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Offline lawyers finish last

Put the 'I' in your legal writing, start up a blog and get moving on the information superhighway before the American lawyers steal all the thunder.It has swept throug

Put the 'I' in your legal writing, start up a blog and get moving on the information superhighway before the American lawyers steal all the thunder.

It has swept through consumer communities to news channels and even to the corporate sphere. Cautious at first, lawyers are now finally giving it a go, and exposing themselves to legal and non-legal communities alike.

Giving blogging a go, that is, and in all its many forms - from posts about a chang­ing aspect of law, to diary style write-ups, opinions, video logs, message boards and podcasts.

For switched-on lawyers not at the mercy of their firm's marketing and communications departments, the chance to tap into a new means of raising their professional profiles - and have some fun at the same time - is opening via web-based publishing tools.

But in Australia something appears to be holding the lawyers back. Is it an engrained stigma of conservatism on Australia's legal elite that's pulling the fingers from the key­board? Maybe so, but some local bloggers are nonetheless making their mark in cyberspace.

For Paul Brennan from Brennan's Law, online technology has rapidly become his key creative outlet - a way to personalise the law and keep up with clients and friends at the same time.

He has various blogs, including his satiri­cal site "101 reasons to kill all the lawyers", driven by his cartooning abilities, as well as a regular "Law and Disorder eZine," a number of ebooks and various podcasts.

His work is representative of the new wave of writing that's changing access opportunities to legal information and, in the process, offering some effective tools for lawyers and law firms looking to market themselves and raise their profile.

But there's one important factor in the style of language that's taking hold on the internet - and a factor that may be difficult for lawyers to come to terms with. The use of the word 'I' personalises the message, ensuring the writer takes a position on their opinion and responsibility for the level of guesswork delivered.

Noric Dilanchian - managing partner at Dilanchian Lawyers and active blogger on sites such as his Lightbulb IP blog - notes a number of sins in the traditional modes of legal writing that can be overcome through online mediums.

"Lawyers often write for an audience they only perceive as being in-house counsel or other people qualified in law," he says."Another sin is the high-brow style of writing, the choice of grammar and words - often it's an indication that perhaps the person writing doesn't understand the subject well enough to simplify it."

Dilanchian believes that such attitudes may hold Australia back competitively in a global market place, noting that American lawyers are writing, innovating and using available technology creatively.

"American lawyers don't have this belief that you must speak the Queen's English, with a high-brow accent and tone for you to sound like you know what you're talking about," he says. "I'm not surprised that American lawyers blog vastly more than Australian lawyers."

That said, there's still the challenge of building interactivity via comments and user participation. "I think people are a bit embarrassed putting their thoughts up there because they think that other people will criticise," says Brennan.

The challenge is further exacerbated in the legal community, where lawyers are not just missing the point on blogging, but, Dilanchian believes, closing themselves off altogether in their unwillingness to embrace

the user-generated phenomenon at all.

"The number of law firms offering RSS feeds is a joke," he says. "The law industry is incredibly locked up and is in need of a lot of innovation."

While Brennan finds some disappointment in the lack of reader contributions, he does realise satisfactions in the consequences that can occur by being active online. "Nice things happen," he says. "Just last month I was contacted by an American greeting company looking to use my cartoons on greetings

in the United States."

Meanwhile Brennan's comments, opinions and cartoons have reached the Australian Financial Review, Lawyers Weekly and even The Lawyer in the UK.

For lawyers, a strong online presence could also mean that journalists come knocking. In sourcing a legal expert for a particular story, Google becomes a useful tool and lawyers who are active online will be the obvious beacons to approach.

Brennan says: "The potential for exposing yourself is incredible. We all know that marketing is like pushing cotton down a tube, you keep pushing and something happens, something you wouldn't think."

More importantly, says Brennan, blogging, podcasting, video logging and the like, is fun.

Dilanchian, noting that it assisted in getting this journalist to call him, says his online presence also encourages clients to call, people to make enquiries and the ability to ensure his knowledge is translated and documented. "Lawyers know an enormous amount and about one per cent of that is recorded - that's a tragedy," he says.

From Dilanchian and Brennan the advice is to get writing and release those bottled up thoughts to the online community.

But first remember: keep it short, keep it simple and avoid generalities. If it's a rehash of what others have already said, nobody's going to want to read it and if it's about law, too many words will surely scare the reader off.

- Angela Priestley

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