It has recently come to my attention that law bloggers can be a somewhat cautious lot. Though perhaps cautious isn’t the right word…measured, maybe? If you read through any of the blog posts on LexBlog’s front page it’s clear that a tremendous amount of thought and consideration has gone into the writing, on everything from Idaho’s marijuana laws to ICO breach notifications.

But it seems as though, at times, that careful consideration results in a delay in the publication of posts on topical news. We rarely see breaking news posts on LexBlog, which is why our editorial team waives the 200 word preferential limit for Featured Posts if said post is covering breaking news. That’s your LexBlog Insider Tip of the Day: if you want your post featured on the front page, shared across our social media platforms, and in the running for our weekly Top 10 in Law Blogs, write about something in the news today.

Take, for instance, all the recent news on Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, including the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent announcement that both Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will publicly testify on Monday about the alleged assault. It’s a hot-button topic, rife with political and social controversy but, if you’re hesitant to make your own writing political, there are a number of other angles that could be taken when writing on this news. You could, for instance, blog about the Anita Hill hearings, when Hill accused Justice Clarence Thomas, then-President George H.W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, of sexual harassment. You could also blog about the potential outcomes of the Monday testimony, or perhaps there was a similarly controversial nomination within your district court. Heck, you could even write about the concept of Supreme Court nominations overall, and simply use Judge Kavanaugh as a means of contextualizing your blog post.

Breaking/current news posts needn’t be long, drawn-out treatises, nor do they need to force you to air your own opinions (if you are hesitant to do so). Instead, think of them as an opportunity to add your voice to a current conversation, and to help shape the discourse of a moment in history.

An odd duo, aren’t they? The football quarterback turned activist, who was recently the face of Nike’s ultra-viral ad campaign, and the world’s most famous painting. But the Mona Lisa wasn’t always regarded that way…

In August of 1911 three men from Italy snuck into the Louvre, and stole Leonardo da Vinci’s smallest masterpiece, which, at the time, was not even the most well-known painting in the museum – in fact, rumor has it that it took Louvre staff 28 hours to realize the painting was missing. What ensued was a viral event the likes of which modern marketing departments could only dream of – the Mona Lisa was splashed across the front page of every national newspaper, police questioned everyone from JP Morgan to Pablo Picasso, and, as tensions between France and Germany escalated before World War I, there were even rumors that Kaiser Wilhelm was to blame. Eventually the police found and returned Mona Lisa to her rightful place, but she would never again be anything less than the most famous painting in the world.

Before cell phones, before the internet, the Mona Lisa went viral, much as Nike and Colin Kaepernick did earlier this week.

One of the (many) benefits of working in WeWork is that they will often host lunch and learn events, put on by other members. Today, Brian Hallett, a Professor at IE University, gave a presentation on “When Brands Go Viral.” We covered a lot during the presentation, from finding the balance between surprise and familiarity, to discussing the role of gatekeepers aka peoples, influencers, companies, etc. that can either promote or suppress the spread of information from one network to the other.

What stood out the most to me was an exercise he had us do early on. I’d encourage you to give it a try yourself!

First, go to the social media page that you use most often. From there, look at the most recent thing that you have shared, and answer the following questions:

  1. Who did it come from? Did you see it outside of your network, or within your network?
  2. Did you share it with your own network or with another network?
  3. What does it say about you?

In my case, I had most recently shared an article from Bleacher Report about a former MLB catcher who recently retired to work with the National Eating Disorder Association. It came from a writer I follow, so it was seen within my network, and I then shared it in my own network. It says a few things about me: that I value the contributions of athletes off the field, that I care (or want people to see that I care) about mental illness and raising awareness of eating disorders, etc. The author is also someone I admire, but who doesn’t follow me back, so it was interesting to reflect on how my sharing of his piece was done, in part, to draw his attention.

Now, I’m no Caroline Metsker (LexBlog’s Marketing Lead), but as our Social Media and Editorial Coordinator I’m rather involved in the world of digital marketing. I certainly learned a lot from Brian’s presentation, and there are a few things I’ll be looking to implement with our social media strategy, but I’m not so sure that viral marketing should be our goal.

LexBlog forges new paths in the legal tech industry, so why should our marketing be the same as any other company? Often, viral marketing campaigns can feel forced – they’re designed to generate buzz for the company, to prey on the consumers’ emotions and appeal to what makes them feel good. Meanwhile, LexBlog is about building relationships and building trust – in our bloggers, in our platform, in us – and any marketing we do should be focused on developing those elements. The access we offer to the thoughts and opinions of some of the brightest legal minds in the world is unparalleled: reading LexBlog can be life-changing; writing for us can be, too.

If a LexBlog post goes viral, that’s great! Not because of all the clicks, or likes, or retweets we would get, but because that would mean that we’ve facilitated greater access to the incredible base of legal knowledge and news that our network provides.

We’ve relaunched LexBlog.com!

These are words that I’ve (and others) have said at LexBlog probably a hair over a half-dozen times in the past two years; a point that Conner alluded to when he took a look at the history of LexBlog’s many and various websites. This time, however, things feel very different. After an eight month battle with Co-Authors Plus, the WordPress REST API, caching, and a few handfuls of our own plugins the new LexBlog.com was soft-launched in August (just before my wedding!).

If you look back on some of my recent posts here (We’re Redoing LexBlog.com…… Again. and How We’re QA’ing The New Aggregation Engine of LexBlog.com) and some of Kevin and Bob’s older posts (What if LexBlog were a publication? and As We Open Our Network, Should We Reject Some Blogs?) you’ll see that this latest version was a long time in the works both technically and philosophically.

On the technical side, we had to battle (and continue to wrangle with) keeping posts and authors in synch on LexBlog.com with their original counterparts using the WordPress REST API to communicate between sites. When you’re talking about over 1000 sites, nearly 400,000 posts, and just under 20,000 authors/co-authors this is no easy task.

Philosophically, we’ve had to prepare for the shift in what LexBlog.com means to the company and the larger legal publishing community. For years, LexBlog has focused on publishing platform technology to help lawyers get online and engage in the larger discussion online. We believe, and continue to believe, that the fastest way to join this conversation is to listen, share, and add your two cents.

Blogs are our chosen vehicle for helping our clients do that. However, it’s not easy to start blogging when your digital network is one – just you. LexBlog.com is many things to many people inside and outside of LexBlog, but for me it’s a place to see the vibrant digital publishing community in the legal industry. Hopefully, it’s a spot for other authors and legal professionals to find that for themselves. Somewhere to maybe see a similar publication to the one you have, find an author that you enjoy, or follow along with an emerging topic in your industry.

There are hundreds of publications focusing on a plethora of topics, and as LexBlog grows, so will these topics and contributing publications and so will the site itself. What we currently have is a foundation to finally launch all of the things we’ve wanted for so long:

  • Enhanced search functionality
  • Better subscription options for email and RSS
  • Social integrations for sharing content and interacting with publishers
  • and the list goes on

I’ve worked full-time at LexBlog for nearly 6 years and watched as the digital hosting, development, and content production sphere have evolved and seen us adapt alongside these many changes. In that time, this version of LexBlog.com is the one that kept me moving forward toward a larger vision of how digital publishing fits into the legal industry of today and its future.

Here’s to that future 🙂

Last week all LexBloggers received a mysterious Google Calendar invite titled, simply “Blogging Hour.” In the detail of the event, our COO Garry wrote that “Blogging is key to LexBlog. It is often difficult to find the time to write or talk with people about blogging. So I am setting aside this hour every week to blog and I invite everyone to join me.”

Five days later and I’m sitting in a conference room in the WeWork Holyoke penthouse*, typing at a table just a little more elevated than I’d like, surrounded by my blogging co-workers, real and remote. What a novel concept, a company that practices what it preaches!

So much of good blogging is about consistency – it’s one of the things we always encourage from new bloggers on the network – and it’s especially key if you’re hoping to build up a following for your blog. People have to trust that you won’t just leave them hanging after a post or two. But blogging consistency is also about you, the blogger. Much like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the next thing you know you’ve got a blogging habit.**

This Blogging Hour will help us hone our blogging habits, but it also allows us to prioritize writing and contemplation in a way that, let’s be honest, doesn’t always happen in a typical workday. It’s a structured hour, in that we’re here to blog, but we can blog about anything, from Member’s Only jackets to Gonzaga basketball. The freedom is almost overwhelming – which is, perhaps, why I’m here blogging about blogging – but I can already feel my Inner Editor retreating to the foreground. There’s a certain mental exhalation that occurs when you banish that Inner Editor. You’re not worried about typos, or grammatical errors, or the dreaded passive voice, you’re simply writing for the sake of writing. Blogging isn’t about perfection, it’s about opening up a discussion, prompting a conversation, sometimes it can simply be a tool to help you work through your thoughts on a matter.

In college I’d often write drafts of my papers by hand, then type them up later on. My thoughts flowed more easily, I scribbled more freely, and it let me avoid the many procrastination temptations that lurked on my laptop. Nowadays I only pick up a pen to attempt the daily NYT crossword – perhaps in our next blogging hour I’ll bring a pen and some paper. There’s a modern day tree-falling-in-the-forest conundrum for you: if you write a blog post by hand, does it still count as blogging?

*not a penthouse, just at the top of the building and high enough that I had to catch my breath before commencing the blogging

**this is a good thing, despite what your significant other may insist

I have worked at a lot of companies where the frequency of team members reviews are measured in months. While this might be convenient for team leaders, it is not frequent enough to give valuable feedback for team members who NEED guidance on what they should or want to be doing.

Several years ago, multiple companies sprung up with solutions for dealing with the dreaded review. Some of my favorites use technology and combine it with the more frequent 1:1 meetings that occur weekly at companies. This approach shortens the feedback loop and allows for corrective measures and positive feedback to happen more frequently.

This is exactly the approach we have taken at LexBlog.

Every week, everyone is asked to go to an internal form and answer 5 short questions. These questions deal with:

  • What a person hopes to accomplish
  • What they actually accomplished
  • What impediments they might face
  • What changes they might want to see in the organization
  • Who on the team has helped them most

The results of this form are available to the team member, so that they can track their progress over time, as well as the person to whom they report. So now in any 1:1 meeting they have instant discussion points and a log of those discussions.

This has been a great tool at LexBlog and is simple to implement. You can use something as simple as a Word Doc or go our route and implement the solution using Google Forms.

I suggest you meet with your team to establish the questions you might find valuable, but that you keep the number at 5 or below. The idea is to be frequent, fast and provide the most amount of value to the people who help drive your company without adding an onerous amount of work to their day.

One measurement of how well we’re helping customers answer their questions is tracking our self-service score. It’s a simple ratio of users in our Support Center versus the number of users in support tickets. For example, a self-service score of 3:1 means that for every three people engaging with our documentation, one opens a support ticket.

This score becomes important as LexBlog opens more parts of our platform to more of our customers. We’re giving users more control over settings such as their sidebar widgets and design colors. We’re also rolling out a self-service website model where users can create, design, and launch their own sites.

As people use these new tools, however, they’re going to have questions. And research shows that most customers would rather find answers to their questions before contacting support channels. For example, American Express reports that “48% of customers prefer to speak with a customer service rep when dealing with complex issues, but only 16% prefer the same contact for simple issues.”

Ideally, as we grow, the number of users finding help through our documentation will increase faster than the number of users submitting support requests. Ideally.

 

Our self-service score over time

Chart showing LexBlog's self-service rate increasing over time.
This chart shows LexBlog’s self-service rate from June 2016 to July 2018. The dark blue line shows the rate for each month. The light blue line is the trendline.

 

The chart above tracks our self-service rate starting in July 2016. That’s when we finalized the transition from the old documentation platform, Reach, to Zendesk’s Guide software. The good news is our self-service rate is increasing over time.

 

How do we boost the self-service rate?

To be clear: self-service isn’t about discouraging customers from contacting us when they do have trouble. Sometimes when things go wrong you just need to hear a human voice. Our support team is dang good at answering questions and putting out fires.

For me, increasing our self-service score means fewer people get to the point where they can’t figure out something.

And while the increase in LexBlog’s self-service rate is good news, I think it can get better. Here are some ways I want to help our customers through better documentation:

  • Continue monitoring search query results reports to see what our users are searching for.
  • Deleting content that users don’t read. Unread articles clutter up search results and make it harder for customers to find what they really need.
  • Create a smoother onboarding process for new users. This includes guides written for brand-new bloggers.
  • Analyzing the path of users through help content. This will tell us where they’re getting stuck.
  • Let the robots help. We just implemented Answer Bot, an AI tool that suggests help articles when customers reach out to our support team.
  • Getting direct feedback from customers. Future projects may involve getting our customers to provide ideas for our support docs. In fact, if you have any feedback — good, bad, or ugly — on our Support Center, please leave a comment on this post!

As some may know, LexBlog is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, but we have a number of intrepid team members who work remotely (thanks to Scott’s recent move, though, we’re all at least in the contiguous United States now). Twice a year we sound the LexBeacon (picture a conch shell, with the LexBlog “L” ornately carved into it), and gather everyone at LexBlog HQ for a week of in-person meetings, conversations, and, yes, a little bit of fun.

Since this is our employee blog, I thought it’d be interesting to share some of our scheduled sessions and activities for the week…and also, maybe, possibly, this will encourage other LexBloggers to write about it, too. Perhaps they’ll come up with a catchier name than LexWeek?

We kick off the week today with a lunch and learn, which I imagine will also serve as Caroline’s introduction to the team. Caroline Metsker is our new Marketing Lead, and I’m certain you’ll be hearing more from her soon. Welcome, Caroline!

The week also features a number of breakout sessions, on topics such as Google AMP, supporting the success team, and the value of technical writing. I and, hopefully, others will share what we learn from these sessions here as the week progresses.

We’ll also be doing some less work-related activities, like cheering on the Mariners at Safeco Field on Wednesday afternoon (except Garry, Giants fan that he is), and running the draft for the LexBlog fantasy football league. Perhaps this will be the year someone finally unseats Scott?

Happy LexWeek!

I joined LexBlog in January with the goal of helping it launch a global news and commentary network based on content from legal blogs. In furtherance of that goal, we announced in April that we are opening participation in the network to all legal blogs, without cost and without regard to whether the blog is a LexBlog customer.

Since then, I’ve been wrestling with a thorny question: Are there legal blogs that we should exclude from the network and, if so, what standards should guide us in deciding which to exclude?

There are two sides to this issue.

On one hand, I am a First Amendment purist. I believe that lawyers who blog should have complete editorial freedom and discretion to write about whatever they want. To be clear: LexBlog exerts no editorial control over the content of the posts you read on LexBlog — they are solely the product of the lawyers and firms that publish them. 

On the other hand, we are creating an editorial product that we hope will provide value to readers. To accomplish that, we aspire to adhere to editorial standards befitting our readership. While we would never be involved in the content of specific posts, we can exercise discretion in the selection of blogs that participate in our network. 

To my mind, providing editorial content of value means, among other things, excluding blogs that are primarily spam. Of the blogs that have applied to join our network so far, we have rejected at least two because they struck us as overt spam with no editorial value.

You’ve all seen these kinds of lawyer blogs. They are loaded with SEO keywords about accidents and victims, followed by a call to action to hire an “experienced (fill-in-the-blank) lawyer.”

But I am also noticing a grey area of blogs that walk a fine line between marketing spam and legitimate content.

Editorially, legal blogs are two-headed creatures. They are valuable vehicles for publishing legitimate news and commentary. But they are also, in most cases, marketing tools designed to increase exposure and draw in business.

Whether explicitly or not, almost every blog post written by a lawyer is meant to send the message, “Hire me!” Relatively few legal blog posts cross the line into pure spam, but the majority of them are marketing, even if subliminal.

Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote of obscenity, “I know it when I see it.” As someone who has spent most of my career in publishing and journalism, I can say the same about spam.

But, in fairness to those who submit their blogs to us, can we define an explicit standard to guide our acceptance or rejection? Where do we draw that line?

I asked the editors of the ABA Journal whether they apply any criteria to screen the blogs they include in their Blawg Directory, which lists more than 4,500 law blogs. Sarah Mui, assistant managing editor (Web), said that they do not apply quality criteria. She primarily checks that it is, in fact, a law blog, and that it is active.

The closest they have to “quality” criteria, Mui said, are those that they apply when accepting nominations to their annual Blawg 100:

  • We’re primarily interested in blogs in which the author is recognizable as someone working in a legal field or studying law in the vast majority of his or her posts.
  • The blog should offer insights into the practice of law and be of interest to legal professionals or law students.
  • The majority of the blog’s content should be unique to the blog and not cross-posted or cut and pasted from other publications.
  • We are not interested in blogs that more or less exist to promote the author’s products and services.

That last bullet begs the very question I’m wrestling with. In the end, perhaps the only workable standard is no standard, but rather to rely on the “I know it when I see it” exercise of editorial judgment and discretion.

I would love to hear from you. Should there be an explicit standard for accepting or rejecting law blogs as part of our network? If so, what should it be? When does a blog cross the line from editorial legitimacy to objectionable spam?

In another era, I would be an Excel jockey; instead, my true love is Google Sheets.

As Scott Fennell and I have continued to hammer away at working on the new LexBlog.com, my eyes have gone red staring at more spreadsheets in Google Sheets than I’d care to admit. I’m using these spreadsheets for two reasons:

  • Validate that the shape of the data on our test aggregation site (i.e., the future LexBlog.com) matches the shape of the data on each test source site (i.e., all of the client sites that we manage)
  • Derive some understanding of the organization of things on the current LexBlog.com

The reason I’m using Google Sheets for all this is simple: It’s fast, easy, and requires very little from me to maintain the approach.

Continue Reading How We’re QA’ing The New Aggregation Engine of LexBlog.com

Happy national donuts day! On a day dedicated to donuts, it seems fitting to write my first post in a blog about donuts. To stick with the donut theme, I’ll be dedicating this post to a favorite GIF emoji on the LexBlog team: Donut Parrot.

The Donut Parrot!

When we have a moment to take a break from our ticket queues, many of us at LexBlog like to virtually congregate in our team chat feeds to share jokes, interesting articles, solve problems and of course – send lots of emojis! Since we’ve added Slack as our team chat app, we’ve accumulated a sizable collection of GIF based custom slack emojis. As a company of donut enthusiasts, the donut parrot is one our most frequented emoji choices. Along with donut parrot, a few other parrot emojis have been pretty popular on our slack channels as well.

 

 Meet fiesta parrot.

 

And my favorite, coffee parrot!

 

Apparently we’re not the only ones who appreciate parrot based GIF emojis. Brittany Levine Beckman shared a story in Mashable about how the Cult of the Party Parrot GIFs have taken the internet and tech company Slack channels by storm.

There’s something hypnotizing about the quirky emoji that’s gotten humans to spread his gospel far and wide. He can be found on Slack, Reddit, t-shirts, in programming terminals, in an Android mobile game, and iMessage (there’s an app). You can even turn all the images you see online into party parrots with a Chrome extension – although it’s not a good look.

 

As silly as it may seem to write a post about GIFs and emojis, it’s undeniable that sharing a good GIF can add some humor to someones day and lighten the mood. I’ve definitely appreciated seeing the latest additions to the LexBlog GIF collection. In the spirt of Donut Parrot, have a happy Friday and donut day. Go treat yourself to a good maple bar, or a funny new GIF!