared his expertise because he had expertise to share, not because it would necessarily lead to business. That is the spirit that makes lawyers professionals, and it is also the spirit that should define our goals when we are presenting our public selves.

In my role, I see a lot of speeches given to legal audiences. The best ones, from an audience’s perspective, are always those that are able to convey directly useful information that transcends the speaker’s need to develop business. A good example is a presentation that my colleague, Dr. Shelley Spiecker, is delivering next month. She is speaking on “Women at Work: Making Communication Work for You” as a West LegalEdcenter live webinar on December 11th.* Shelley is sharing that expertise because she has the expertise to share. It is a way of being public expert, and that is something that the profession, the realities of the new knowledge economy, as well as the practical needs of networking call for us to do. 

Let me make one final, and more prosaic point: I write this blog on Typepad platform. I know, I know, all the cool kids are on WordPress now, but I know (mostly) how to work the controls on Typepad and that is a big advantage. But I also like their slogan:  “Share your passions with the world.” That, I think, is what has been the secret to this blog. If it were an assignment, or a chore, or worse yet, a “business development initiative,” I think it would be hard for me to think of and write useful content twice a week. But instead, it’s a passion. That’s what’s made it easy, and that is why I do it. 

Oh, and feel free to share this post. 

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Last Year’s Blawg 100 Post: 

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*Note: If you are a regular reader and you would like to attend Dr. Spiecker’s seminar or view it later, contact us because we can probably get you a promo code. 

Image Credit: Created by Nick Bouck, Persuasion Strategies…for free. 

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