Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
September/October 2003, by Delia Venables

Blogging for Lawyers
by Jeremy Phillips and Ilanah Simon

Lawyers in the USA have been using weblogs (usually shortened to "blogs") for the past two years or so as a convenient way of posting instant information and current comments on the internet without the need for any great level of expertise in the use of internet software. The weblog may not be more than a reverse chronological list of articles, although more sophisticated versions feature artwork, internal search facilities and the opportunity for blog visitors to post comments of their own.

Blogging software is not only easy enough for lawyers to use, it is also cheap and simple to download. The software allows for instant posting without the need to go through any formal editorial procedures. Proprietary blogging software packages include Radio Userland (radio.userland.com) and Blogger (www.blogger.com). Once the software is up and running a good blogger need expend only a few minutes in posting fresh information or comments on a daily basis, though seeking fresh material for the blog may be time-consuming. We would advise any potential blogger to make inquiries before opting for a blogging package, since the level of customer support is variable (though assistance can often be obtained from other bloggers using the same software).

Although blogging is only in its infancy, some law blogs (sometimes rather unattractively called "blawgs") have been highly successful. For example Ernie the Attorney, the blog of attorney Ernest Svenson (radio.weblogs.com/0104634) has attracted in excess of 186,000 hits in the past two years, a far higher figure than many law firms are likely to achieve with formal websites.

In comparison with the United States, legal blogging in Europe has been very slow to develop. Indeed, our own informal discussions with British lawyers, both in practice and in academe, have revealed that the vast majority of practitioners in the UK are unfamiliar with the concept of the blog. This unfamiliarity is found even among many of those lawyers who practise within the fields of information technology law and intellectual property law.

From the user's point of view, a number of issues must be addressed. By far the most important of these is the reliability of the information posted on the blog, although this can be as much of a problem with conventional sources of legal information. Fortunately the availability of hyperlinks serves not only to connect the user to other materials but also to let him evaluate for himself the quality of the sources used in each blogged article. Thus one can easily verify information linked directly to the European Court of Justice website or to the text of a domestic case or statute. Other sources are less reliable, for example items drawn from newspapers. The reliability of bloggers' personal comments cannot so easily be put to the test, but repeated visits to a blog will enable the visitor to form an opinion as to the extent to which the blogger is well-informed or merely self-opinionated.

From the blogger's point of view there are also issues to be addressed. A blog may need a disclaimer if it purports to give legal advice rather than merely provide news or comment. Hypertexting usually removes the necessity to copy and paste copyright-protected text, although any use of a trade mark on a blog, being of an editorial nature, is unlikely to cause consumer confusion or dilute a cited trade mark’s reputation and thus is unlikely to constitute trade mark infringement. The risk of inadvertent defamation however remains a constant worry.

Properly used, a law blog may provide a golden opportunity for lawyers, particularly those with small practices and little scope for promotion, to reach out to potential clients, as well as a convenient medium whereby practitioners and others involved in law may publicise their opinions and contrast them with those of their colleagues. If however blogs are perceived as being unreliable, poorly-written and self-seeking, their current popularity may be no more than a false dawn, shedding more hope than light and simply clogging up the internet with a large volume of unnecessary and unattractive publicly accessible data.

Partly as an experiment but mostly to establish a useful service for IP lawyers in the UK and Europe, we set up a blog towards the end of June 2003. This blog, the Ipkat Intellectual Property Weblog (www.ipkat.com), is designed to convey news and comments on recent intellectual property law developments in a clear, informed and (where appropriate) humorous manner. Our experiences to date have been positive: initially, Ipkat was receiving around 13 to 14 hits a day but now it receives up to 150 hits per day and, around a fortnight after it first appeared on the internet, Ipkat is now being picked up by search engines (Google, Yahoo! and Web Crawler have performed well; Alta Vista less so). Users' comments have been warmly encouraging, although it remains to be seen whether the good intentions of Ipkat's founders can be converted into a blog of consistently good standard.

To the best of our knowledge, Ipkat is the first intellectual property law blog anywhere in Europe. We would very much like to hear from any other IP bloggers, both to learn from their experiences and to share ours with them.

Jeremy Phillips is a visiting academic at various institutions and intellectual property consultant with Slaughter and May.
Email jjip@btinternet.com.
Ilanah Simon is a Doctoral Associate at the Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute.
Email i.r.simon@qmul.ac.uk.
The authors, respectively editor and deputy editor of the European Trade Mark Reports, are case law database consultants to MARQUES, the organisation of European trade mark owners.

And for a more sceptical point of view, see the article by Irish lawyer and blogger, Seán Mac Cann called "Real Lawyers Don't Blog".

Note from Delia: See also my new web page Legal Blogs with UK and Irish Content.

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