Interview with a Legal Blogger

Jackson attorney and CABA member Philip Thomas blogs about law, politics and topical issues in the state of Mississippi in his local blog, The Mississippi Litigation Review and Commentary. Below are his reflections on blogging, as told to the CABA newsletter.

How long have you been blogging, and how has your blog evolved?
I started Mississippi Litigation Review and Commentary in February 2009. Initially, it was a blog with no readership. The traffic to the site steadily grew as more people in the Mississippi legal community discovered the blog. Now lawyers from all over the state tell me that they read the blog.

It’s hard for me to say how the blog has evolved. The main focus has always been civil litigation in Mississippi. The average length of posts is probably shorter than it was initially. I tend to avoid topics that would require two hours to write a post due to time constraints. Also, over the last year I’ve become less inclined to blog about politics. There are legal blogging authorities who recommend that lawyers not blog about politics in order to avoid offending large segments of the population. I am weighing this advice against the fact that I sometimes have something to say about a political issue.

Finally, in 2013, I have not blogged as much as in past years. For a while I tried to have a new post every business day. That is not easy. I am trying to get comfortable with writing new posts 2-3 times per week.

Why do you blog?
I have three main reasons for blogging. First, I enjoy it. I was drawn to blogs for news and commentary during the judicial bribery scandal. The reporting on blogs was much better than what was available in the mainstream media. I thought legal blogging would really take off in Mississippi. I’m surprised that it has not.

The second main reason I blog is to raise my profile in the Mississippi legal community. Early in my career, I recognized that it helps a lawyer to be known and respected in the legal community. This can be a challenge, however, since lawyers and judges tend to view other lawyers skeptically until credibility has been proven. This is particularly true in Jackson, since so many lawyers practice in this area. I have raised my profile through blogging. A lot of lawyers and judges who otherwise would have never heard of me are now familiar with me through my blog.

I do not have the personality for traditional networking. I am both shy and an introvert. That means that you are unlikely to find me at bar functions that lawyers have traditionally used for networking. Blogging allows me to connect with many people in the legal community without leaving my office.

The third main reason that I blog is to educate people in the legal community. There are not many resources for legal news in Mississippi. The national legal news sites and blogs mostly ignore Mississippi. And the local media focuses on criminal matters and civil cases involving public figures or huge verdicts. But the legal community is interested in defense verdicts, appellate decisions, and other topics relevant to the profession.

How do you decide what to write about?
The first rule of blogging is that you get to pick the content of your blog. I get emails all the time suggesting topics. Some sound more like assignments than suggestions. While I appreciate the input, I am going to blog about topics that interest me and topics that I have time to cover.

I would love to write a post about every civil verdict in the state. But I am dependent on lawyers to notify me about verdicts, and many do not. Incidentally, I do not understand why lawyers who win trials do not want publicity of the result. Winning a trial is something to be proud of that can only help a lawyer’s practice. Even losing a trial is better than developing a reputation of never going to trial. Yet many lawyers treat their verdicts like a state secret. I don’t get it.

An example of blogging about a topic that interests me is my posts about the investment return assumption in the Mississippi Public Employee’s Retirement System. I view the fund’s investment assumption as unrealistic and a disaster waiting to happen. I do not get the impression that this topic interests a lot of readers. But I continue to blog about the topic because I think it is important, and it interests me.

Are any topics off-limits?
My cases are off-limits as a blog topic. I think it is bad form for a lawyer to blog about their own cases for multiple reasons.

What is the most challenging thing about blogging?
The principal challenges of blogging are finding topics and time to write the posts. Sometimes there are more topics than I can cover and I have plenty of time to write. Other times, I am limited by available topics and/or time constraints. One of the reasons that I do not blog as much as I used to is that I am becoming less inclined to find a topic or make time to blog.

What makes your blog different from other local blogs?
My name and picture are on the blog’s homepage.

In your opinion, what are the ethical responsibilities of operating a blog?
Just don’t be stupid.

What is the most unusual comment you received in response to an article on your blog?
As far as comments to posts, there have been crazy sounding comments that I did not approve, so the comments never appeared on the blog.

In a broader sense, the blog has put me on the radar of some of the nuts in society who usually target politicians with their conspiracy theories. A few months ago someone included me in an email to someone at the Mississippi Bar, Governor Phil Bryant and a few other random public figures. The subject of the email was Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn. About 8:00 a.m. one morning, Mrs. Dunn called me irate because she thought I was the person who wrote the email. I got the issue sorted out, but the experience gave me new respect and sympathy for politicians.

My favorite comments are sarcastic jokes and lines from 80’s movies that I quoted in a post.

What advice do you have for prospective bloggers reading this article?
Before starting a blog, lawyers need to figure out what their goal is. Are you trying to establish yourself as an authority in a particular practice area? Do you want to raise your profile in the legal community? Or do you just want to get the most page views you can? You need to know the answers to these questions when you are planning your blog. For instance, a blog that is designed to establish a lawyer as an authority in products liability law will look a lot different than MS Litigation Review.

Don’t be the person who starts a blog and then never updates it. Write some practice posts to see how you actually like it—as opposed to the thought of doing it. If you don’t really enjoy writing the practice posts, you need to question seriously whether to start a blog. An active blog can be rewarding, but it requires discipline and hard work. You should not do it if you will not enjoy it. Life is too short to commit to something you don’t have to do and don’t enjoy.

Finally, your blog needs its own site. The biggest blogging mistake I see by lawyers is putting a blog on their firm website. You can put a blog on your firm website, but no one will read it.