Law Blog Post Formats: Analysis and Trendspotting
The ninth in a series about useful law blog post formats.
Several years ago at a party downtown I met a former Capitol Hill staffer who, like me, wrote about government policy for a living.
He was a longtime subscriber to my company’s publications, but he had a complaint, which was essentially this:
“You’re very good at reporting what happened yesterday, not so good at what is happening today, and unfortunately pretty bad at projecting what’s likely to happen tomorrow. That’s what we do.”
Each morning, my new friend read my company’s publications, the “Big Three” newspapers (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post), the Federal Register and Congressional Record, a clipping service and a few email newsletters. He went to the Hill when he felt he needed to hear things first-hand, and he spent a lot of time on the phone.
Just like a regular journalist.
Except that he wasn’t a journalist, he was an “analyst.” My friend packaged his inputs into a forward-looking “analysis” that his company sold to investors for over 10 times the price my company was charging for similar information packaged as journalism.
Law blogging works the same way. Identifying trends and offering well-reasoned interpretations of legal developments provide the basis for highly valuable posts. (The same can be said about the legal profession itself: Expert analyses leading to reasoned opinions on how to profitably negotiate a likely future are among the most valuable services that lawyers can provide their clients.)
Analysts stand out in an information environment swollen with cookie-cutter iterations of the day’s news. Analysts tangibly demonstrate the presence of a discerning, sentient being on the other side of the computer screen. Analysts provide expertise and thought leadership by bringing something new to the conversation.
The Productive Analyst
How can law bloggers pull this trick off?
The first step is to commit to writing “connect the dots” and trendspotting posts on a regular basis.
The second step is to brainstorm promising topics. All of the following prompts will lead to a good post:
- Where is the law heading?
- What are the implications for a bill that has been recently introduced or passed?
- Which problems do you expect clients will need assistance with in the near future?
- Are new technologies exposing weaknesses in the law?
- Are economic trends threatening to create legal problems for clients down the road?
- When a new demographic or economic study is published, consider the legal ramifications for clients.
- Which legislative initiatives will likely become law?
- Which legal issues will be considered in upcoming sessions of state supreme courts and legislatures?
Keeping an eye on the calendar is a good idea. It’s often possible to write a strong forward-looking post by scanning significant dates in the immediate future. Tax deadlines and effective dates for major legislation are two good examples.
Finally, there is the easiest calendar peg of all: the end of the year. Most firms should be able to write at least one blog post along the lines of “Top Legal Issues for Retailers in 2018.” Just substitute an important client industry or demographic for “Retailer.”
Analysis and trendspotting are not the same things as predicting the future. Instead, think of them as prudent, perhaps profitable, considerations for a likely future. No one knows the date of the year’s first snowfall. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to stock up on ice melt, shovels, and firewood well before Thanksgiving.
Don’t let analysis pieces become “law review lite” affairs. A perfectly acceptable template for writing an analysis or trendspotting post is simply this:
- Such-and-such development occurred or is occurring.
- The development is significant for this particular group.
- Here’s why (1. … 2. … 3. …)
No one is going to mistake you for Thomas Carlyle. But it gets the job done.
Assessing Analysis and Trendspotting
Pros: Expertise, sound legal judgment, and thought leadership on display for all to see.
Cons: Analysis pieces demand more writing skill than most types of blog posts, and they can be time-consuming to execute.