Blogs Are Not Law Review Articles
Last year on this blog we highlighted the comments from several experts on best practices in writing for a blog. We are reminded often by blog advocates that the platform is an essential tool lawyers use to communicate with their audiences, show their skills and expertise, and to become thought leaders. It’s an opportunity that law firms should take full advantage of.
Kristi Dosh, a sports business analyst who blogs as The SportsBizMiss, said it is crucial for lawyers not to use legalese but to write so that you can be understood by a broader audience.
Jacqueline Madarang, a senior manager for digital marketing communications and marketing technology who’s now at the D.C. office of the Bradley law firm, said she created a writing workshop at her firm so that legal bloggers there can understand expectations about what a blog should deliver. These two, and the other panelists, also noted that blog items are vastly different than law review articles. They are immediate, timely, thoughtful, personal and anecdotal in tone and explain the essence of a current and topical issue.
To illustrate these best practices, here are some examples from select legal blogs (with identifying details changed).
One blog begins dryly: “On February 3, 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services released an advance copy of Notice 2017-50.” What’s wrong with that? It doesn’t tell the reader what’s in the notice or why she should care about it. Blog posts should be like brief news stories. They should grab the reader’s attention or they will be ignored.
Or consider a blog item I found that contains an entire paragraph, fairly high up in the item, defining the origin and the contours of the legal requirement of standing to sue, as inferred by courts from Article III of the U.S. Constitution. This is a classic example of good material for a law review article or for a brief filed with a court, but in a blog post, the auther has to ditch the esoteric details and quickly move on to the point. This one had 87 words of legalese that didn’t need to be there.
A third example begins: “On July 3, 2015, President Obama signed the Intellectual Property Act (“IP Act”), Pub. L. 113-222, which altered the rules for intellectual property.” Here the problem relates to that cute thing with the parentheses and the quotation marks. These are fine, if a bit antiquated. In legal briefs if you want to define a term in advance and use it repeatedly use that structure. But in a blog item these are out of place. If you want to refer to the act a second time in a short blog item, don’t use that cumbersome abbreviation bit, Just write: “the act” or “the law.” And use a simple test by asking yourself: would a reporter do that in a news story? Remember: “immediate, timely, thoughtful, personal and anecdotal.”
It takes time and practice for lawyers to ditch writing habits that they picked up over the years and worked well in drafting briefs. But blogs are an entirely different style of writing. If you accept and embrace it, your readers will appreciate and share your content.