SC Lawyer, July 2005, #2. Do you blog?.

AuthorBy Sarah Kellogg

South Carolina Lawyer


SC Lawyer, July 2005, #2.

Do you blog?

South Carolina LawyerJuly 2005Do you blog?By Sarah KelloggDo you blog?

If you're like most people, you don't post Web logs (blogs, for short) to the Internet. Though you might have heard of them, you'd be hard pressed to define the word unless, perhaps, you've seen or read one.

Like many of the advances associated with the World Wide Web, blogs are at once new and old, strange and familiar. They're everywhere in virtual reality. Blogs are just hard to differentiate from their well known but more static Web site cousins.

Check out movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and you're reading a blog. Peek at the Drudge Report, and you're reading a blog. Noodle around on Andrew Sullivan, and you're reading a blog.

With an estimated 10 million blogs and counting, it's almost impossible to run a Google search without tripping over one. And though they have a reputation for being controversial, even subversive, they're fast becoming the format of choice for delivering the very latest opinion and news, an Internet equivalent of the town crier.

More importantly, some suggest, these Web journals or diaries are turning into a respected marketing tool for businesses and individuals looking to make a name for themselves on and off the Internet.

Enter the lawyers.

The legal technorati weren't there at the dawn of the blogosphere, but by 2000 a handful of U.S. law professionals had joined diehard cybergeeks in discovering the sheer simplicity and power of Web logs.

Denise Howell, who coined the term "blawg" and is considered one of the Internet's blog pioneers, says the nascent days of legal Web logs were marked by a frontier spirit that was equal parts anticipation and exhilaration.

"You could tell early on that Web logs would be very appealing to lawyers because we're uniquely suited to doing this," says Howell, a lawyer with Reed Smith's appellate and intellectual property practices in Los Angeles and the publisher of the popular Bag and Baggage. "Lawyers are trained to write . . . and research. The writing they generate tends to have some credibility behind it. That is the crux of Web logging right there."

Thousands of attorneys, judges, law professors, law librarians and law students have discovered the promise of blogs, filling cyberspace with such aptly named Web logs as CrimLaw, Fourth Amendment and May It Please the Court.

Experts say that attorneys will find more than companionship in the blogosphere, noting that blogs can boost legal practices, assist in legal research and turn every attorney into an instant cyberexpert in his or her practice area.

"Blogs allow for easy access to information and make it easier for lawyers with similar practice interests to get in contact with each other," says Stephanie Tai, an appellate environmental litigator for the federal government and cocreator of the Blawg Review, which tracks articles and commentaries in law review journals. "I think it helps overcome a lot of the hierarchy present in the profession as well. Because of my blog, I've been able to correspond with various law professors who I don't think I would've come into contact with otherwise."

Yet cyberspace and blogging hold their own pitfalls for legal professionals. That's because, though posting one's opinions to the World Wide Web can be heady stuff, mistakes made as the world watches can be far-reaching and difficult to erase. And the ethics rules governing lawyers are far more stringent than those (practically none) governing bloggers who write about politics, the environment or chess.

Still, legal professionals of every kind, not just technolawyers, say the risks are worth the rewards. Blogs provide an opportunity to break free of the traditions and limits of the legal profession, enhancing the practice of law in the digital age.

A blog by any other name

Though starting a blog does require some technology, time and thought, if you've got an opinion, then you've got the heart of it. And having multiple opinions makes for a more interesting blog.

In the most basic technical sense, a blog is a simple Web page that anyone - even one without programming skills - can publish using a number of inexpensive software programs.

Born in the mid-1990s as digital journals or diaries, blogs were the original soapbox on the Web, a place to air criticisms and complaints or find like-minded individuals. That they were started by a ragtag bunch of techno-nonconformists is not surprising. After all, the Web was in its fledgling years, and the idea of posting what amounted to a stream-of-consciousness rant or rave was pretty revolutionary.

As the technology took hold, popular blogs soon earned a reputation as provocative or funny journals about pop culture, politics and technology. It was clear to early constituents that the medium had the power to create cyberspace communities as distinct as towns, cities and states.

Compared to a Web site, a blog remains a cheaper and more fluid vehicle for communicating on the Web. By forgoing the bells and whistles its Web site kin features - databases that allow for extensive searching, for instance - the blog can be a quicker and easier content management tool. A blog can be updated a dozen times a day, if necessary. Even the hippest Web sites are considered stodgy by bloggers; they say Web sites lack the freewheeling enterprise of blogs, which can spark a worldwide debate in a flash.

Don't confuse blogs with e-mail, though. Unlike e-mail missives, blogs archive disparate thoughts and ideas of their authors and fans. Every posting can be chronicled for posterity, allowing for a depth of discussion difficult to maintain with the more ephemeral e-mail.

Experts say it was the confluence of current events and technology that guaranteed the blog's superstar status in cyberspace. Blogs became a way for regular citizens to find unfiltered news or express their views after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And thanks to a technology called Web feeds, blogging has become even more attractive, as home computers are transformed into information hubs with dispatches alerting computer users that favorite blogs have been updated.

These Web feeds are known as RSS - Really Simple Syndication - and are interpreted by news readers, software programs that track updates to blogs, Web sites and news channels. First introduced by Netscape as a way to personalize home pages with favorite sites, the news reader has become an essential element of blogging.

With technology simplifying the process, there is no end in sight to the number of blogs that could populate the Internet, observers say. A survey released in January by the Pew Internet & American Life Project estimated that about 32 million people have seen a blog - up 58 percent from 10 months earlier. Fifty-seven percent of blogs have been created by men, the Pew survey found. Forty-eight percent of blog creators are younger than 30, and 82 percent have used the Internet for six years or more.

Perseus Development Corporation, a Massachusetts company tracking blogosphere trends, estimated that there were 10 million blogs on the Internet by the end of 2004.

If the past is any guide, part of that growth in 2005 will come from the legal profession. In the last year alone, observers believe the number of lawyer blogs has doubled, if not tripled, and the future holds even more promise.

Blogs and law

Washington attorney Carolyn Elefant hadn't planned on breaking new ground on the Internet, but she has, becoming one of the nation's foremost legal bloggers. Elefant describes the blogosphere as "collegial," a place where lawyer bloggers can share their thinking about a wide variety of topics in a relaxed atmosphere. One might think of it as a cyber - coffee shop across the street from the county...

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