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Technology: May It Please the Blog

by Daniel J. Siegel

Winter 2007, Vol. 69, No. 4

The first time I heard the word “blog” it sounded like something from a horror movie — “The Blog That Swallowed Philadelphia.” What the heck was a blog? Then when I learned that a blog was a “Web log,” I was still in the dark, so I didn’t pay attention to them.
For years, I continued to ignore blogs, consigning them to the fringes of the Internet. After all, the only people who talked about blogs seemed to be either newscasters or politicians, who claimed that blogs were responsible for a new form of political communication, or techno-geeks, those people who seem to have been hatched inside a computer. But after years of ignorance, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Guess what? Blogs can be very interesting, very informative, and very helpful. So, what’s all the fuss about? And how can blogs help you?

BLOG BEGINNINGS

First, let’s look at the blog phenomenon. Originally, when the Internet was just emerging as a source of communication, computer users posted their questions and comments on things like Usenet newsgroups or commercial services like AOL or Compuserve. Eventually, as more people used the Internet, message boards became a more popular means for interactive communication. All you had to do was post your problem or question on a message/bulletin board and wait for someone else to post an answer.

According to Blogpulse, a total of 36,486,708 blogs had been identified by November 2, 2006. Despite the increasing popularity of blogs, bulletin boards continue to serve important functions, albeit in more controlled settings.

For example, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Discussion Forums remain an easy way to exchange information between members. The Association’s Web site has both general subject and content-specific bulletin boards, which allow members to exchange information with other attorneys who have similar interests or practice areas.

Although similar to bulletin boards, blogs are different in meaningful ways. Unlike message boards, which are frequently found at business and organization Web sites, blogs generally originate from a single person, with most of the conversation triggered by the blogger’s posts.

Bloggers generally have full control not only of the management and creation of their blogs but also of what material others can post. In short, with blogs, there are very few rules, and almost anything goes.

SUBJECT AREAS

Not surprisingly, there are blogs for almost every conceivable subject. Law is no different. To get a taste of law-related blogs, visit http://www.blawg.org or http://www.uakron.edu/law/library/blawg.php, two of the better sites that try to maintain up-to-date listings of the ever-increasing number of such blogs. Blawg.org, for example, separates legal blogs into a multitude of categories, including Articles & News, Federal Judiciary-Courts, Federal Law, Law Firms, Law Technology, Legal Commentators, Litigation Support, Marketing & Public Relations, Firm Management, Religion & Law, State Judiciary and State Law.

You name it, there’s probably a blog for it.

Or visit some of the more popular blogs, including the highly regarded U.S. Supreme Court blog, www.scotusblog.com. Scotusblog.com, sponsored by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, offers insight into the workings of the Supreme Court and its decisions. The site also offers links to other Web sites relevant to attorneys who practice before or are interested in the Supreme Court, including the Web sites of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court docket, Supreme Court transcripts, the Solicitor General, American Bar Association “Merits Briefs” and others.

HOW BLOGS CAN HELP

So how can blogs help you? For one, if you need assistance or insight into a particular legal topic, you may find the information posted on a blog. For example, suppose you are handling a case that involves a child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A September 20, 2006, posting on scotusblog.com, “Government urges review of parents’ IDEA role,” may be of help.
Or suppose you are a Pennsylvania family law practitioner. If so, you may find helpful information at Fox Rothschild’s Pennsylvania Family Law blog. Whatever your interest or need, there’s almost certainly a blog that can help.

STARTING YOUR OWN BLOG

On the other hand, you may want to create your own blog. Why? Because potential clients may find your blog, consider you to be an expert in a particular area of the law, and contact you. Or, other lawyers may visit your blog and decide to refer a case to you.

Regardless of the reason you want a blog, you still have to have one in order to reap the benefits. You can create a blog on your current Web site or you can register a new Web site devoted exclusively to your blog. Either way, creating the blog itself is easy — and you can usually do it in about fifteen minutes.

Most people who are not experienced in Web publishing are best served by creating their blogs using Web sites devoted to bloggers. Among the most popular are blogger.com, livejournal.com or typepad.com, all of which allow you to register a blog and set it up instantly.

Another option is to register the blog yourself. Many Web site hosting companies now recognize the popularity of blogs and provide blog software to their customers for free or for a nominal charge. Finally, you can obtain blogging software (some are free, others are not) and do all of the creation yourself, but I recommend this method only if you are confident in your software skills. If not, one of the more “out of the box” methods is perfectly adequate.

BROADER appeal

As you can see, blogs are no longer geared exclusively to the technological fringes. Instead, they have become common and popular. Of course, like any other sources of information, some blogs are more reliable and more accurate than others.

And just because something is written on a Web site does not make it more reliable than other more traditional sources of information. But when you need to find information quickly, don’t ignore blogs. They may have the answers you are looking
for.

Daniel J. Siegel, a member of the Editorial Board of The Philadelphia Lawyer, is a sole practitioner in the Philadelphia area and the president of Integrated Technology Services, LLC.