Herrmann alone is veering way off-topic here, for a post about using blogs to develop new legal business. Bexis prefers to stick to drug and device law, so he played no role in drafting this post.

A surprising number of folks have asked us whether blogging is a useful business development tool for lawyers. Here are our (well, Herrmann’s) two cents worth on that topic.

First, discount much of what you hear on this subject. People who create or host blogs for a living are self-interested: They swear that blogging generates business, and they’ll never be convinced otherwise.

Second, take our comments for what they’re worth: It’s not as though we’ve done an empirical analysis of blogs and legal business. We’re just speaking from our own experience and the logical implications of what we’ve seen.

Here’s the necessary background: We’d call our blog relatively successful. We’ve attracted some attention in the blogosphere; we have several hundred subscribers (by Google e-mail group); we’ve received a few awards from blog-watchers; and we typically receive a few tens of thousands of page views per month.

That’s good, but not great. Widely read blogs receive tens of thousands of page views each day; we’re not in that league. (And we never will be; a blog about drug and device law will never be of interest even to most lawyers, let alone to the public at large. We didn’t launch this little experiment with the idea that we’d soon conquer The Huffington Post or the Drudge Report.)

In our little niche, however, we’re pretty well known. To the extent that a blog of this type can generate business, we would have expected that to have happened during the two years we’ve been at this.

It really has not.

Here’s a completely honest description of what we’ve seen on the business development front. (Note that we’re excluding all non-business reaction to the blog. The blog has caused us to be quoted in the legal and popular press, generated speaking and writing engagements, and the like. We’re talking here only about new retentions that we can attribute directly to the blog.)

First, existing clients occasionally read blog posts and then retain us to think harder about some subject on which we’ve posted. Second, litigants searching for amici curiae in their cases occasionally stumble across the blog and ask us to provide either paid or pro bono amicus help. Third, folks who it makes no sense for us to represent — potential product liability plaintiffs, or tiny companies on the periphery of the pharmaceutical products world — sometimes call, but those fish are either inedible or too small to fry, so we toss them back.

That’s about it for business attracted by the blog. We have not been retained by any entirely new clients asking for help on substantial new matters.

On the whole, then, we’d say that blogging has not been a tremendously successful business development tool.

(Not to worry. We write this blog for many reasons other than business development; our lack of results on the business development front won’t cause us to close up shop. Exhaustion may, but lack of new business won’t.)

What’s our speculation about legal blogs as business development tools?

First, blogs are the new-age equivalent of billboards or ads on television or in the Yellow Pages. Blogs effectively reach a mass audience, but they don’t effectively target the general counsel or heads of litigation of Fortune 500 companies. We suspect that, if we were “Yellow Pages” lawyers rather than “tall building” lawyers — if any guy on the street were a potential client — this blog would have generated a great deal of business by now. But that’s not our target “market,” and a legal blog is a relatively ineffective way of developing business from sophisticated corporate clients.

Think about it this way: If we bloggged about “personal bankruptcy,” then any person who searched on-line for a bankruptcy lawyer might find and retain us. But if we blogged about “Fortune 500 bankruptcies,” it’s far less likely that the general counsel of some huge, but struggling, corporation would read our blog and be convinced by our posts that he or she should retain us.

If we blogged about how to draft contracts efficiently for small businesses, we might attract small business clients. But if we blogged about “international M&A transactions valued in excess of $5 billion,” we’d be less likely to succeed. In-house lawyers at sophisticated companies have many ways to select counsel, and going on-line to find bloggers ain’t high on that list.

Blogs are probably great business development tools for solo practitioners. Blogging might generate business for small or medium-sized law firms, which are generally happy to accept, for example, a role as local counsel. And blogs might generate business for lawyers at large firms who routinely handle smaller matters. But we’re beginning to suspect that blogs are a relatively ineffective business development tool to attract large matters to large law firms.

We’re leaving open the possibility that blogging may be an effective business development tool over time, when used in conjunction with other tools. Thus: Giving one talk is unlikely to generate business; giving one talk a month for five years is more likely to work. Writing one article is unlikely to generate business; writing one article a year for twenty years is more likely to work. Blogging for a couple of years (by itself) may not generate business; blogging over time, while also giving talks, writing articles, and never dining alone, may be more effective. But it’s awfully hard to run a controlled experiment of that hypothesis.

What’s our advice? Same as it’s always been: Blog for pleasure; blog to stay abreast of your field of law; blog to influence the public debate; blog to raise both your firm’s and your personal profile in a your legal niche.

But, if you’re a big-firm lawyer who typically handles large litigation or corporate matters, don’t blog for profit. For lawyers in practices such as ours, there are other, more effective marketing tools.

(Now we’ll kick back and watch this post get slaughtered (for heresy) in the blogosphere, while we return to drug and device law.)