A Law Blogging FAQ

I resolved not to blog about blogging, but there's something about this topic that sucks me (and many other bloggers) in!  Anyway, I was chatting with a young lawyer who was thinking about starting a blog recently, and the lawyer and I tossed around a few questions.  Some of the answers to the questions seemed practical in nature, so I thought I would list those and other questions that seem to recur for law bloggers.  (The standard caveat that no one-size-fits-all approach applies.  You shouldn't take this as any sort of expert advice obviously.  This is just based on my personal experience and on conversations with other law bloggers.) 

1.  Where's the best place to get material?

For me, the best place is Lexis alerts.  I have alerts set up that perform daily searches and email me when a case is issued that fits those criteria.  Any time a case mentions the word "spam" (or CAN-SPAM), or "Facebook" for example, I receive a copy of the case by email. 

Apart from this, there are a couple of other sources for subject ideas:  (1) other blogs (obviously) and (2) newspaper articles.  I also check PACER frequently, and court websites.  (Some court websites have RSS feeds set up which can be a convenient thing.  The cost of PACER is negligible.  Also, RECAP is a nice service that makes PACER documents available for free, but only documents which have been previously accessed by someone who also uses RECAP are available.)    In the early days, I used to use Courthouse News Service (a subscription service that emails you a daily list of newly filed cases and summaries from selected jurisdictions), which I found to be an invaluable resource.  Finally, people on occasion will email me stuff, and over the years, this has grown as a useful source for material.  By far, the three best places for material are:  Lexis alerts, Pacer, and emails from other people.  All bloggers are different in this regard, and I think it would be useful to take in opinions from other bloggers about their practices. 

[Sidenote:  Lexis alerts and Westlaw alerts vary significantly.  They both seem useful, but different cases come up for the same searches in both, and some cases show up on Lexis alerts but not on Westlaw (and vice versa).  Also, Pacer should really set up an alerts system, or allow you to sign up to receive email notifications even if you are not involved in a case.  It's something I would pay for.]

2.  Blogging on a schedule?

Many bloggers have posting schedules.  My view is that whatever gets you to post consistently is the way to go, but as far as writing goes, I write when inspired.  I've blogged on vacation, while waiting at the airport, etc.  I could never blog on a blogging schedule, but then again, some would say that my consistency reflects this. 

3.  Blogging about cases you're involved in?

I think it's a bad idea to blog about cases you're involved in.  Some people (e.g., Randazza) do it well (mostly after the fact), but for me it's just too much of a hassle.  You have to be ultra careful about revealing something that's going to come back to haunt you.  (See generally, "Too Much Information: Blogging about your client's case.") You can't really give the backstory, which pretty much takes all the fun out of blogging the case.  Finally - and this is something people don't consider - you should always get your client's approval before making a public statement about an ongoing case.  Information travels in strange ways online, and even if you take a particular stance on a case, there's no guarantee that another blogger will do the same.  Also, some clients are more interested in controlling (or trying to control) publicity around cases.  You never want to have a situation where the client is unhappy about media attention that is paid to a case, and it turns out that you were one of the first few bloggers to have shined the light on the case in the first place. 

I've had three or four cases that received some attention in other blogs, but I didn't blog about them.  It would have been too much of a hassle. 

4.  How to deal with takedown requests?

Anyone who blogs will likely receive a takedown request at some point, and if you blog about cases or ongoing controversies, it's likely that you'll receive more than one.  I'm not taking about DMCA takedown requests, requesting you to takedown copyrighted material.  I'm taking about the request that's along the lines of "you wrote something unflattering about me, would you mind taking it down," or "you have deliberately lied and mischaracterized my involvement in a case, if you don't takedown what you said about me, I'm going to sue you IMMEDIATELY." 

Unless there's a public interest at stake, I'm not interested in fighting the battle with people who are disgruntled because I've mentioned them on the blog.  I have complied with one or two takedown requests.  My reason (again) is that it's not worth the hassle.  I don't think I've ever altered an entry at the request of someone (unless the entry was inaccurate).  I also received a cease and desist letter that was so outlandish that I just ignored it.

Something that helps when blogging about cases is to characterize the facts as the court characterizes them (and to quote the court's order or opinion).  My instinct is that you cannot be held liable for defamation if you accurately report something a court said, but I'm guessing there are some nuances and outliers there.  However, I know it's enough of a hot button issue that one or more public interest groups would likely come to your aid if someone tried to sue you for a statement that accurately characterized a court's view of a case.  Along these lines, Citizen Media and EFF (and others) make available excellent resources for bloggers.  To the extent you're looking to find out more information on issues such as fair use and defamation, check out those resources.

5. How about posting logos and photos?

I would treat logos and photos slightly differently.  When I'm talking about a company in a post I sometimes include their logo.  (I go to their website and grab their logo.)  This is pretty clearly fair use.  Photos on the other hand I don't reproduce on the blog.  Sometimes I go to flickr and do a creative commons search.  Other times I email the copyright owner and ask for permission.  I don't get too bogged down including images in blog posts, although the conventional wisdom probably says that an image enhances the readability of the post.

6.  Making available source documents.

In my opinion, it's extremely valuable to make available source documents (briefs, opinions, etc.).  If anyone disputes my take on a case, this allows them to easily access the court order and see for themselves whether I'm right or wrong.  Most blogging platforms allow you to upload files pretty easily.  For the past 8-9 months I've been using Scribd, and although I'm ticked off that they took an opt-out approach to making archived documents available behind a paywall, I still continue to use the service.  (I typically post the version issued by the court (the official version), and not the version from Lexis.  I'm guessing Lexis has better things to do than to worry about whether I'm improperly posting Lexis material (and I probably have a viable fair use argument), but it's not worth the hassle to worry about this.)

Either way, many people have commented that they find it extremely helpful when bloggers make source documents available.  I personally find it mildly annoying when people post about a case and do not post the source documents (such as the court's opinion) or a link to these documents.

7.  Worrying about people relying on the blog for legal advice - what about a disclaimer?

I think this concern is largely overblown, but I have a simple disclaimer that says "nothing on the blog is legal advice."  I do receive solicitations through the blog once in a while, but I make it clear that my response to a random email should not be interpreted to mean that I'm now representing someone just because I responded to their email. 

8.  Metrics - what measuring blog traffic?

I'm not really into metrics.  GoDaddy's platform makes available a pretty rudimentary system that lets you know where your visitors are coming from and who is linking to you.  I also use Topsy to see what Twitter activity a post generates.  I'm not a huge fan of using metrics as a way to tweak your writing style (or subject matter), but many people swear by this.  I do think it's useful to see who is linking to your blog.  (I used to be much better about interacting with people who link to the blog, or even acknowledging the link, but I've grown pretty lax in this department.)

9.  Blogging Platforms/Software?

I don't have much to say about this, except that I started with GoDaddy and didn't think much about it.  Several years later, I've been thinking about switching and this is much (much) easier said than done.  I have also tried to blog using the iPad but there must be some super-secret decoder ring that you have to acquire before being able to use the iPad for even the most rudimentary blogging.  Suffice it to say that I have yet to acquire it.

10.  Dealing with the press?

Law blogging will not land you on the cover of Time magazine, but it may result in some press inquiries, particularly if you are consistent and blog about ongoing cases.  One of the fun aspects of blogging is following and interacting with journalists in your space.  I don't have any special tips for dealing with journalists, except that you should treat them almost like a prospective client, or a professional contact.  Be responsive (they're often on deadline), helpful, and professional.

11.  How about dealing with content scrapers?

Over the years, I've come across a few people who scraped content (multiple posts taken verbatim).  A simple cease and desist letter (or DMCA takedown request) solved the problem.

I also came across this detailed "first 30 days of blogging" report by Keith Lee that looks pretty interesting [pdf]:  "A Complete Analysis of the First 30 Days of a New Legal Blogger."
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  • 11/26/2010 10:36 AM Keith Lee wrote:
    Glad you liked it.

    While at the moment I've got to: finish law school in Dec, study my but off, and take the Bar in Feb - I've thought about doing something similar to your FAQ above, but fleshing it out to a full PDF report like I did with my first 30 days analytics. I feel like there is a lot of mis-information out there for lawyers who are not familiar with computers, internet, blogging, etc. and they are being taken for a ride by SM/legal marketing types for "SM/blogging" services.

    I feel like one really well put together guide could possibly bury all that.
    Reply to this
    1. 11/26/2010 3:50 PM Venkat wrote:
      Sounds good.

      I didn't really focus on the marketing angle, or how to set up a blog/distribute content. There were a slew of "what do you do about __" questions that seem to recur, and I thought it would be helpful to recap those and some suggested answers.
      Reply to this
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