How paralegals can enter the blogosphere.
By Kim Plonsky
You have heard the
buzz about blogging. More lawyers and legal professionals are doing it
every day, and you are curious. What exactly is a blog, what type of
people use blogs, what can a blog do for you as a paralegal and how do
you go about getting one?
The word “blog” — an
amalgam of the term “Web log” — has risen from obscurity since it was
minted in 1997. WordSpy (www.wordspy.com)
defines a blog as a “Web page consisting of frequently updated,
chronological entries on a particular topic.” Generally speaking, a
blog is a desktop publishing tool that provides the average PC user a
forum to share ideas, opinions, information, files, photographs and
music, or simply keep an online journal (private or public). What is
unique about blogs, as opposed to ordinary Web sites, are the date and
time stamps and permalinks that are created and assigned to each
individual blog entry. Permalinks actually are hyperlinks to posts —
virtual footnotes — used by other bloggers to establish permanent links
to your posts, each of which usually consists of a title, category and
body. Further, a blog can syndicate its site feed to the public via
Really Simple Syndication, a format designed to share Web content, just
like The Associated Press or CNN.
Law blogs (sometimes
called blawgs) and law bloggers are well represented in this new world
dubbed the blogosphere. Lawyers and other legal professionals are using
blogs for everything from knowledge and information sharing and
management, to marketing and anything conceivable in between. A blog’s
ability to easily create and update Web pages has put the possibility of
a Web presence within reach of the masses. And the masses have spoken.
According to Technorati’s February 2006 “State of the Blogosphere”
today there are more than 60 times the amount of blogs than there were
only three years ago, and approximately 75,000 new blogs launch every
day. The study also showed only about half of the new bloggers tracked
still were blogging after three months. This article touches on the
elements of blogging, including the pros and cons, with a focus on legal
Often, blogs are
authored and maintained by more than one person (group blogs), creating
an online forum. Although each individual blog is unique, most blogs
share a vast array of common elements, designs and goals. The potential
and real uses for blogs are infinite, limited perhaps only by your
imagination and creativity because free blog hosting services are
plentiful and easy to use. And blogging can be as simple or complex as
you want it to be. Myshingle.com,
authored by Carolyn Elefant of Washington, D.C., and Mark Sindler of
Pittsburgh, is a great example of a well-designed and well-themed law
blog that makes use of various blogging features to provide ready links
to resources and information. It typifies a common blawg. The individual
blog posts appear mid-page in reverse chronological order. The posting
layout implemented includes information below each post that identifies
the author, date and time of post, followed by the author’s
categorization of the post, a permalink to the post, a place for
visitors to leave their comments and a TrackBack link. Several sidebar
areas (created by simple modifications to the blog template) include the
“Welcome” section, which contains links to things such as personal
information about the authors and archives of past posts. The “Other
Shingles” section contains links to blogs of interest to the authors.
features sidebars on the right that include recent headlines from the
Law.com Newswire, achieved via RSS feed. The “Recent Posts” section
contains permalinks that allow visitors to jump directly to a post by
its headline, and the “Categories” section provides a method of
retrieving all posts on a particular subject matter.
Choosing a Blog Hosting
In my view, one of the most important and
challenging decisions a potential blogger faces is choosing the right
blog hosting service, primarily based on the specific needs and
preferences of the blogger or the intended purpose of the blog. A good
first step is to check with your Internet service provider to see if it
offers blog hosting. Some blogging software requires an outside hosting
service, which likely means a nominal added expense. There are more than
enough blog hosting services to choose from that offer a myriad of
interfaces from the instant access, no setup type to the fully
customizable, unlimited option type.
The good news is
there are scores of free blog hosting providers available, the majority
of which come with predesigned, customizable blog templates (some basic
HTML or other encoding usually is required). These templates make it a
breeze to have a professional-looking blog up and running in minutes.
For example, introduced in 1999,
became part of the Google conglomerate in 2003. It’s one of the most
popular free blogging hosts. Blogger offers team blogs (group blogs),
making it simple for multiple people with individually assigned
administrative rights to contribute to a single blog. Blogger includes a
host of free, third-party add-on programs, including Audioblogger for
posting audio clips from any phone to your blog, and Blogger Mobile for
e-mail blog posting and uploading photos from a cellular phone with
Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon service. Because of all that it
offers, including fully customizable, professional looking and
aesthetically pleasing blogs, I chose Blogger to host my new blog.
With its three
powerhouse blog hosting services,
seems to have cornered a large chunk of the blogging market with its
products. Typepad (www.typepad.com), the entry level of the trio, is a
subscription-based hosted blogging service, which means no software to
download and easy access wherever an Internet connection is available.
It comes in three flavors: Basic with one blog, one author for $4.95 per
month or $49.50 per year; Plus with up to three blogs, one author for
$8.95 per month or $89.50 per year; and Pro with unlimited blogs,
multiple authors for $14.95 per month or $149.50 per year.
Movable Type (www.sixapart.com/movabletype),
designed primarily as a publishing platform for businesses,
organizations, developers and Web designers, is software that you
download and install on your own Web server. All Movable Type pricing
includes unlimited blogs and is based on user classification. It costs
$69.95 for the Personal Basic version (up to five authors), $199.95 for
the Single Server edition (one to five users), $39.95 for the Education
edition (single classroom) and $49.95 for the Not-for-Profit edition
(one to five users). A free, unsupported version of Movable Type
Personal edition, as well as detailed pricing information for all
versions, is available for download at
is an online journal service with an emphasis on user interaction.
Basic, fully functional accounts are free, and paid accounts are offered
for as little as $3 per month to gain access to premium features.
On March 7, Six Apart
launched two new business-oriented blogging products: TypePad Business
Class and Movable Type Enterprise. TypePad Business Class is a hosted
service aimed primarily at companies with high-traffic Web sites using
blogs to communicate with their audiences. Movable Type Enterprise, a
server-based blogging tool meant for large-scale internal deployments,
currently is in beta tests with several U.S. companies.
Yahoo Small Business Web
Hosting with Movable Type
Word Press (http://sbs.smallbusiness.yahoo.com/webhosting/problogs.php)
is another blogging service option. WordPress Yahoo Small Business Web
Hosting packages with free domain name and 200 e-mail accounts include:
Web Hosting Starter for $8.96 per month (200GB data transfer per
month/5GB disk space); Web Hosting Standard for $19.95 per month (400GB
data transfer per month/10GB disk space); and Web Hosting Professional
for $39.95 per month (500GB data transfer per month/20GB disk space).
Also noteworthy is
MSN’s free blog offering,
which supports categories, photo sharing and posting of photos and blog
entries via mobile devices.
offers ad-supported blog hosting (online advertising on your blog
without pop-ups) free with every domain, beginning at $8.95 per year.
For those who want to quickly get a blog up and running, check out the
instant, free blog (beta only) offered by
Simply choose a domain name, click a few buttons and you are blogging
with software powered by the
mentioned are merely a sample of some of today’s most popular blogging
host solutions, most of which should be adequate for new and experienced
Options, Considerations and
Once you have set up
a Web presence via your new blog, there are untold options at your
disposal that can be tweaked to maximize the impact of your blog.
Although many blog hosting services provide automated templates that do
the behind-the-scenes encoding necessary to create a blog and its
entries, the brave of heart can edit the source code to add various
features and attributes. I must admit that I never felt like a true
blogger until I got “under the hood” and messed with the code, which can
be a disaster when it goes wrong but supremely gratifying when
successful. (See “Resources for Beginning Bloggers.")
A few of the
noteworthy considerations for the newborn blogger are:
Categories and tags.
Most bloggers append
descriptive categories or tags (similar to key words) to their posts,
which spawn site hits via Web search engines. One of the first orders of
business in creating a new blog is to address the issue of categories in
general, and specifically, whether your blog hosting service provides
that option. For example (to my great chagrin), Blogger doesn’t
currently offer this feature, which is a must for a blawg. However,
there is a workaround tool — the Techorati Delicious bookmarklet tool (http://tedernst.com/TechnoratiDeliciousBookmarklet.html)
that invokes Delicious (described below) to accomplish this function.
In my humble opinion, Delicious (http://del.icio.us.com)
is one of the most exciting new tools not only for bloggers but
paralegals and other legal professionals, or anyone who does any kind of
Internet research. Bought by Yahoo in 2003, Delicious is a social
bookmarking service that allows users to tag, save, manage and share Web
pages from a centralized source. If you think it sounds like Internet
Explorer’s Favorites, think again. With Delicious, you can access your
favorite sites from any computer, share groups of links that you have
tagged (categorized) with others, and even export them to your browser
as Favorites. With the “post to Delicious toolbar” button, adding a site
is as simple as clicking your mouse and categorizing it with the
appropriate tags. Delicious also offers blog integration with features
such as Link Rolls and Tag Rolls (ways to display your latest Delicious
bookmarks on your blog or Web site) and Play Tagger (a way to play MP3
files directly on your blog or Web site).
TrackBack and backlinks.
TrackBack is a tool that
allows a blogger to see who has viewed a blogger’s post and posted a
follow-up or commentary to it. It works by sending a “ping” between the
blogs that provides a notification to the source blogger. Note:
TrackBack is a blog setting that usually must be enabled. Although
Blogger doesn’t support TrackBack, it offers a similar tool, Backlinks,
which when enabled, keeps track of the sites that link to your posts.
News aggregators or
readers. Instead of
individually visiting your favorite Internet sites every day, why not
have the stories come to you in a central, organized location by using a
news aggregator or news reader? News aggregators or readers cull news
and posts from the Internet based on your predefined selections, and
then directly deliver them to an assigned repository (either Web-based
or local). With a click of a mouse, a blogger can permanently save the
aggregated article, blog or other feed, or establish a hyperlink from it
to a new blog post that links directly back to the original, aggregated
item. Free services, such as FeedDirect (www.feeddirect.com),
even provide the code necessary to post on your blog a hyperlink
directly to selected headlines. Bloglines (www.bloglines.com)
and NewsGator (www.newsgator.com)
are two other free online news aggregators. Also, Yahoo now offers a
news reader, RSS Headline Module, for My Yahoo members.
Consider adding a blogroll to your blog. A blogroll is a personal
collection of hyperlinks to other blogs that usually is published in a
sidebar on the front page of a blog and commonly includes lists of blogs
that the blogger subscribes to or regularly reads. Scoring a blogroll
listing on another blog is one of the first signs that your blog is
beginning to establish a Web presence.
Because Web sites are protected
by copyright law, before publishing a blog, consider how to handle
copyright issues. Many bloggers publish under a Creative Commons license
which restricts how others can use or distribute their copyrighted
To gain exposure for your blog,
consider subscribing to a service that posts lists of recently updated
blogs, such as Weblogs.com (www.weblogs.com).
Another way to network with other bloggers with similar interests is to
join a WebRing that collects Web sites and groups them by category. And
don’t forget to submit your URL to blog search sites, such as Bloglines
and blawg (www.blawg.org),
especially for law and legal related blogs. Google Blog Search (http://blogsearch.google.com),
currently available as a beta version, doesn’t yet have a form for
manual submission of blogs, but it does automatically ping Weblogs.com
for new listings.
Job Security by Obscurity?
Other issues that the
wise would-be blogger should consider before posting that first blog are
the potential unintended consequences of the subject matter or content
of your blog — particularly with respect to your job. In other words,
can you get fired for something that you post on a blog (your own or
even someone else’s)? The increasingly frequent news of bloggers being
fired for exercising their free speech rights via a blog suggests that
it’s a good idea to find out beforehand whether your firm or company has
a blogging policy, and whether it affects both private and firm blogging.
According to the blog,
“Your Guide to Corporate Blogging,” by Fredrik Wackå of Sweden (www.corporateblogging.info),
“Corporate bloggers are personally responsible and they should abide by
existing rules, keep secrets and be nice. Those principles are the core
of today’s corporate blogging rules.” At the very least, a blogger
should establish some self-imposed editorial guidelines and stick to
them if for no other reason than job security. Of course, there always
is the option to blog anonymously.
The Adventures of Legal
Law firms, lawyers and legal professionals use
blogs for a number of worthy reasons, including staying abreast of legal
trends, law practice management and technology, and keeping clients
up-to-date on changes in the law and other information that
traditionally has been the fodder of newsletters (print or e-mail).
Above all, blawgers blog as part of an overall marketing strategy. A
well-written blog, kept up-to-date with current information, quickly can
establish a blawger as an expert in a given legal field, leading to new
business referrals and connections — the ultimate model of successful
Some law firms use
blogs as an adjunct to their traditional Web sites, with links to
articles by category. Somewhere, there probably is a law firm that has
set up a firm blog with staff-restricted access areas that serve as a
firm-wide knowledge management system with links to firm news, policies,
forms and information. The sky is the limit when it comes to possible
applications for blogs in the modern law office.
As a paralegal, you
can benefit from maintaining your own blog by posting useful information
and resources, such as links to commonly referenced statutes, rules and
tools, and obscure but useful bits of knowledge that the everyday
paralegal runs across on any given day. Whether you participate in the
blawging community as a blogger or reader, there truly is a goldmine of
information available to the blawg-savvy legal professional. Remarkably,
however, there is a huge vacuum in the paralegal blawg realm. My search
revealed less than a handful of paralegal blogs after exhaustive
Internet searches. Could this be your call to arms?
whether to give life to your own blawg, here are a few pros and cons to
First, the pros.
Blogs are fantastic outlets for those who long to unleash their inner
authors. Oh what a feeling — instant author, editor and publisher. In
the short time that I kept up my first blog (roughly six months), I
learned more about Internet resources and computing, met more great
people (blawgers), and had more doors opened to me than I ever could
have imagined. In fact, writing this article today is a direct result of
my original blog.
But like most things
in life, there are downsides to blogging, and first and foremost is the
time demand authoring and maintaining a blog can place on already
too-busy legal professionals. For example, news-type posts have an
extremely short shelf life. To remain effective, these blogs must be
updated frequently. Coming up with story ideas worthy of publishing to
the entire world and being able to articulate them well on a consistent
basis can be quite challenging. Also, if you don’t have a thick skin,
blogging might not be right for you. As a whole, bloggers are
super-sharp people with an incredible amount of collective knowledge.
They will call you on even the slightest error or inaccuracy in a post,
freely expressing their opinions via comments to your blog.
Blogging has an
addictive and all-consuming attraction, which I learned first-hand can
distract from or otherwise negatively affect your life or job if you let
it. In my case, working as a full-time litigation paralegal and blogging
into the wee hours most nights had a negative impact on my personal and
professional life. I always was holed up researching or writing my blog,
and then was less than sharp in the morning when it was time to go to
work at my real job. Ultimately, I put the blog on hiatus, and am
presently in the process of trying to resurrect it. In the final
analysis, I have concluded that maintaining a blog is an extremely
worthy and rewarding effort as long as you control it and don’t allow it
to control you.
Is a blog right for you? Only you can answer that question. But you
might want to keep in mind the gaping void in the blogosphere where
paralegal blawgs should be. The blog world awaits, and inevitably will
see the emergence of a pioneer to pave a path for a strong network of
paralegals who share resources, tips, tricks, shortcuts and other
helpful information. If you start a blog today, that pioneer could be