Be your own platform

This morning, the Supreme Court of Canada released its long-anticipated decision in Keays v. Honda, a wrongful dismissal case that concerned the extent to which punitive damages should be awarded under Canadian employment law. The plaintiff, who had scored an unprecedented $500,000 in extra damages at trial, saw his notice period cut from 24 to 15 months and his aggravated and punitive damages wiped out altogether. It’s a powerful signal from the country’s highest court that punitive damages are to be reserved for the most outrageous instances of conduct, which the 7-2 majority felt were not present. But that’s not why we’re here.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve received three e-mails and one phone call from lawyers advising me that the SCC decision was imminent and offering to write an article or be interviewed for a piece in National on the judgment. Among other things, these requests are a compliment to our magazine: they demonstrate that lawyers consider National a leading publication with which they would like to be associated — that our brand carries sufficient weight within the profession such that it would be beneficial to their reputations to appear therein. I’m certainly happy about that.

Now, here’s the thing: we’re the wrong publishing vehicle for them to pursue. In practical terms, National publishes just eight times a year, and the issue currently in the editorial process won’t be circulated until mid-August — and even then, this edition’s lineup is already set; the next issue with any degree of lineup flexibility arrives on lawyers’ desks in late September. By the time we publish anything on Keays, months will have passed since the decision was released and it will be the oldest of old news.

Moreover, National covers a wide range of issues, as befits the periodical of a nationwide lawyers’ association, and employment law is not our focus. Employment lawyers seeking to raise their profile should be looking at periodicals specific to this field, especially those to which corporate clients subscribe — that’s the audience these lawyers ought to be trying to reach.

But there’s something more fundamental at work here. These lawyers perceive (rightly, I hope) that National is a good platform with which to be associated — it has a strong brand, reach and reputation. But lawyers don’t need to seek out traditional legal media platforms like magazines, newspapers and newsletters — they can (and should) create their own. Through the simple expedient of blogging, lawyers can create their own media brand and build their own platform with the precise brand, reach and reputation that most benefits their practices.

Consider Michael Fitzgibbon, an employment specialist with Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Toronto, who blogs at Thoughts from a Management Lawyer. Mike posted a preview of the Keays decision early this morning, setting out the key issues that figured to be addressed and linking to both a mainstream newspaper article on the topic for which he was interviewed and a lengthy article written by a BLG colleague about the appellate court decision that preceded this one. Later on, he added an update linking to the SCC ruling itself, and I expect him to have lengthier comments analyzing the case before too long.

Now, if you’re a general counsel looking to learn the implications of Keays for how your company should handle dismissals of challenging employees, are you going to wait two to three months to read an article on the subject in National? Or are you going to wait a matter of hours for Mike to fill you in?

This may be a familiar admonition to you — get blogging, establish your name and reputation online, supercharge your marketing, etc. You’ve read those kinds of articles elsewhere, and either they’ve moved you to action or they haven’t. But what I really want to impress upon you today is how much it suddenly matters to have your own platform in the blawgosphere — why it’s becoming extremely important for you to fence off your territory and start building a homestead: online legal publications, powered by the speed and insight of lawyer blogs, are coming fast.

Think about it: there are thousands of law blogs currently in active production, written by lawyers, law professors and law students worldwide. These bloggers are becoming de facto correspondents for the particular niches they represent. But they’re also scattered all over the Internet, and unless you’re a real RSS aficionado willing to hunt down updates from the best people to read, you’re going to miss a lot.

So it’s only a matter of time before someone sets up an “online legal newspaper” that collects dispatches from these correspondents and packages them for a dedicated readership, either general interest or in a specific practice or industry sector. These online publications (or law-focused aggregators, if you like) will use the extraordinary power of the link to send thousands and thousands of readers to these blogs when a must-read post appears, or will acquire RSS feeds from these blogs by consent and mutual benefit.

There will be a lot of cheap, fly-by-night, content-scraping aggregators to begin with, sure — just as there were any number of “rags” in the early days of the newspaper. (Law bloggers are concerned about this, and rightly so.) But legitimate aggregators will grow to be widely known and respected, distinguishing themselves through their own original content, the astute choice of the best links and feeds, aggressive branding and a host of other innovative steps. This is the future of legal media.

In fact, it’s already started: the ABA Journal has set up a blawg directory arranging blogs by various indicia like subject matter, author type and region (here’s Law21’s entry). Over at LexBlog, Kevin O’Keefe and Rob La Gatta have gone a step farther with LexMonitor, which is more than just a directory of blawgs and their authors: it also provides an editorial function, tracking blog posts that cover prominent subjects and generate the busiest conversations, as well as offering a running series of “editor’s recommendations” blog links (here are the entries for Law21 and yours truly). LexMonitor looks a lot like what tomorrow’s legal publications will resemble.

(Newspapers in general are going to go this route, too: Jeff Jarvis and Scott Karp make that clear when they set out the future of newspapers in a digital media world. Tomorrow’s news outlets will, in Jeff’s words, “do what [they] do best and link to the rest.” So will the legal media.)

Why does this matter to you? Because when these new online legal publications really get rolling (and there will be a wide range of them, just as there are in the print media today), they will be the new aggregators — they will perform the same function as today’s legal newspapers and magazines, bringing together the most readable and reliable content in one place under a trusted and reputable brand. They will be looking for the best legal bloggers to be their correspondents, and they will link to those bloggers over and over again. And their readers will be the people you most want to reach: clients, in-house lawyers, decision-makers.

All the reasons you’ve already been given to start blogging are valid. Here’s the newest and most important one: you need to be your own platform. You need to be your own strong, reputable, respected online presence, because in the very near future, those platforms are going to form the foundation of a vast new publishing and marketing network. You won’t need to contact editors and ask to appear in their magazines. You’ll be the magazine.


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