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.

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.

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.”

Tools is a blog series on various tools we use in the office to help us accomplish our task, whether it’s software or hardware.

This week we are featuring another tool that helps us open up multiple links without clicking on each link individually. Linkclump is a Google Chrome extension which lets users open, copy, or bookmark multiple links at the same time.

Why Linkclump?
Especially, after Open Multiple URLs (an extension that serves a similar purpose) was featured last week? The answer is that they address different scenarios where you may need to check a large number of links. Open Multiple URLs is great if your already have a list of URLs ready to be pasted into the extension’s textbox, but if the list of links is on a webpage (including Google Sheets) then Linkclump is more efficient as it will open up those links (in new tabs or new windows) simply by dragging a selection box around them.
hmm donuts

Additional Features
Besides opening up links, Linkclump can also also bookmark those links or copy them into clipboard. These features, along with other settings can be manage from its Options page.

So take your pick, see which one suits your need, or try them both. If you use another tool to open multiple URLs at the same time, please comment below and let us know.

When I moved to Seattle and began working at LexBlog as a full-time Account Manager in the summer of 2013, one of the first things I began doing was organizing my inbox in a way that would let me easily find a certain class of questions  and answers. This was primarily because at that time, LexBlog had no central repository of documentation for publishers using our platform. In this world, questions were a dime a dozen, but answers were in short supply or trapped in the brains of long-time LexBlog employees. Fortunately, the same or similar questions would come up time and time again, and each new question would get tagged and organized in a way that let me find it and other similar questions so that the next time it came up, the answer was just a few clicks away.

This might seem like a product piece for Gmail (it’s not, but Gmail sure is swell!), but far from it. This was an onerous, time-consuming process for all parties involved. On my end, my inbox was a mess, with emails from dozens of customers every day asking me how to do something when just the day before a colleague of theirs at the firm had asked the same question. Meanwhile, our customers were wondering how to do something and, finding no resources at their disposal, would email yours truly and wait patiently for a reply. When an employee at a firm would leave, someone new would take on the responsibility of managing the site and have to relearn everything on the fly.

We made it through those days through the power of fantastic employees who were truly dedicated to answering questions thoroughly and with a smile on their face. LexBlog is a company that prides itself on providing top-notch service and support, and it was (and still is) a necessity to be quick, nimble, and thoughtful, but things have gotten considerably better over the years. Those same great employees still exist, but our systems and knowledge management tools are considerably different.

Continue Reading A New Set of Tools for LexBlog’s Support Center

Kevin O’Keefe’s schedule over the past year has been filled with travel to such interesting locations. Speaking engagements, meetings, and conferences in London, Amsterdam and New Orleans etc.

As a lover of travel I must say I was a little jealous when an instant message from Kevin popped up telling me he was enjoying the pub culture in London and in particular the beer.

Kevin’s visit to Amsterdam was of particular interest to me as it is absolutely one of my favorite places in the world.

Upon his return from far flung locales Kevin will often stop by my office to chat about his latest trip. I’m always curious to know if he had a chance to go to this or that museum etc.

What he invariably talks about is the people he has met and how they inspire him.

This week through a FaceBook live interview that Bob Ambrogi and Kevin did with Kate Fazio, I too was inspired. She is a woman who has transitioned from the corporate world to further the mission of Justice Connect, an NGO that provides legal assistance to people and other NGO’s. She was inspired by how the use of technology could efficiently provide help to more people and also help people to help themselves.

I was inspired by how Ms. Fazio was using technology but more than that, I was inspired by the mission of Justice Connect. As someone who spent many years working for what was predominantly a criminal defense law firm I know that there is a justice gap.

Take the case of David Milgaard who spent 23 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. I was so proud of the lawyers I worked with who spent untold hours/years to get justice for David. I still remember the happy day it was announced that he would be released.

Sadly the case of David Milgaard is not an isolated one. Organizations throughout the world are working to close the justice gap and young women like Kate Fazio are out there making a difference.

Thanks to Bob and Kevin for interviewing Kate Fazio. She inspires me. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

I was reminded of a meeting yesterday with my COO, Garry Vander Voort, while watching the College Football National Championship game last night.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban changed quarterbacks at halftime of the National Championship Game.

Alabama couldn’t get anything going in its runing game in the first half. Trailing Georgia 13-0, Saban went into the locker room, huddled his quarterbacks together and said we’re going with Tua in the second half – and may rotate back in our starter. Nothing more.

Changing quarterbacks is not unusual in its own right, but Tua Tagovailoa was a 18 year old freshman who hadn’t played a meaningful down in college football. The starting quarterback had won 25 of 27 games he started. Now Tua’s going to replace him to lead Alabama, the pregame favorite, back to win a championship.

Why the change? A quick gut feel by Saban that Alabama needed to pass in order to win. Their power running game was being shut down by Georgia and Tua was a better passer. Simple as that.

Tua threw two touchdown passes, including a walkoff bomb to another freshman in overtime to win the National Championship. A play after he got sacked for 16 yards,  a play so dumb Saban said afterwards Tua wouldn’t have been capable of throwing the game winner had he been able to get to him.

A ten minute gut decision by Saban won Alabama the game. Saban’s sixth national championship, tying him with legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most championships in college football history.

Yesterday afternoon, Garry and I were talking about LexBlog’s evolution to a publisher. By curating the contributions of legal bloggers worldwide, LexBlog would become the world’s largest source of legal news and information. Bob Ambrogi inspired both of us, big time.

Historically,  LexBlog only curated LexBlog client blog publications — blogs running on our WordPress managed platform. Recently we’ve had talk of including non-LexBlog platform blogs at a cost of $50 per month. Turns out many legal bloggers were paying far for syndication and this was considered a steal by folks contacting us.

But as Garry and I talked, such payments ran into credibility problems. Largest legal news source, but only from contributors who paid?

Also had problems with growing fast. Getting people to take money out of their pocket and to put it in yours is not always easy. We’d never get all the good law bloggers and it would take a lot of time and human resources to get those we did get.

It complicated things too. LexBlog does a lot of free work for non-profits, law schools, and legal tech organizations. We would want all of their blogs, whether on our platform or not, to be included at no cost. Boy, was that going to get gray as to who’s free and who’s not. Who gets billed and who doesn’t is a mess for accounting.

I also saw more revenue opportunities by being inclusive and much bigger, faster. More relationships. More sales of existing products,. Sales of new products and solutions.

Why get bogged down on a smaller revenue items when not charging frees up time to get after large revenue.

In less than five minutes, Garry and I went with our gut. Every legal blogger (real bloggers) will be curated at LexBlog at no cost. Credibility, simplicity, growth and a big goal on the horizon – world’s largest legal news and information site by curating the contributions of legal professionals world-wide. Totally in line with Ambrogi’s thinking.

Neither Garry or I are Nick Saban. But if a guy who’s won as many titles as anyone can go with his gut on a national stage, why not us?

Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the net neutrality regulations created during the Obama administration. These regulations were put in place primarily to stop internet service providers (ISPs) from engaging in discriminatory practices against online services/companies (a common example is Comcast manipulating the availability of Netflix – slowing it down – for its customers until Netflix paid the ISP for better speeds). They also had the delightful side-effect of ensuring that the United States would not see the cable-TVization of the internet, similar to what you see in countries like Portugal who have no net neutrality rules:

This move from treating the internet like a utility (like water or power) that all American citizens can access without the typical market concerns, to a commodity is concerning for consumers and businesses alike. When the vote was finalized a few weeks ago, one of LexBlog’s internal Slack channels came alive as we tried to parse through what this could mean for publishers and small businesses.

Continue Reading What Does Net Neutrality Mean for Digital Publications?