I found Jeremy Blachman’s Anonymous Lawyer blog as a first year associate. I soon found myself sneaking breaks from billing throughout the day to catch up on the latest posts from the “hiring partner at a major law firm”. When I read that he had written a book of the same title I was first in line to pick it up.
Without question the Anonymous Lawyer blog and book are the funniest things I have ever read about the practice of law and got me through those tough first few years of being an associate attorney.
I was thrilled when Jeremy agreed to answer a few questions for my blog on how lawyers can write articles that people actually want to read – something Mr. Blachman has clearly mastered.
Q: Tell us the background story on how your Anonymous Lawyer blog came to be?
A: The Anonymous Lawyer blog started without much of a plan behind it. I went to law school for the reasons people say you shouldn’t — I had done some writing in college and afterwards, but didn’t have much of an idea how to make that into a career, and was too risk-averse to go out to Hollywood, get a job as someone’s assistant, and hope things worked out. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a lawyer, but I liked the idea that I’d have a useful degree at the end of three years, and figured it would give me some time (albeit at a very expensive cost) to figure out how to be a writer.
I’d been blogging under my own name since the beginning of law school (the archives are at http://jeremyblachman.blogspot.com), mostly just to give myself a reason to write regularly. I’d built a small audience, enough to motivate me to keep posting but nothing tremendous. When I started interviewing for summer associate jobs, I was wary of posting real thoughts under my real name, but, on a whim, had an idea to start posting fictionally as someone who’d be interviewing students like me, students who didn’t necessarily have a passion to practice law, but were trying to get the job anyway.
What surprised me about the summer associate hiring process — and keep in mind this was 2004, so it was before the recession hit — was that I was being sold far more than I was having to sell myself. And all of the firms seemed to be selling basically the same thing — they all claimed to be unique in all of the same ways. I thought it could be fun to try and write from the perspective of one of these hiring partners I was meeting — I didn’t know if it would build an audience, or if I’d even have enough to say for more than a few posts.
Very quickly, an audience found the blog, and the numbers I was getting were significantly higher than on my personal blog. And so I kept writing. And the more I pushed the satire — the more evil I made this guy and his firm — the more readers I got, and the more e-mails I started to get from lawyers actually working at these kinds of places, telling me some of this wasn’t as farfetched as I might have thought. I think writing the blog, and starting to get people’s reactions to it, made me more wary of big law firm life than I was when I first had the idea for the blog, for sure.
Q: Did you ever expect it to get as big as it did?
A: I of course never expected it to become what it became, to get written about in the New York Times and ultimately lead to a book deal and a television pilot. But as the readership very quickly grew, and I started to get dozens of comments on each post, I did feel like I was tapping into something that young lawyers and law students could relate to, and I hoped I would be able to turn it into something, even if I didn’t know what that was. My law school roommate at the time would tell me I was silly for spending as much time as I was writing this anonymous blog, with no real plan — but I did have a sense that I had something there, and that it could turn into something bigger.
Q: What do you believe are the factors that go into writing a good blog?
A: Posting frequently. That’s my best piece of advice, and the cost of entry for building an audience. Over the past few years, I’ve been sent so many blog links by people looking for advice, and way too often they send me a blog with 4 posts, written over the course of six months. I can’t even give someone advice at that point — you need to be posting at least three or four times a week, especially before you have a real audience, and you need to demonstrate in each post that your blog is worth the click.
I’ll admit the blog world is different now than when I started Anonymous Lawyer in 2004. There is so much more competing for someone’s online attention — there are an endless number of newspaper and magazine blogs, the Huffington Post, etc, that weren’t out there. The expectation on so many sites is 10, 15, 20 new posts a day. The number of individuals writing about their lives or their own small businesses seems smaller to me, and is certainly far smaller as a fraction of what’s being written.
It would be harder for Anonymous Lawyer to find an audience today — I don’t doubt that at all. I’ve tried — and continue to try — other blog-based projects, and the field is so much more crowded. But I do believe that interesting, compelling voices can get heard. If you have something unique to say — and especially if it’s something that can either make someone laugh or earn someone money — you can find an audience. But you do have to be absolutely dedicated to posting regularly. Once you stop — even for a week — you start to lose your readers — they forget about you, and find something else to read (and there’s certainly tons of choices out there) — and once you lose your readers, it’s so hard to get them back.
Q: What tips can you give lawyers on how to make a legal blog interesting/engaging?
A: Have something unique to say, and say it with a unique voice. Everything is Google-able. If someone can find what you’re saying by doing a search and reading it elsewhere, why are you bothering? You need to have content no one else is able to write, about something you know that no one else does, or said in a way that no one else is saying it.
And, sure, you can link to things, and be part of larger conversations on the Internet, with other bloggers, or with your commenters, but, really, it’s about carving out a space that you can fill better than anyone else out there, and making sure that your readers have a reason to come back day after day, and a reason to share your blog with their friends. I don’t think it’s easy to fake it. There are terrible sites with lots of readers, and I guess they prove me wrong, but, in the long run, I do think it’s good content that keeps an audience, not tricks.
Q: What projects are you working on now and where is the best place to find you online?
A: The best place to find me online is at http://jeremyblachman.com, or on Twitter @jeremyblachman. I’m working on a range of projects, learning the lesson that it’s very hard to recreate what happened with Anonymous Lawyer, but that my best chance is to keep trying to produce quality material and hope some of it finds an audience.
I’m working on an Anonymous Lawyer movie project with a production company and a lead actor attached — but getting something to the screen is a long process. I have some television and film projects that I’m developing, a new novel in the works, a comedic play that recently had a reading at a small theater here in New York, and a whole bunch of short humor pieces that I regularly write for sites like The Barnes & Noble Review, McSweeney’s, and others (the links are on my website).
I also may or may not have another anonymous blog or two lurking out there on the Internet, waiting to find their audiences. I consult and edit on a freelance basis, and have also done some ghostwriting work. You can reach out if you’re interested in talking.
You can pick up a copy of Anonymous Lawyer through Amazon.