Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Birthday To Us!

It sure doesn't feel like a year since we started blogging. (On some Saturday mornings, struggling to write a new post, it feels like it's been a decade.)

Actually, we're not sure if it has been a year. We posted our "Disclaimer" on October 28, 2006, published our first post on November 15, and learned of the existence of Google Analytics (and thus began to monitor traffic) on December 3. But we're declaring today, October 30, to be our anniversary.

(On the other hand, we won't be rigid about this. We'll accept all birthday presents that arrive any time between late October and early December.)

Our one-year anniversary seems like an appropriate time for reflection (quite a change of pace for this blog) and pontification (to which you've now become accustomed; indeed, perhaps numbed).

First, the technology:

We run this site on "Blogger." The price is right -- it's free. We track visitors on "Google Analytics." It's also free. And we collect pdfs to which we link in our posts on "FileDen." FileDen, you'll be startled to hear, is free. The only cost involved in this endeavor is the sweat and tears the two of us shed trying to generate interesting content.

Those free services do have some limitations, but we weren't sure how long we'd keep this up, and we weren't interested in investing serious dough in an experiment that might fail. (We're told that one limitation of the free services is Blogger's "Next Blog" icon. Since so many blogs contain pornography, apparently there's a fair chance that, if you click on the "Next Blog" icon, you'll stumble onto something salacious. We've never bothered with that icon, and we figured that our readers are intelligent enough to understand that we're responsible only for this blog; some other clown writes the next one. (We do, however, now have an image in our mind of our visitors -- half saying, "Egad! Porn? Blech!" and the other half madly searching for the "Next Blog" icon.))

Second, the numbers:

We had about 50 pageviews on an average weekday last December. Adam Smith, Esq., then wished us a happy zero birthday on his widely read blog, sending a few more visitors our way. Howard Bashman, over at How Appealing, reads Adam Smith, Esq., so he took a look -- and promptly ridiculed our "Disclaimer." He was right, of course: The disclaimer's an outrage.

But, more importantly, so many people read How Appealing that quite a few of them looked to see what Howard thought was so funny, and a bunch of those folks became regular visitors to our site. Thank you, Howard! We'll do our best to say something worth ridiculing again soon.

As of today, we're gratified -- heck, we're dumbstruck! -- by the traffic to our little experiment. In our first year on the web, we've drawn nearly 60,000 pageviews, with readers from 98 countries, including every continent except Antarctica. Also, although we've seen traffic from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa, no one seems to visit us from sub-Saharan Africa. (Hey! United Nations! Let's get some computers down there. We want to feel loved!) And traffic is growing exponentially over time. In the last 30 days, we've received over 11,000 pageviews to this site. (After today's post, we'll be lucky to hang on to a fraction of that.) According to Justia Blawg Search, we're the most widely read product liability blog of "all time." And Technorati ranks us near the top one-tenth of one percent of blogs of all kinds (which includes sports, politics, porn, and everything else; there's some tough competition there). Maybe these stats aren't the greatest (some of you've told us that) -- but, we gotta believe we've done something right.

So, thank you. You're the reason we do this, and we appreciate your readership.

Finally, our three thoughts:

Thought number one: Blogging is hard. Hard. The law is a jealous mistress. So is blogging. Combine the two and blogging about the law is a downright ... well, you get our drift.

As in: We've each written books, and law review articles, and supreme court briefs. This is harder. Much, much harder.

To attract and maintain a readership, we must regularly post fresh content about interesting issues, written in a readable style. "Regularly" is the bear. When we started this venture, we figured that we each had a bunch of things we wanted to say in print and hadn't yet gotten around to. So we thought we'd start blogging. About six weeks (and 18 or 20 posts) later, we'd about used up all of that. Yet we have to continue to come up with new content several times each week. It ain't easy.

Especially if you're going to say "interesting" things in a "readable" style. "Interesting" really demands our personal attention. Face it, lawyers are a lot of things, but "interesting" ain't what usually comes to mind. So we can't ask a bunch of young lawyers to ghostwrite for us because, frankly, it generally takes an experienced eye to identify issues worth discussing -- especially in an area so esoteric as drug and medical device product liability litigation. And we do our best not merely to report -- "A case came down. The case held 'X.' Therefore, a case came down." -- but rather to analyze. That's not always easy. Finally, a "readable" style again means that it has to be one of us who's doing the writing. For us, that means that random pinch-hitters won't do.

Here's just one example. Although we write about legal issues here, we often try not to write like lawyers. We use contractions. We use the first person. We're self-deprecating. "Self-deprecating" is a particular risk in the legal game we play. We have referred to ourselves, for example, as "Beck and Herrmann, the blogging Luddites." We figure you'll understand. You read what we write. You come back for more. We assume you think we're reasonably concerned and intelligent fellows (if a bit fascist on the issues we discuss), and you won't hold our sense of humor (such as it is) against us.

Most lawyers are not that way. Law firm brochures usually talk about "numerous," "complex," and "multijurisdictional." Rarely do you hear that, "We couldn't spell 'FDA' if you spotted us two letters."

So we're condemned to writing this blog ourselves. We don't get much help.

Thought number two: We're unusual in that this blog is not affiliated with a law firm. Thus, although Bexis works at Dechert and Herrmann toils at Jones Day, this is neither the Dechert nor Jones Day blog. There are good reasons for that. If we write enough words, we'll surely say something that could come back to haunt one of our colleagues or clients; better to blame us, not the institutions. In fact, we sign all posts "Beck/Herrmann" in part to conceal who's to blame for any particular rant that may come back to haunt us. (And, of course, that's one reason for our outrageous "Disclaimer.")

In a sense, however, that lack of affiliation is foolish. If one reason for blogging is to raise a firm's profile in a particular field, then the firm should stake a claim to the product. But that's really not one of our reasons....

Using this blog for law firm promotion would be really tricky when it's co-hosted by head-to-head competitors, as our two firms are. (In fact, the two of us personally have, in the past, been head-to-head competitors. In the Bone Screw wars, Herrmann's client settled; Bexis' client objected to the settlement. We spent several months beating each other about the head and shoulders with baseball bats. We're over it now.)

But we're happy with this unaffiliated (and seemingly competitive) arrangement. We're pretty good about sharing with each other opportunities that the blog creates. And our law firms appear to be happy with our efforts. (It's either "happy" or "blissfully ignorant." Either one will do.) Perhaps other bloggers will learn from our experience and make better choices in the future.

Finally, the spoils:

If you're a cost-benefit kind of person, here's the calculus: This is hard, relentless work. But it offers both personal satisfaction and real benefits. One of the benefits is that blogging is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Suppose you know a little about drug and device product liability law. You set up the "Drug and Device Law Blog." Lo and behold, people start sending you e-mails containing unpublished decisions, creative ideas, heads ups, reprints of law review articles, links to interesting websites, and everything else having to do with drug and device law. Eventually, you'll come to know a great deal about drug and device law. By creating an on-line megaphone, people perceive you as being at the center of your little universe. Over time, in an odd way, you do indeed gradually move toward the center of that universe.

Another benefit of blogging is that it dramatically raises your personal profile in the world. The two of us have never been press hounds. The press, however, searches on-line to find experts willing to comment on legal topics. If you're on-line, you get found. We've been interviewed this year, as a result of having blogged, by the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, National Public Radio, Bloomberg TV, American Lawyer, and others. We've had offers to publish -- either on-line or back in the paper world -- at least a half dozen of our posts. Blogging is an awfully tough route to achieve this relatively minor celebrity status, but, if that turns you on, go for it.

We're impressed by the blogosphere. Smart people say very intelligent things on-line very quickly after news breaks and judicial decisions are handed down. The web is intensely self-correcting; if people make mistakes, many others quickly identify the errors. And there's a weird sense of community with many people whom you've never met, but who you come to respect over time for their thoughts and style.

So, thank you for your support. We'll keep plugging along. And, if we manage to keep up our energy, you'll be reading about our second anniversary in October 2008.

Have a piece of cake on us.

No comments: