Today my Emory Law colleague Ben Chapman and I launched the fourth iteration of our class, Advanced Legal Writing: Blogging and Social Media for Lawyers. This is a “cool class” (according to an upcoming issue of the Emory magazine) where students explore and practice the genre of legal blogging. Their final exam is to select a legal-blogging niche and then develop a WordPress blog with several thousand words of analytical and expressive content. In preparing my opening remarks for this year’s class, I was reflecting on this blog and what it has meant for me professionally and personally.
I launched Listen Like a Lawyer almost five years ago. (Here’s my first post.) My reason for picking listening as a niche was (1) there are already lots of great blogs about my original area of expertise, legal writing; and (2) listening is a hidden and under-appreciated part of being an effective (legal) professional and person.
The niche is admittedly challenging because it has many audiences:
- law students who listen to lectures in big classes, then go out and try to work with supervisors and colleagues in externships and activities
- new lawyers who may be assessed mostly on their technical lawyering skills such as taking depositions
- mid-level and senior lawyers who need to manage teams, lead their organizations and the legal industry, and network effectively to bring in business
- in-house counsel who routinely work with GCs and business teams, closing the distance between the business and legal mindsets
- law professors who teach and write about communication and rhetoric
- legal professionals such as paralegals and administrative assistants who, like all professionals, work more effectively with strong listening skills and who may face particular issues with hierarchical listening (or non-listening)
- legal-marketing professionals who often demonstrate superior listening skills to anyone listed above but may also face hierarchies that may distort or block their contributions
- legal innovators who advocate “disruption” and unbundling and other stuff like that—which ideally will include lots of listening at the design stage and will preserve some role for listening of “the efficient delivery of legal services”
- professionals and future professionals in all fields who hope to listen to their own inner voices (when healthy to do so) and connect with others
It is quite a challenge to reach these diverse audiences. Luckily I am a law professor who is writing for many reasons, none of which includes delivering a hyper-targeted message to a single audience for marketing purposes. My goals are learning, sharing knowledge, developing knowledge, prompting conversation, promoting better lawyer-client relations, and encouraging more effective collaborative relationships in the legal industry. One lesson to students is to avoid clichés like the plague, but doesn’t this seem like a WIN-WIN-WIN?
I’ve been thinking about the blog a lot as its five-year anniversary approaches in summer 2018. Late last year, I was considering bequeathing it to a new editor or even retiring it. Some reflections over the holidays have convinced me I’m not ready to do that. It’s like my garden, and I enjoy tending it.
That metaphor is a great way to TL; DR the ideas from my scholarly article on legal blogging several years ago:
Traditional legal writing on behalf of clients is like growing a bonsai tree. There is artistry, history, culture, and technical craftsmanship. All of that means there are also a lot of rules. And it’s a creation on a pretty small scale; only a few people may ever see it.
Legal blogging, by contrast, is like a wildflower garden or cultivated rainforest. It’s a different kind of cultivation—which may look totally out of control but actually can achieve some unexpected and serendipitous results. Still, you have to work at it and shape it, or the wrong things will grow (or it will die).
Writing this blog really has led to some serendipitous results, and there is still a lot to say. The current political climate has led to initiatives like #ListenFirst. Through the International Listening Association I have met listening scholars such as Graham Bodie and Debra Worthington, who just published a giant tome on listening research. There is a growing body of legal scholarship on interruptions at oral argument and even what vocal pitch can tell us about the justices’ individual votes. Along those lines, technology is opening new possibilities such as wearable devices that record and quantify the interactions between colleagues. But at the most fundamental level, listening is a way to connect with people, which will always mean something.
So, this year I will continue to write about stuff like communication dynamics at work, specific listening techniques, listening and building community, listening for law-school performance, and listening as part of the legal-writing process. I will invite guest posts if and when I feel like it, and write basically anything I feel like writing about. I will try to stand back every once in a while and enjoy just looking at the result of my labor. And that, for any Law 851 students who may still be reading, is a pretty cool thing about legal blogging.
Someone else thought of the gardening metaphor too, in terms of blogging for business development. I like what they have to say about developing quality content over time rather than going for short-term fixes.