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What is the History of Legal Blogging?
The "blog" is a known entity for many law firms and other businesses, yet that wasn't always true. The blog as a form began just over 25 years ago, and it didn't make its way into the legal world for some time after it initially grew in popularity. In this second decade of the twenty-first century, many freelance writers consider themselves bloggers. Indeed, for many freelance writers, blogging has become a primary source of income. These days, it seems as though blogs exist for nearly every industry that advertises online in any capacity. Writing and sharing ideas, opinions, and newsworthy stories remains popular.
Like blogging more broadly, there isn't just one type of legal blog these days. To be sure, law-related blogs are tools for firms to market themselves to potential clients. Still, they're also resources for students, journalists seeking information about legal matters, and the general public looking to learn more about the law.
The following is a brief history of legal blogging, which is, as you might guess, wrapped up in the history of blogging more generally and the rise of the internet in everyday life.
After, you can learn more about how blogging fits into a bigger marketing framework of Law Firm Marketing.
History of the Weblog
For legal blogs to come about, the blog first had to make its way onto the scene. Believe it or not, dictionaries now have multiple definitions of the blog. According to Merriam-Webster, a blog is "a website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer."
A second definition identifies it as "a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors." As far as the legal blog goes, it likely falls into this latter category. But how did blogs get started initially? That history begins with the "weblog."
Most commentators say the blog originated in the mid-1990s with the "web log" or "weblog." For example, a blogging history might begin with Justin Hall's sitelinks.net in 1994, initially described as a "personal home page" and later as a "web diary." In 1997, Jorn Barger coined the term "weblog" to refer to the “logging" activity he was doing on the internet. Since then, "weblog" has been shortened to "blog." That's a brief foray into the history of the blog. Now, what about the rise of legal blogging?
Legal News and Blogs on the Internet
Once the "blog" became an entity on the internet, many topic-themed blogs arose. In the early 1990s, some of the first blogs dedicated to legal content were created by lawyers interested in giving written commentary on legal issues they considered newsworthy. For example, in 2002, Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe founded SCOTUSblog, a husband and wife team who are both lawyers. The blog "covers the US Supreme Court comprehensively, without bias and according to the highest journalistic and legal ethical standards."
Anyone interested in US Supreme Court cases can turn to SCOTUSblog for information about writs of certiorari, oral arguments, and decisions. Indeed, as the founders of SCOTUSblog explain, "the blog generally reports on every merits case before the court at least three times: before the argument, after an argument, and after the decision."
A few years later, in 2006, Above the Law was founded and began posting stories about legal news, law schools, and issues of interest to law students and lawyers. Some sources describe Above the Law as a legal website, while others have referred to it as a "legal gossip blog." It has provided many different types of readers, over the last nearly 15 years, with information about newsworthy court cases, law school rankings, and other related information.
Online Marketing for Law Firms and the Rise of the Blawg
As news blogs grew in popularity through the late 1990s and early 2000s, various companies began creating and using blogs to market their businesses. Law firms, too, started to get in on the action. An article published in DC Bar in 2005, designed for lawyers in the Washington, D.C., area, began with the simple question: "Do you blog?" Then, blogs were not particularly common for law firms, yet some lawyers had begun recognizing their marketing potential.
In 2001, Denise Howell, a technology lawyer, was one of the first attorneys to start this legal blog and coined the term "blawg." Get it? It's a blog about the law—a "blawg." Yet, four years later, many firms needed a nudge to start blogging.
However, blogging has caught on relatively quickly for lawyers and firms, especially as they learn to market themselves in new ways through social media and internet technologies. As more law firms began creating their blogs and drafting legal content, marketing companies started considering blogging platforms designed specifically for those law firms. While many firms use Hubspot, WordPress, Wix, and other platforms that are not law-specific, several platforms have arisen that are designed particularly for law firm blogs, such as AttorneySyn, JurisPage, and MyCase.
State of the Legal Blogging Industry Up to the Present
Recognizing the industry of the legal blog, Above the Law created a conference designed specifically for legal bloggers, marketers, law firms, and anyone else involved in the industry of the "blawg." The Attorney@Blog Conference started In 2014 and has featured many panels and participants. For example, the conference has provided on-site CLE courses for lawyers and panels of interest to specific groups of attorneys like the LGBT Bar Association. Yet it has also offered panels for businesses, marketing firms, and technology companies that could have a stake in legal blogging.
The American Bar Association (ABA) currently maintains a list of active legal blogs in the US, described as the ABA Journal Blawg Directory. To give you a sense of the expansiveness of the legal blogging industry in the US alone, the directory includes more than 4,500 law blogs that are "continually updated." Canadian legal bloggers may know about the "Clawbies" or annual awards given to Canadian legal blogs.
In 2020, legal blogs became more popular among lawyers, law students, journalists, legal commentators, and public readers. If you've seen any news stories about the relevance of certain US Supreme Court cases, for example, you might have run a quick search for a case only to see a website like SCOTUSblog pop up as the first link in the list to click. Or, if you've looked on the internet for information about a particular legal issue, you may have been directed to a law firm's blog, seeking to interest potential new clients and to establish the firm's expertise in that particular area of the law.
In short, legal blogs were extremely prevalent on the internet in 2020, and many different kinds of readers visit them. Some of those "blawgs" are intended to expand public knowledge, while others are designed as marketing tools for a law firm. And those aims, of course, are not the only ones for creators of law blogs.
If you are involved in the legal industry in any capacity, developing a blog can be beneficial in various ways and ultimately may reach thousands of readers.
More than ever, legal blogs allow readers to gain information about legal issues and law firms with just a few clicks. Blogging, together with email marketing, continues to be one of the more effective types of marketing for a legal practice. And it is fun to start a legal blog!