As Bob Ambrogi shared this morning, the LexBlog news network is now open to all legitimate law blogs (with a working RSS feed) – in the United States and worldwide.

Starting Friday evening I began emailing law firm marketing leaders attending the Annual Legal Marketing Association Conference in New Orleans whose large firms blogged, but not on the LexBlog platform. By last night I reached thirty-plus firms.

My purpose in emailing was to let them know LexBlog was open to their blogs, to introduce them to Bob, who is spearheading things as our editor in chief, and to offer to meet with them in New Orleans to answer questions and introduce them to Bob.

The response from these folks via email and text has been very favorable. Bob, David and I will be In discussions with quite a few starting tonight and continuing into Tuesday and Wednesday.

Our “opening” of the LexBlog news network is line with our January discussion/LexBlog team meeting where we communicated our goal to become the world’s largest and most comprehensive legal news and information network by curating the valuable insight and commentary of bloggers world-wide.

As Bob explained when he joined LexBlog, the most vibrant legal commentary today was coming from bloggers. LexBlog, having brought blogging en masse to the law beginning fifteen years ago, and with undying passion for blogging and the law should and will lead in taking legal blogging to the next level.

The next level means, among other things:

  • Framing and building a community of citizen journalists and commentators on the law
  • Open and free access to legal news, insight and commentary
  • Email and RSS subscriptions by blog, area of law and search
  • Free visibility of legal commentary published on law blogs – on the LexBlog network, third party sites, email newsletter/subscriptions and social media
  • Feeds of legal blog posts into legal research services, including FastCase
  • Forthcoming profiles of bloggers and organizations and their contributions
  • Forthcoming use of AI to identify relevant content for users

Just. because a blog or law firm joins LexBlog does not mean they become a customer or licensee of our digital design and publishing platform. We’ll certainly talk with new contributors about our platform, but the use is not free – except for law schools and certain non-profits.

For our valuable customers, which have taken us to this level, opening LexBlog makes being a LexBlog customer more valuable. Beyond design, a highly performing publishing platform, strategy, SEO and support, our customers will see an increase in visibility and influence as their contributions are discovered and seen.

LexBlog, as a news network, is still in its early days. Our tech and product teams are working hard on changes to the interface to make LexBlog more of a publication, an aggregation engine for customer blogs, an RSS syndication tool for a more effective means of aggregating non-customer blogs and more.

As a success team member, you may receive questions from clients. Share what you know and call on Garry and Isabelle for questions. Same goes for Bob, David and I. Communication, communication and communication.

As with all climbs and jumps when aspiring to do more to serve others, there will probably be a few speed bumps. Know that you are making a tremendous contribution to the law, the profession and to the people our profession serves. Thanks.

OK, now that we’ve completed the Support Center redesign, it’s time for some fun. (Look, a blog named “Donuts” can’t be too serious all the time.)

I spend a lot of time thinking about how users work with our products. Sure, I know the layout and organization of our software, but some of our users don’t. When writing support articles or revising the microcopy in our user interface (UI), I put myself in the mindset of users who don’t spend as much time in the software as we LexBloggers do.

But I recently applied that thinking to another kind of user: the rogues and scoundrels who show up to my occasional game nights.

 

Different game, same rules

Every month or so I throw a game night (house favorites: Jackbox Party Pack and Cards Against Humanity) or bad movie night (past screenings: The Room and Miami Connection).

Sure, I know the layout and organization of my apartment, but some guests don’t. When people come over, I try to set things up to make the evening enjoyable and relaxing. Recently, this involves labeling the unique aspects of my home that a visitor wouldn’t understand without an explanation.

Many of the concepts that go into creating a good web UI can also apply to creating a seamless game night. Here are some of the UI rules that I’ve applied to my apartment:

 

Anticipate user needs

When showing up at the front door, some people will (politely) knock and then wait for an inebriated guest inside to yell, “It’s open!” With a note on the door (“Come In”), visitors can skip the unnecessary wait and walk right in.

 

Explain stuff new users won’t understand

Fitting with Seattle’s mandatory Socialist, Communist, Anarchist-vegan values, household waste gets sorted into recycling, compost, and landfill. My identical landfill and recycling bins sit side-by-side, so guests would often ask which is which. With a simple label placed on each bin, they know where to chuck the empty bottles of organic locally crafted gluten-free IPAs.

Confession: I stole an idea from an ex. The (L)andfill bin sits on the left. (R)ecycling is on the right.

 

Don’t make users search for stuff

“Where are the glasses?”

“Where are the plates?”

“Where are the titanium sporks?”

This grew out of a problem I faced when standing in other people’s kitchens: I don’t know where the hell anything is. And I don’t like rummaging through other people’s cabinets while they’re still in the house. So I often have to ask where every utensil or dish lives.

At my game nights, everything you need for enjoying tasty snacks sits out on the counters.

Pro tip: coffee mugs make great drink containers because they’re harder to spill than wine or pint glasses.

 

Put tools where people need them

If organic locally crafted gluten-free IPAs go in the fridge, bottle openers should be really close to that fridge.

 

Be lazy

OK, being lazy isn’t a rule for crafting user interfaces. But it gets to an idea that’s lost on many organizations: If you manually answer the same question over and over and over again, you’re doing something wrong.

Take this common game night scenario: at some point one or more guests will ask for the WiFi credentials. So I would have to walk over to the router and read off the key. Sometimes this would happen more than once a night.

The solution: notes with the WiFi information sitting on the game table.

 

Less thinking, more playing

OK, yes, some of these ideas are silly. But I’m a nerd who overthinks how people interact with stuff. And in the AirBnB age, labeling your home for guests does make some sense.

On game night, hopefully my guests spend less time figuring out how my apartment works, and more time eating tasty snacks, playing games, or sharing the best music videos.

Like web UIs, the goal here is the same. Less thinking, more playing.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, LexBlog used Get Satisfaction to manage our knowledge base and community portal (then named “Reach”). The implementation was clunky, requiring users to create dual user profiles on their sites and inside this other application. Moreover, there were no ties between the content in the knowledge base and the people that were helping clients find answers to questions, so there was little incentive as an employee to know or contribute to the content.

As I’ve mentioned in my past few posts, a huge reason LexBlog moved to using Zendesk’s suite of products was the consolidation of systems and processes. Instead of having three products from different companies that don’t talk to each other to manage one thing (support and project management) we now have a variety of integrated tools. A benefit to being in the Zendesk ecosystem is that these tools are fairly technically advanced, allowing us to tie a WordPress user to a Zendesk profile and supporting single sign-on into LexBlog’s support center where you can see all of your submitted tickets and interactions with our team since we’ve been using Zendesk’s ticketing system. For our support team this also means that all of the content from support center is at their fingertips each time they answer a question from a customer, and a new question can easily turn into a support center article.

While this has significantly streamlined our support processes from the Get Satisfaction days to today, we took things a step further when redesigning the support center. While the content has been available to anyone with a link to the support center for several years now, we had not allowed search engines to index anything. As a part of continuing to open LexBlog’s doors to all legal bloggers, we thought it was about time to take that step so that now anyone can search for the content on the web and find their way to the LexBlog support center. Community posts, profiles, and other private information will remain that way, but all articles written by LexBlog will be indexed by search engines from here on out.

A lot of the content now is there to aid in making our customers successful in using our software, but as we expand that content to include more information on blogging and social media, others that are starting up a legal blog may find it a useful resource. A key challenge for LexBlog (one among many!) is helping to raise the level of discourse on the web for lawyers and law firms – regardless of whether or not you publish with LexBlog – and this is one small step of many in doing just that.

Maintaining a network of over 1,000 blogs can sometimes feel a bit like digital farming. Much of my time is spent identifying bugs to squash in various repositories, managing projects along to completion, and reviewing platform statistics in preparation for the next round of customer interviews (the “weeding”, “shepherding”, and “flock tending” of product management). Every so often, however, harvest comes and there is some revelry in the launch of a major update.

Yesterday was one such day as the new design of LexBlog’s support center was launched early in the morning; the culmination of several weeks of work between Ted Cox, Brian Biddle, and myself. The old design (pictured below) was a fast bit of work, with the primary focus on moving a rather large body of content from Get Satisfaction to Zendesk’s Guide product without losing anything in that migration.

 

 

 

While the move was a positive one, and the updated design better than the one implemented in Get Satisfaction’s ecosystem, there was still a lot of room for improvement. As with any design, the longer it was up, the more obvious it became that something was off. The three “call to action” boxes seen in the image above, seemed arbitrarily placed, the search form’s placement moved around depending on what page template you were on, if you scrolled lower you saw a list of categories without any explanation of what the contents of those categories were; the list of UX and UI flaws goes on and on.

With Ted moving from his role as a Technical Support Specialist to LexBlog’s full time Technical Writer, the time seemed ripe for a major overhaul of not just the design, but the organization and focus of the support center. Ted spent days reorganizing content, and more time reviewing everything to make sure that things were as up to date as could be expected, all while adding a series of documents on new (and old) LexBlog platform features. While that happened, Brian worked on building out a design that was both more in line with LexBlog’s design standards, and focused on the paths that a customer may take as they looked for content.

The result was a fully responsive (the last version had a mobile version) work of art that everyone at the company is (more) proud to stand behind.

 

 

There’s greater consistency throughout the design, and the list of popular articles at the top of the homepage is managed by Ted and reflects the most viewed pieces of documentation within the support center. The interior pages are where I think the design really shines, with each article containing clear navigation to other articles in the same section of documentation, making it easy to follow from article to article and find what you need:

 

 

Overall a pretty fun project to work on, and a good crop to harvest.

The other day, when coming up with ideas for a new blog, a client asked about another blog, which unfortunately no longer exists. I quickly suggested they use the site WayBack Machine, an online archive which allows access to archived digital content.

If you want to see what the New York Times or ESPN homepage looked like 10-15 years ago, go check it out on Wayback. ESPN has been archived over 37,000 and the NYtimes over 170,000. Like Newseum, you can spend hours getting lost in the content.

ESPN.com in November, 2000

Which brings us to the history of LexBlog.com, which has been revamped countless times. Our support team spent  25 minutes last week going through the years, as all of us made sure to notice a young Jared on the homepage in 2013.

THE original LexBlog.com, 2004

By going through separate pages, I was able to read about past new features, past employees, and see pictures of old offices. And of course, give a hard time about past marketing slogans like “Do you like us, Do you really like us?”

At one time we even offered a 10% “LexPremium” discount. Nowadays, we (employees and family) tend to joke around about Lex-phrase/object/thing… LexSkiing, LexBrewing, LexBall. You name it, we’ve probably said it. Of course, all in good nature.

By the time, we finished reviewing past LexBlog sites, it made us think, there is a reason none of those pages exist anymore. They sure didn’t help our clients, they may have made a few folks feel special by having their own profile on LexBlog.com, or may have helped us when reviewing features. But I know our ultimate goal is to help “make legal news, information and analysis more easily and intuitively accessible to legal professionals and the public,” which we are now one step closer to doing with LexBlog.com.

I’ve been a big proponent of Zendesk after using their product(s) for several years at LexBlog. Like all businesses, LexBlog has gone through a variety of systems and processes cycles, and how we manage inbound requests is no exception. As I mentioned in my last post, a huge push over the last several years has been the shift from the cycle of inbox to development/design requests back to inbox to a more distributed approach through the use of Zendesk’s ticketing system. Not only was the old approach to communication causing headaches for all project members (have you ever played the telephone game?), it created silos where only a single account/project manager could manage the projects they were responsible for. If for some reason, that person was sick for a week, their projects may go untended or be utterly confusing for someone to step in and address.

Something that we’ve worked hard to do in recent years is choose software that we can easily work with outside of the box. It’s rare that we find something that fits what we need without customization, and having the ability to extend the core product is vital.

In that regard, I can’t say enough good things about working with Zendesk. The content in our contextual support bubble is dynamically populated if opened on a page where there is support documentation that may be helpful – this is powered by the Web Widget API. The support center in each site’s administrative area is powered by the Core API. And much of my work over the last several weeks has been with Zendesk’s Help Center templates, which are a mixture of HTML, CSS, JS, and Handlebars.

I also had the chance to extend LexBlog’s visual regression testing application to be more of a dashboard application for managing all things related to LexBlog’s systems by working with the Help Center API to provide Ted Cox, our technical writer, with the tools needed to better manage the content inside our support center through a variety of API calls and new React components (as a brief aside, if you have a React application and ever need to take the results of an API call and jam them into a CSV, I love this package).

Overall, a lot of good things to say about Zendesk, and probably even more as we’re starting to wrap up our work on redesigning LexBlog’s support center!

Yesterday Michigan State University College of Law hosted “Building a Better Lawyer: Design Thinking, Training, and Study.” It was a workshop put on by MSU Law professor Dan Linna and his Legal RnD team, and co-led by Margaret Hagan, the founder of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford Law School. Margaret and Dan are two of the top figures within legal tech innovation, and they spent hours leading large and small group discussions about facilitating innovation, and how to build better lawyers. Lansing, Michigan is 2,289 miles away from Seattle but, thanks to Stephen Embry’s phenomenal post about the workshop, I, too, was able to learn from Margaret and Dan’s expertise.

The Oxford Dictionary defines citizen journalism quite simply as “The collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by means of the internet.” I prefer NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s take on the definition:

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

The internet is an indelible part of our lives today and, though that may at times be problematic, it has also thrown open the doors and allowed us to access information at an unprecedented rate. Through blogging and social media anyone with an internet connection can become a journalist; sometimes it’s silly, like the people on Instagram who report on their meals by sharing pictures of their food, other times it’s tragically important, like the interviews that student journalist David Hogg conducted with his classmates during the Parkland shooting.

LexBlog has always run on citizen journalism, and it’s become even more important as we’ve opened our own doors and begun pushing towards our goal of becoming the world’s largest legal news network. We want to hear from you, because your voice matters. We want to read about your thoughts on proposed legislation changes, workshops or learning events you’ve attended, and anything and everything in between (okay, we don’t really need to hear about what you ate for lunch). As Jared Sulzdorf, our Director of Project Development, pointed out at our all-hands meeting, “The law is all about opinions, and writing helps you shape your opinions.”

Accessibility, also known as “a11y”, refers to how well a website functions for people with disabilities. Common examples of disabilities in this space include visual conditions like color-blindness, vestibular conditions like animation nausea, and motor disabilities such as cerebral palsy, which happens to be the focus of this article.

The Feature

I am tasked with creating a “jump menu” for navigating tag archives.  Something like this:

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

There is no submit button.  By merely selecting a menu item, the page navigates to that particular tag archive.  The premise of this UI is that, by not having to click a “submit” button, we save the user time and decision-making, hopefully improving the experience.

The Problem

This all works well enough, assuming you’re using a mouse.  But what happens if you’re using a keyboard?  Continue Reading How We do Accessibility: A Case Study

As a Business Development Manager at LexBlog, I’m regularly talking with new and existing customers. One topic that has come up twice in the last week was about GDPR and what LexBlog is doing as we approach the May 25th, 2018 deadline when GDPR will go into effect.

We live in a world where everything revolves around data. From visiting websites, using an app or going shopping, our personal data is being collected. This is why GDPR was created.

GDPR stands for the General Data Protection Regulation. This regulation is intended to give individuals more control over their data within the European Union (EU). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU.

Under the terms of GDPR, organizations have to ensure that personal data is gathered legally and under strict conditions. Those who also collect and manage the data will also have to protect it from misuse and exploitation or face penalties for not doing so.

If your organization operates in the EU or offers goods and services to customers or businesses in the EU then GDPR applies to you.

What we are doing at LexBlog

LexBlog is working with our counsel on compliance with the GDPR, and our email service provider for the blogs, MailChimp, is as well.

As far as cookies go, we provide a cookie disclaimer as a feature option on Apple Fritter. Please feel free to take a look at huntonimmigrationlawblog.com for an example of our cookie disclaimers.

We can’t provide legal advice for GDPR and compliance as this also depends on our customers’ use of the platform and subscriber data. However, we can outline how the email system currently works so you can determine with your attorneys if you would like to make any changes to the blog emails:

  1. A user enters their email address in a subscribe form on the sidebar of your blog. Disclaimer text may be added below the subscribe form.
  2. The user is sent an email asking to click a link to confirm their subscription to your blog. The text in this email can be changed upon request.
  3. When a user clicks the confirmation link, they are added to your subscriber list, taken to a thank you page, and sent a welcome email. The text in this email can be changed upon request.
  4. In each email notification they are sent, they can click a link to Unsubscribe to stop receiving emails or Update their subscription by changing their email address.
  5. A user may also unsubscribe by contacting you, LexBlog or MailChimp. They will receive a confirmation email of their unsubscription. They won’t be sent any email unless they subscribe again, but a record of their subscription will remain in the database.
  6. A user or your firm may contact LexBlog or MailChimp to be deleted from the subscriber list, in which case they won’t receive any more emails, and they will be removed from the database.

If you have any questions feel free to reach out to our support team at success@lexblog.com

When people ask me what they should do to get started on blogging, I rarely talk technology or even blogging. While those are important elements of blogging, they are next steps. Things you do after you decide you want to blog and have found your tribe and your voice.

Ask yourself this, when you decide you want to start blogging. Who am I blogging for? If your answer is everyone, you are not going to be happy. Nor is anything you are about to read going to help you.

When you are right you are looking for an audience. I want you to go online and find a person that embodies that audience for you. This should be a person, not a brand or a company. At the end of this little exercise, you should have just one name.

Now go online and learn more about that person. Look for the following things:

  • Are they reachable online?
  • Do they write online?
  • Do they use social media?
  • Do they follow other people?

If the answer to the majority of the above questions is NO. Forget that person for now and find another person until the majority of these criteria are going to be met.

This person should be your goal.

You will follow them, connect with them and ultimately get them to follow you. If you fail on that front, don’t worry, what you pick up in the meantime in terms of knowledge and other people to connect with, will make it worthwhile.

So what do you need to get started.

  • The person from above
  • An email account
  • An RSS reader like Feedly
  • A Twitter account
  • A Facebook account
  • A LinkedIn account

Check out where this person writes. Do they have a newsletter you can subscribe to? If so, sign up. If they have RSS on their blog, subscribe to it.

Now head over to social media and follow them on Twitter first. It is the easiest entry point. Do not fill your Twitter account with noise. Try and make it a useful tool. Not a reflection of who you are, but who you would like to become.

After you have checked Twitter, visit Facebook. Some people use their Facebook accounts more casually than others. See what they have publicly available. If it is not much, odds are they are using it for just family and friends. If that is the case, move on for now. You can always revisit them later and reconnect.

Facebook is a powerful tool. People use it differently than both Twitter and LinkedIn, but people are also a lot fussier about their Facebook accounts. So be thoughtful. Don’t rush to friend somewhere there unless they are appear to be very open with their friending policy.

With LinkedIn, connect with them, but make sure you tell them why. You are not using a shotgun approach here. Be thoughtful in a note with your connection request.

Alright now comes the fun part. Start to learn from what you just did. Read their work. See who they share with. Are those also people you would be interested in following? If so, repeat the above process.

Now start liking and sharing their work. Where possible make thoughtful comments.

After establishing a rapport with a person, they will most likely follow you back. If not keep at it and keep looking for people who meet the same criteria of the first person you followed and repeat the process. Eventually your tribe will begin to grow.

Congratulations! Without even typing a single post, you have taken your first step towards ensuring that when you do start blogging, you will reach the people that matter to you.

But before you do that, you should probably consider finding your voice. I will write about that in my next post.