Following an 11-year run, the respected Wall Street Journal Law Blog put down its digital pen this summer. This venerated source of news and insights into the legal world shut down with an announcement by Ashby Jones, the paper’s legal correspondent, on July 3, 2017.
The shuttering of what had long been regarded as the most authoritative of legal blogs does not reflect a waning interest in law topics, nor does it illustrate the decline of blogging in general. To the contrary: WSJ Law Blog’s demise marks the fulfillment of a long growth curve for legal marketing following the Bates decision.
For most of the 20th century, attorneys were forbidden to market their services or their firms by the ABA’s 1908 Canons of Professional Ethics. Business cards, branded stationery and inclusion in attorney registries were deemed acceptable practice, but all other marketing efforts were strictly disallowed.
This prohibition on legal advertising stemmed from a belief that marketing efforts by professional services providers were unseemly, falsely associating these elites with the tradesmen and toilers who lacked such flighty skill sets. There was also concern that advertising within the field of law might lead to a rush for legal services, thereby overwhelming the court system with unnecessary lawsuits.
Following the Supreme Court’s 1977 ruling in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, advertising and marketing within the legal profession were to be regulated by the State Bar but otherwise allowed. The Group Matrix agency quickly emerged to serve law firms, producing televised ads, radio, phone book and online advertising for personal injury practitioners. Of all practice areas, personal injury has long stood out as not just the first but also the most aggressive advertisers.
Other firms were much slower to adopt a marketing mindset. Many older partners retain the stance that advertising is unseemly even today, and passively or actively resist marketing efforts by others in the firm. This legacy remains, but the end of WSJ Legal Blog stands as the conclusion of the marketing-averse era and the full fruition of the post-Bates promise.
Far from a lack of interest in law blogs, WSJ’s decision reflects the richness of the legal blogging landscape that exists today. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of attorneys, law firms and legal consultants share their insights and interact with colleagues and the public alike through this web of conversation.
Legal marketing of all types is visible everywhere – emails, newsletters, social media, and of course, blogs. There are blogs for every legal stage, niche and angle. The WSJ Law Blog is no longer needed, having paved the way for so many others that its voice became lost in the rich, full chorus singing a similar but subtly varied melody. Say a fond goodbye to one valuable legal blog, but don’t mourn. It had a great run and led us to this point, where many voices are happy to amplify the important messages it carried.