If you didn’t grow up hiking, you may have unappealing stereotypes associated to the activity. If you are one of those people (like I was), I encourage you to dip your toes into the water, and see if you can combat your own assumptions. Go on one hike and pay attention to how you feel afterward, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Continue Reading How Hiking Can Change Your Life For The Better

Hi, all. I’m a LexBlog summer intern. I am a senior studying psychology at Tulane University in New Orleans. Hope you enjoy my first post, and more gifs to come.

Is sentencing an individual to years in prison for harmless drug use warranted? In New Orleans, the answer is, unfortunately, yes. As an intern at Orleans Public Defense, I saw injustice in action as countless men and women were denied the right to a fair trial due to the color of their skin. 

Dubbed the “most incarcerated city”, New Orleans has made a habit of locking up people of color for even the most minor offenses. People of color make up a whopping 86 percent of the city’s court system despite only comprising 60 percent of the population. This discrepancy is largely due to officers’ tendency to arrest African-American individuals over other races. 

African-American men and women in New Orleans are already disenfranchised and over 85 percent cannot afford lawyers. Orleans Public Defenders are tasked with too many cases to provide each individual case with the attention it deserves. And as a result, these individuals are left to the legislative wolves.

In order for much-needed change to occur in the courts, the people of Louisiana must take action, and soon.

About two months ago, a story started circulating that caught my attention. Pipdig, a commercial theme shop with templates for WordPress and Blogger, was accused of including obfuscated (hidden) code inside their Pipdig Power Pack (P3) plugin. This plugin was installed alongside every theme bought by a customer, and so was presumably active on all sites using Pipdig’s products. The purpose of this code was to essentially enroll the unsuspecting customer in a botnet with the intention to DDoS Pipdig’s competitors.

That last sentence alone includes quite a lot of technical jargon, and I’d like to avoid that in this post. If you’re a person that enjoys such detailed information, feel free to check out the WordFence post on the matter (WordFence plug: WordFence is a WordPress security shop that sell a variety of security-based products and offer some services; if you’re in need of some experts on WordPress security, they’re the company you should look at).

Unfortunately, I think some of the problem with the discussion around Pipdig is that it’s been too technical. In fact, if you look at some of the tweets from Pipdig customers in the aftermath, you may notice a complete lack of concern and understanding: 

The issue here is that a software company used the ignorance and naiveté of its customers to inflict pain on its competition and that we (I use the term “we” here in the broadest sense of “we technical people on the web”) were unable to convey the scope of what Pipdig had done. These are hard conversations, no doubt, and ones that I’ve failed at many times. 

At LexBlog, we take a pretty hard-line stance against third-party WordPress plugins and themes, and more than once I’ve been in a position to discuss the security implications of installing software that you don’t (or can’t reasonably) trust. It’s a fine line to walk, because we use a number of “industry standard” WordPress plugins like Yoast SEO, Contact Form 7, Query Monitor, and probably a few dozen or so more. 

However, all of these plugins are installed on millions of sites, have an active community of users, known developers and companies behind them, and have had a spotlight on them for years. That is to say, yes, they expose us to risk, but given the benefits they provide to us and our customers, it’s an acceptable risk. We mitigate that risk through regular reviews and audits and a great technology partner in WP Engine that has their own firewalls and malware scans keeping us appraised of exploits, but it’s risk nonetheless. 

So why don’t we just let everything through the door? Because you’ll never know when a theme or plugin is hijacking your site to use it as a link farm. You never know when you’ll encounter your own “Dependence Day” (as our own Scott Fennell wrote on A List Apart a few years ago). You never know who or what you can trust. 

So what can you do as a site owner? As a publisher trying to make their way through your first steps on the web? 

In short, trust no one. Vet the partners you choose, from hosting to seemingly simple WordPress plugins or libraries of code. Be wary of things that are too good to be true and know that there is no free lunch to your choices. At some point, there will be a price to pay, you just have to make sure it’s one you can accept. 

Once you’ve seen what one billion looks like, every number under is just peanuts. I’ve worked with over $1 billion in the course of a week and held over $1 million in my hands. Both experiences were within a few months of each other and at two separate companies, but both are rare in and of themselves. I’ve thought long and hard about the meaning of those experiences, especially considering the realization that I would a LexBlogger for the foreseeable future. My unattainable goal at LexBlog is to find all the law blogs. That is a number much bigger and, at the same time, much smaller that you could imagine.

Out of the 1.3 million lawyers in the U.S. Illinois houses around 63,000, making up 4.79% of the total population. Considering over the last 10 years they have increased 3.53%, around 2,100 new attorneys, you would think that the number of blogs would be somehow proportionate. I mean, I found over 1000 websites, of which only around 500 had blogs. The sad truth, no one company, as far as I could find, has committed themselves to figuring out these statistics. I’m planning on changing that.

The number of attorneys in the world seems like a lot. I have searched through many law directories trying to find websites to match. That 1000, specifically 1019, was somewhat difficult to get. Law directories really like supporting the larger firms and often times will have the firm dozens of times in a search result. I should know, I had to delete all the duplicates websites. Though those websites accounted for 50-80% of the lawyers in Illinois, I know perfectly well that I’ve only scratched the tip of the iceberg for that one state. The number seems uncountable.

On the other hand, I know I’m looking for a needle in a stack of needles. Out of those 1019 websites, around 55% had blogs 410 of them had terrible blogs and 99 had a blog worthy of taking a second look. I personally emailed 22. Think about that for a second. I’ve seen over 1k Illinois lawyer websites and blogs and found only 22 that I would personally email. Sure, some of these I passed on for someone else to email or call, but I found only 2.2%. It shows how selective I am.

We recently launched the syndication portal through the Illinois State Bar called Illinois Lawyer Now. Within the first week we had quite a few blogging attorneys apply for membership. The most interesting outcome of last week for me, only 2 of those websites I had searched through a directory. It made me wonder “how did I miss these?”, “Where did I go wrong in my search?”. As a guy who prides himself on being able to find anything, how on earth did I not have these blogs on my radar?

There are a few simple answers. 1. They are buried within law directories behind paywalls. 2. SEO competition or Google Indexing has drowned them out against larger firms. 3. (my favorite) They don’t fall for the many pitfalls and bad rhetoric of many law directories. In any case, I missed the mark in some way for these 50ish websites. 50 is a big number when trying to find quality blogs. I was only able to find 22 out of the 1k.

The funny thing about numbers is how often they are used to amaze and wonder. I’ve looked at over 10k law websites and read several hundred blog posts. Yet, none of the numbers really matter this early in the process. What will be cool is in a year from now when LexBlog will be the only ones really looking at these numbers.   

People love donuts, especially LexBloggers. Many of our products or large bodies of work have a corresponding donut that acts as a code-name in product and internal meetings. While this began as a bit of a joke at first, it’s been a delightful way to keep the conversation playful and lower stress when working on some complex component or running up against the trough of sorrow.

That’s why when we decided to take the work we’d done on LexBlog.com and position it as a publishing solution for distributed organizations and entities, I tried to put my stamp on it with a donut name. My many attempts culminated in a best effort of donut hole, which is why I am not responsible for code-naming products at LexBlog. Fortunately, this was a product that needed no clever name or introduction. When the need for it is so compelling, who cares about what it’s called?  The product, ultimately coined Syndication Portals is unique in this space, but fills a void that is growing at the same rate as the internet itself. 

Continue Reading Creating A New Donut With the Illinois State Bar Association

It’s no secret – LexBlog loves Clio. You could probably tell back in October 2018 when we all posted glowing reviews of their Clio Cloud Conference. Or maybe when we enthusiastically retweet their accomplishments without much incentive other than the fact that we like supporting their efforts as a company. 

That’s why we’re excited to announce today that LexBlog is an official Clio integration partner

We teamed up with Clio to launch a workflow management integration between Clio Manage and LexBlog sites. Basically, LexBlog and Clio users will be able to create an automated connection between their LexBlog site contact form and their Clio Manage account. Users can turn inquiring leaders and subscribers from their blog into potential leads on Clio Manage – pretty nifty! 

It’s really wonderful to have our product featured on Clio’s App Directory, but I think we’re all most excited to partner with a company whose focus is transforming the practice of law, for good. 

Helping others learn how to navigate their careers as legal professionals is something we’re pretty passionate about here at LexBlog, and it’s great to know that our friends at Clio feel the same way. 

Here’s to transforming the practice of law, for good! 

If you want to learn more about the Clio-LexBlog Integration, check out our profile on the Clio App Directory.

You can also find our launch press release on LexBlog.com

The platitude is gratitude is all about attitude

I’m a big fan of reflection. It’s a way for me to either understand new situations or to feel gratitude. Let’s admit the platitude, gratitude is a good feeling to have. So, as I  come up on my 6 months with LexBlog, I thought it would be beneficial to reflect back on my time. Here are some quick facts:

  • Designed a membership tracking sheet
  • Emailed nearly 300 law bloggers, most of which are lawyers
  • Helped update our CRM
  • Helped transcribe a webcast
  • Help migrate blogs from one platform to another
  • Added, removed, and edited RSS feeds
  • Started a comprehensive search strategy for finding law blogs
  • Researched the qualities of good blogging and applied results to a white paper
  • Written 10 donuts posts, this one is #11
  • Hundreds of more smaller detailed tasks

When I started, there was a small dance in understanding between my supervisors here and myself. Most places do not hire someone with graduate education into an internship level position. On the flip side, we don’t usually go after low-level positions. There was an expectation of 3-6 months and I have been counting down the days. Now they have come-and-gone. Back then, I wasn’t looking for LexBlog for a paycheck or security, though both are nice. No, I wanted, and continue to want, to explore my skill-set.

It is nice to work at a company that firmly states, “I don’t care what you do. Whatever you do, do it well”. While I don’t commit myself to any project without checking up the ladder first, it is nice to be able to jump into tasks I enjoy without feeling over managed or set unreasonable expectations. I can continue to explore without fear. On the flip side, I make myself available. If someone expresses a need for help, I listen and brainstorm ways to help. Paying attention and active listening strategies make it easier to find projects to test my skills. I like the challenge and they like the help.

In my time at LexBlog, I have met exceedingly interesting persons. I think of the retired professor from Florida that has taught law for 30 years or the man from Belgium that has been blogging law for nearly 20. I have been introduced into a community of law news. I have also been shown how to find community and, more importantly, how to make one. I have joined social media and have begun blogging into my main interest base: Rhetoric and Tech Comm. While that community is primarily academics, I believe that practicing rhetors have a place in the world. We are definitely jack-of-all-trades types of people contributing almost anywhere. Walking into the room of the world has been scary, but I have assistance from my colleagues and supervisors.

So, if I have not done so, let me do so now. Thank you to all my co-workers that take time out of their day to show me something neat or to teach me something new. I hope that I have been able to do the same for all of you. If we don’t work directly with each other, know I see your work and think it’s great. Each person at LexBlog is someone special. Any company should be overjoyed to have any of you. Lucky enough for LexBlog, they have all of you.

Best,

CG


Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a writer, WWII pilot, and general designer-of-things.  Perhaps you’re familiar with his quote, “‘Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  I think about this quote a lot in my work, and it informs our product decisions at LexBlog.  In fact, I’d estimate that about 10% of my working time is spent removing things, and I enjoy this process.

An affinity for removing things is called minimalism, so therefore here at LexBlog we are minimalists.  If left to my own devices, I might even veer off into brutalism.

Like any modern technology company, much of our work is an exercise in managing third-party tooling.  Of course our primary platform is WordPress, and we also make judicious use of a handful of third-party plugins, such as WordPress SEO.  Being that WordPress powers one-third of all domains, it’s no surprise that LexBlog uses only a subset of its functionality.  I believe that if you don’t need to use it, then you don’t need to see it, so I go to great lengths to remove unused/unusable UI components.  Common examples are admin menu items, admin columns, and even the occasional pop-up or “badge”.

Even better than removing things is just not adding them in the first place.  Fortunately, the majority of our codebase is completely custom; we write and maintain most of the code we serve.  That means we frequently get to enjoy not adding things.  In our world, adding a single checkbox to a single widget is considered a grave step toward complexity.  It’s easier to add code than it is to remove it.  I recall reading recently on the jQuery blog that the future of jQuery is in removing code rather than adding it.  I feel similarly about our flagship products, and I like it.

We’re lucky to have a designer who makes his mark with subtle choices around white-space and typography, rather than vast header images.  It’s interesting to note how much of my CSS work is spent managing white-space.  It’s become something of a professional obsession for me.

I’m looking forward to the next few development cycles at LexBlog because it looks like we’ll be churning out some lovely bits of minimalism.  Our AMP offering is nearing completion (here’s a preview of our AMP look); AMP exemplifies minimalism if anything ever has.  We have some exciting changes on the horizon regarding our Typekit implementation which looks to be a beautiful exercise in deleting code. 

It’s fitting that when de Saint-Exupéry died in combat in 1944, he vanished without a trace — the ultimate french exit.   There’s probably no such thing as WordPress perfection, but if there is, I believe it’s attained when there are no more bloated plugins, no more unused widgets, and no more useless menu items to take away.

“What’s in a feed?

That which we call a feed

By any other name should work the same…but not always. “

While attempting to add a new blog to our network last week, I encountered an interesting issue. As part of LexBlog’s efforts to build and advance the world’s largest community of legal bloggers, publishing team member Chris Grim reached out to a law professor who blogs passionately about the intersection of culture, leadership, and innovation on his blog and is a vocal critic about outdated practices in contemporary education. 

The legal community needs critical, imaginative thinkers like this professor who are strategically planning the future of legal education and nurturing aspiring legal professionals. These are the people who LexBlog loves to support, see succeed, and highlight. I was thrilled when he accepted the invitation to syndicate his blog to LexBlog for free. 

One problem, though–his feed did not validate.

For the uninitiated, a little background: LexBlog can present on our platform the content of any blog as long as it has a valid RSS feed (LexBlog’s feed, as an example). RSS is simple internet technology that allows people to receive new content automatically and has transformed how people get their news and stay connected. Feedly is one example, and is easily the most recognizable RSS reader used today.

To make sure a feed is ‘valid,’ or that a blog’s content successfully appears and updates to LexBlog.com, we use this feed validator service. A feed might not validate for any number of reasons, including an incompatible CMS.

We ran the URL through the service and it did not validate. Upon further inspection of the feed, we found many URLs that did not belong there–several of them linking to an escort service. 

Yikes. 

The insidious URLs–likely placed there as a gross scheme to elevate those URLs’ search engine rankings–appeared in not only the blog’s feed, but also hid in all pages of the blog. It was unclear whether the blog was hacked or if the URLs came from a malicious plugin.

As people who understand the hard work and personal investment that goes into creating and maintaining a blog, it was incredibly upsetting for our team to see a fellow blogger’s work attacked in this way. A blog is an integral facet of one’s professional and personal identity and to alter another’s identity without consent is, simply put, disgusting.

We informed this blogger of the issue, he was able to clean up his feed manually, and his blog now has another avenue for discovery on LexBlog. More importantly, the integrity of a legal blogger’s work was saved. Moments when we can help bloggers, give advice, and protect their content fill me with pride. And even more exciting, this blogger has re-invigorated his blog in response to LexBlog’s invitation. 

Some takeaways from this story: Change your passwords regularly. Don’t neglect software updates. Make informed choices about which web software and plug-ins to use. LexBlog founder, Kevin O’Keefe made a great argument recently for WordPress as the best content management solution available.

LexBlog is here to support legal bloggers, whether using our platform or not, within our network or not. Even if this, or any other blogger, eventually decides he doesn’t want his feed in our network, we will still be here to help. 

The first half of my life was spent in rural Idaho. At one point, my family lived down the street from a slaughter-house and my father worked for one of the biggest farms in the state. I would sometimes go with him to work. I can still remember the smell of mint fields, the taste of a fresh picked onion on my tongue, and hear the sound of leaves rustling in an apple orchard. Back then,I was privileged enough to see the full production process in action. The lesson was always take the opportunity for the best action, not the simplest. Oddly enough, this goes against most forms of process theory, but that’s what this post is about.

Once, I was asked, “What do you think is the best low hanging fruit is?”. In other words, what fruit did I think was the easiest to pick with the smallest amount of effort. I thought long and hard about my answer. Most tree fruit requires ladders. Bushes can be prickly. Melons were heavy. I was stumped. The answer wasn’t some life lesson like, “the one you pick yourself” or some other greeting-card line. Nope, the answer was “potatoes”.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Potatoes are a root vegetable, not a fruit. They are even one of the few vegetables that require cooking before eating next to parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips. They are however coveted by nearly everyone. Who doesn’t love a good chip, french fry, au gratin, hash-browns, pancakes, mashed, stewed, baked, souped, salad, whatever. They are a staple. The answer was simple, “You can’t pick a bad potato and you can’t mess it up too much”.

At LexBlog, I’ve been attempting to map the process of our Membership Campaign. I’ve looked at how we pick potatoes, i.e. law sites, sort them, cook them, and eat them. Mostly, I’m the guy that gets all the potatoes and goes after the “small pah-tate-ughs”, (smaller firms, personal blogs, and independent). I personally email 10-20 law blogs on any given day. However, I can categorize and sort several hundred. I’m looking for very specific blogs, specific potatoes for the dish I plan on making.

These “small potatoes” reflect a major part of who I am, a person who is attempting to break into a community. I recently started my rhetoric/technical communication blog using LexBlog. It’s going great, but I understand how difficult it can be to try and make a name for yourself, especially working 50+ hours a week on various jobs and projects. These blogs represent my effort to give a chance to a lawyer/student/instructor that no other company would. So, if you get an email from me, know I’ve read your blog and I like it.

Answers to questions I constantly receive:

-Yes, free.

-No, I won’t push offers.

-You can quit whenever you want and I’ll remove your content personally.

-Yes, I’m a real human.

-Yes, I dislike cold-calling salesman. That’s why I’m not one.

-All I need is the form filled out. Nothing “tricky” or underhanded, we just understand what it’s like.

-I will take time to help you with your blog. Writing, filling out your company/profile page on LexBlog, really quite a bit.

For the blogs I don’t reach out, know that the process is finding a place for you. Some potatoes might have to be shaped a bit differently or cooked differently. The only law website I have yet to figure out are ones that have nothing to do with law. I know, it’s odd, but some directories will occasionally index a non-law site. These are the random rocks in the field. In any case, we’ll find the right potato for the right dish.

Yes, that is a picture of doughnuts made out of potatoes.