Jeanne M. Hannah has maintained her own solo practice since 1987, concentrating in the areas of parental kidnapping, divorce, child custody, support, cohabitation, and parentage issues. She has published a family law blog, Updates in Family Law, since June 2005. She says of her blog, "It is amazing how many telephone calls and e-mails the blog generates."
Roberta Gubbins: Why and when did you start the blog?
I began my blog in April 2005 with the encouragement of my son, John. John is an artist and he was just beginning involvement in online promotion of his artwork. He explained the importance of blogging and the interrelationship of blogging and search engine optimization to me (SEO). I studied online articles about SEO, and I was off and running.
Since that time, I've written over 1,100 posts for the blog. I've seen that my blog is instrumental in reaching my identified audience.
- Reaching the potential client: The cases I find most compelling involve issues of child custody, relocation, interesting property distribution issues, fascinating jurisdictional issues (both interstate and international), and most of all, parental abduction—intrastate, interstate, and international. These abductions are "civil" in nature (as opposed to criminal). They usually involve the wrongful taking or the wrongful retention of children.
- Reaching people who might be sources of referrals or who might need a little mentoring, such as other lawyers.
- Assisting judges and friend of the court case workers who find various parts of my blog and website useful to them.
Have your expectations of it changed over time?
My blog has only reinforced my goals over time. I enjoy days when I receive an "atta girl" e-mail from someone who was educated, encouraged, or empowered by something he or she read in my blog. I tell all incoming clients that "knowledge is power" and that they can save themselves money by reading the blog. I want clients to know what their rights and obligations are, to know how the court might deal with the issues in their case, and most of all, to have reasonable expectations. I tell them that when they can't sleep at night because of worry about a particular issue, they can use the Google app on the blog to research their questions and get some answers.
What is your writing process?
Time: At first, I spent days writing a blog post. I'd research an issue and discuss it thoroughly from all possible aspects. A blog piece might be 1,000 words long and might take 4 or 5 hours to write. I later began to read other bloggers and learned that, of course, it's the frequency of posts that counts and most people don't want to read such a long post.
Another consideration was this: "Time is money." At some point it is not cost-effective to spend much more than 30 to 40 minutes on a blog post.
Content: I write about family law issues that are common among families in transition—whether they are divorcing or, if already divorced, are experiencing changes in how the parents' jobs, or how changes in income and/or job transfers (for example) impact their custody and parenting time schedules. I write about how a court is likely to decide the property issues in a divorce case, what is separate property and whether it is subject to distribution in a divorce. The unique issues in military divorces, particularly with frequent relocations, is another frequent topic. I write about social issues (for example, bullying of children and what a parent might do about that), and I write about Internet safety issues because there has always been an issue with confidentiality of e-mails in a divorce or custody case and those issues are far more complicated today than they were in 2005.
One thing that is very important to me: I try not to just "regurgitate" a news article. Although I do sometimes summarize an article that is helpful to my readers and link to it, I more often discuss a newly decided case, usually a Michigan case, but sometimes a case from another state that is a decision on a unique area of family law. In cases involving uniform laws that have been adopted by many (or most) states, there are few appellate decisions I can cite to a court in a pending case. Thus, it's important to discuss these new cases. Sometimes, one of my family law appellate colleagues is invited to be a guest blogger to discuss a new and significant decision.
How do you and your firm benefit from your writing?
Updates in family law have given me—a sole practitioner—access to a huge client base. I've represented clients from around the world. Usually, I never even get to meet those clients. Other than the annual cost of my blogging platform (Typepad) and a monthly charge for my newsletter e-blast that sends subscribers a short e-mail every time a new post is published, I don't spend money on advertising.
Any advice for the lawyer/writer just starting out?
Keep your design simple and keep your posts short (300 to 500 words). Write about topics of interest to your projected audience.
Roberta Gubbins has served as the editor of the Ingham County Legal News. Since leaving the paper, she provides services as a ghostwriter editing articles, blogs, and e-blasts for lawyers and law firms. She is the editor of Briefs, the Ingham County Bar Association e-newsletter, and The Mentor, SBM Master Lawyers Section newsletter.
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