Many thanks to Michael of Law Actually for his coverage of the blog/blawg, it’s lovely to very nice to get a mention, Law Actually is one of the blogs I regularly read and follow with great interest. Law Actually, as a matter of fact was the point at which it occurred to me that I could blawg about this university thing. I’d actually not noticed just how much the blog was trending into the tech world until he pointed it out. This has deviated from the high brow, dusty black letter aspirations that I had originally held for it and bears considering. In a hobby project you get to play to your interests and, hey, I’m interested.
In a nod to the next generation (I’m almost up to my third year now) I’d like to add some tips for new students who see this. I get a lot of search hits from people looking at attending law school and deeply suggest that people should start their own blog, with some caveats, because it’s a great way to put your experience out there.
1) Decide if you want to write anonymously or use your name.
I did to keep my baby steps from being intimately connected to my offline, aspiring to get paid as a lawyer, persona. I suspect you could work out who I am reasonably easily but hopefully prospective employers casually doing a google won’t come across my laughably wide-eyed and naive opinions. If not you need to remember to keep your posts employer-safe and to take it pretty seriously, you might never have your masterpiece on “top 10 jokes to play on the falling down drunk” post come back to bite you but the chance is there and I would suggest keeping it away from your equally masterpiece work on “the concept of occupier liability in virtual worlds” in case it affects you further down the line. By no means think you can’t write the first if you want to but I don’t think you should connect it to identity that you hope to have appear before a judge, in the good way.
2) How much of an online presence do you want to have?
This boils down to:
Do you need a website?
Generally no- all you need is a way to put your words online. A blog works for that with aplomb. You can get a free blog with wordpress.com among many others. A website has potential more functionality than a blog on its own but most people would be very surprised at the functionality of blog software and hosts. You don’t need a website just to host files – wordpress.com gives you 2GB of storage for free which lets you handle media of all kinds, 2GB’s enough to provide a fairly decent archive of podcasts, all attached to quick connections and lots of bandwidth.
Choose a good blog host
Blogging is a great way to publish your words, I’m just about old enough to remember when “publishing your words” amounted to plain, hand written HTML files in your 50MB of ISP hosted storage for most people and modern blogging is so much better. You have three main choices – a social networking site (Facebook etc) blog, a dedicated “blawg” or to post about legal topics on a blog you already write. All options work. I happen to go for the dedicated blawg and it’s the route that most other legal bloggers seem to take. It’s possible to move to another host after you’ve started but it’s fairly heavy work to move everything over.
To Tweet or not to Tweet
Twitter is extremely useful to consider because, frankly, Tweets are wonderfully quick to write in a way that a five hundred word blog post is not. I personally have a sporadic presence on Twitter which finds bursts of updates when I rememeber about it. I am ashamed to point out a distinct causual link between the breaking of my easy-tweet panel applet and a dry spell in my posting. It’s not for everyone and if you don’t like it you can stop using it. It is for many people and there’s a lot of good material put on Twitter. I’m unsure I like the ephemeral nature of it though.
3) How much time do you want to spend on it?
Producing good writing is hard work (and tiring, just ask any student why they can’t get up in the morning!) and regularly publishing them takes a considerable amount of time. You can shortcut that by writing less often or, in a manner of speaking, writing less. You can do what I can’t, which is write fewer words, or you can do what I can do, which is research less. I can not do research with the best of them. You probably won’t see a footnote on this entire site. That couldn’t be more different for other people, particularly on practioner blawgs, for example on firm websites, where the blogger is actually reporting on novel legal research. It’s a (non-peer reviewed, mind) journal article you can get to with google. I have found these useful to give me an overview in a particular question of law. You don’t have to write that sort of blog but if you do put your name to it it would be wonderful to be able to show that you can.
I have let the blog lapse a little, it’s true, but I still check it often and try to update it when I get a minute. It’s hard to fit it in and you always have to remember that, unless, your blog by some miracle is generating a great deal of money for you, it’s not a job and real life committments should come before getting a new post out. Twitter is a good option for people who just want to publish their thoughts and opinions and not spend a lot of time on it but it’s equally not for everyone.
4) The tech bit: How should you write your blog
This is actually not as straight forward as it used to be. Previously if you wanted to type an online journal your only avenue was a desktop computer, without it you weren’t going to get much online. Now your options are considerably more varied so much so that the the previously cutting edge al fresco laptop blogger is in danger of becoming passe. I’ve not read that anyone is blogging from a mobile yet (and don’t really fancy it on my bog standard phone keypad) but I imagine it must be getting done – lawyers and the Blackberry are pretty inextricable these days. I have a reasonably ardous bus commute as part of my day and if I had a way to type on the bus I suspect I could get a fair bit done and the smartphone might be a reasonable way to do it. Currently I use the time for reading but typing might be a good way to pass that time too. Beyond that, it’s a typing task like anything else you do. You find a way to type that you can stand and you do it that way. I use a manual typewriter because of the lovely noise. It’s really not much cop on the bus but it’s a nice addition to my desk at home.
I can’t recommend blogging your law school experience enough, if nothing else it’ll be an interesting record to look back over when you finish your career. I think legal blogging fulfills two crucial roles in today’s world – legal reporting and advertising. I think that having sane, reasoned and knowlege legal comment is crucial. Ben Goldacre recently made a wonderful analogy comparing reporting science with reporting snooker. He pointed out that economics and finance get pretty full fat coverage with shedloads of figures and theories being bandied about and you still need 4 years of university education in that too. If you can watch full fat reporting of a complicated game like snooker you can handle full fat reporting on the way the very world works. It’s like that in law too, it needs a lifetime to master but affects everyone and it’s rarely objectively reported. It’s too often you hear unattributed anecdotes about the broken nature of the law without a voice in the wilderness pointing out the reasoning behind it.
The other one is to educate law students – I relied on family members in the profession, who had been qualified for some time, for my introduction to what will happen at law school and things change in that time so I was playing by ear for a lot of what was happening. I only came across a blawg, and only after my first year was already over, by a chance google result. Other people have searched for information online before even applying and this shows slightly more research than I did and fair play to them that’s a good move. Legal bloggers can and do help these people by having a decent coverage of the mystical place for them when they search.
Additionally I’ve got my original aim of going over things I’ve read for the benefit of refreshing it in your mind, that still works although I’ve not been doing much of it on the blog. Any benefit which might improve your ability to analyse and remember law is to be pounced on posthaste.