I posted my first blog item a year ago yesterday, so I thought that a bit of navel contemplation was in order.
In this item on the theme of “Niche Thyself,” Kevin O’Keefe of Real Lawyers Have Blogs recently quoted with approval the notion that an entrepreneur aims to create something that is of high value to customers and is offered by few others. That’s hardly a novel proposition, but it can be very useful to be reminded of the obvious. Kevin’s post prompted me to assess my year of blogging: High or low uniqueness? High or low value?
I think I’m on safe ground here. I don’t see much blogging about contracts generally, so I’m not too surprised that when it comes to blogs on contract drafting, I’m the only game in town. As such, the online world is an only slightly exagerrated version of the real world, where it seems no one else scrutinizes the language of contracts to the same degree.
Value to Others?
How does one assess value? My blog has been something of a critical success, and I’ve been pleased by the extent to which readers have felt inclined to post comments.
But let’s take a dispassionate look at the objective indicia of interest in my blog. About 450 people have subscribed to my email updates; another hundred plus have subscribed to my RSS feed. (Of course, I have no way of knowing how many of those who receive my updates have cheerfully consigned them to their spam file. And subscribing to my feed doesn’t mean you actually read it.) Last month my site recorded something over 14,000 pageviews. And my blog currently merits a Technorati authority rating of 53 and rank of 89,916.
Using blog statistics to compare sites rather than to track performance of a site over time seems an exercise in comparing apples and oranges. Nevertheless, my numbers would seem on the low side, particularly when you consider (1) that untold numbers of people routinely draft and negotiate contracts, (2) that I don’t have any online competition, and (3) that I’ve regularly been posting stuff that I like to think is—at least from the contract-nerd perspective—interesting and innovative. A further indication of my relatively low profile is the fact that as far as I can tell, only a few lawyers at Am Law 200 law firms have subscribed for my email updates.
This matches my experience in the real world. From a standing start in 2001, I’ve been doing my best to spread the gospel of clear contract language. I think I’ve made incredible progress: I have a book that, by the paltry standards of legal publishing, has been selling like hot cakes; I’ve written a bunch of articles in a broad range of journals; I teach at a great law school; and I’m about to embark on a nationwide series of seminars backed by the heft of West Legalworks.
But it’s also been a tougher sell than I had expected. For example, not only are lawyers from Am Law 200 law firms underrepresented in my list of subscribers, they’ve also been conspicuously absent from my public seminars.
But I tell myself two things. First, I can’t be a pioneer yet expect to have a ready-made audience. Word has been spreading, initially among in-house lawyers and now to law firms, and I’m starting to get the sort of gigs that I’ve been angling for.
Second, my core message is not an easy one: Mainstream contract drafting has problems, but given that contract drafting is an industrial-scale team sport, fixing those problems represents an imposing challenge. And even if they were up to the challenge, many law firms have little or no incentive to tinker with the quality and process of contract drafting—they’re doing quite nicely as is. These factors explain why I’ve long thought that real change will only come through document assembly, which would not only commoditize drafting but also provide a real economic incentive to law departments and the more nimble law firms.
Value to Me?
But enough about whether my blog is of value to others. What is it’s value to me?
To feed the blog beast, I’ve had to scour the online and paper worlds and the remote recesses of my brain, looking for issues that I hadn’t addressed previously or needed to revisit. I’ve then had to prepare analyses that would withstand scrutiny while being halfway engaging. It’s been rare for a day to go by without my doing some form of work related to the blog.
If I were a regular practitioner, I’m sure I’d have little to show for this sort of effort, and by now I probably would have burnt out. But I make my living off my expertise, so anything that refines it can only be to my benefit.
In particular, I have a second edition of MSCD to produce. Without the blog, working on the second edition would have seemed a looming and monumental task. But now I have a year’s worth of great material to work with, and it addresses a far broader range of topics than I would have dreamed up without a hungry blog to feed. And the input of my readers has been invaluable, in terms of providing me with great leads and pointing out my mistakes. So if you like MSCD, MSCD2 will knock your socks off. (But note that it’s not coming out any time soon!)
Another benefit to blogging has been the people I’ve been introduced to. In addition to contract mavens, they’ve included people in the document-assembly, legal-process-outsourcing, and contract-lifecycle-management communities. I’m sure that those relationships will prove very valuable.
That’s all very nice, I hear you say, but has your blog brought you any business? It was through my blog that I was retained to act as expert witness in Rogers Communications’ dispute with Aliant, and I wouldn’t have missed that for anything. Otherwise, it’s hard to say what business I can attribute to the blog, as opposed to the rest of my website, MSCD, my articles, or West Legalworks’ marketing efforts—each element contributes to my credibility. But the blog holds a special place in the mix, as it provides me with a living online presence, as opposed to a static one.
Doing Your Own Thing
I started blogging shortly after I left private practice and began earning my living on the strength of my drafting expertise. I can’t say it was a particularly audacious move. For one thing, I’ve known for a long time that my temperament was better suited to a different kind of work. I would have made the leap earlier, but I had to build my credentials and wait for a market for my services to slowly develop.
As with any venture, it’s been a roller-coaster ride. But whatever the vicissitudes, I feel blessed. I spend my days trying to make sense out of the cacophany that is mainstream drafting, and then I share my views with a diverse audience in diverse ways. Much of the time I get paid to do so. It’s a fascinating, civilized, low-stress, and congenial livelihood. OK, so I sometimes wonder why I don’t have to fight off people clamoring for my services. I feel that way because I believe that what I offer is both unique and valuable.
I look forward to seeing what the next year holds. I suspect that it will be even more interesting than this past year. If that’s the case, it will be in no small part thanks to the world opened up to me through my blog.
Thank you, dear readers, for coming along for the ride. Having set a self-indulgent tone, I invite you to chime in regarding what is good, bad, or indifferent about this blog.