For many years, when people asked my children what their father did for a living, they would say “He’s a blogger”. This was perhaps puzzling, particularly for those who knew that I spent much of my time flying all over the place. What was the link between the stay-at-home nature of blogging and all the travel? In fact the one was intertwined with the other – the invitations to go to events in the US and elsewhere derived from writing the blog, and much of the blog was about things I heard and people I met while at the events
It seems that the word “blog” or weblog was first used in 1997 to refer to an online repository of discrete articles. There was something slightly anarchic about it – there were no rules of content, form or structure, nor was there necessarily anyone mediating between author and reader – no editor or publisher to approve or disapprove, no word-count and no deadlines. One just wrote something – anything – and pressed <Publish>, and the words could be read anywhere in the world. There was then a useful terminological distinction between a blog – the vehicle – and a specific blog post. Now, the word “blog” applies unhelpfully to both.
I wasn’t much interested, to be honest. I wrote occasional articles for legal magazines which they published along with others on paper, and that was enough writing for me. In a non-work setting, I wrote occasional letters to the Oxford Times about the deficiencies of the council or, more rarely, to The Times. It always took me a long time to write any of these things – I lacked the journalist’s ability to write quickly, achieving anything remotely elegant only by much rewriting, a luxury few journalists have.
By 2007, I began to write about the area I was then working in, electronic discovery. There was no commercial view in this – I just enjoyed doing it. Tired of others editing what I wrote, I revisited the subject of blogging or, rather, I looked around for an outlet and came across WordPress without consciously thinking of it as blogging. It was just somewhere to write and publish with the minimum of fuss and no third party involvement. Someone suggested that I got companies to sponsor the result, and so a business idea was born, with blogging mixed with speaking and (to begin with) consultancy. Then, in 2009, I discovered Twitter and LinkedIn, and found that pairing the blog and Twitter attracted new readers, and thence sponsorships. The joy of Twitter was that it reached audiences who were not necessarily already eDiscovery / eDisclosure junkies.
On Twitter, I came across barrister Gordon Exall, who had followed a similar path – writing for legal magazines about a subject he knew well from his practice. In June 2013, he began his blog Civil Litigation Brief with, to begin with, a masthead which defined his scope by reference to his specialist subjects, including sanctions in civil procedure. If, as he says, I gave early support and encouragement to this, it was partly because the formula had worked for me, and partly because it seemed useful to have someone to keep us up to date with developments in civil procedure. Then came the Mitchell case, and sanctions was suddenly a very big subject for civil practitioners, and one which changed almost weekly.
Gordon Exall has just written a post to mark the eighth anniversary of his blog. The statistics of views and visitors are impressive, as is the word count – 576,263 words last year. Most impressive, though, is the extent to which practitioners, including judges, have come to rely on the updates – the cases reported in the morning and summarised by bed-time, and the occasional anecdote from lawyers whose skin was saved in the nick of time by an Exall blog post read that morning.
Many blogs have fallen by the wayside. They take a lot of work, which is fine for people like me, for whom the blog is the work, but less so for those who have to fit the writing in around proper jobs. They have been replaced in part by posts on LinkedIn, which provides the editing and publishing in the same place as the networking and the audience. That is fine up to a point, but you have to navigate so much dross on LinkedIn that real posts are hard to find once they have disappeared below the fold. A single blog devoted to a single subject, however wide, is always in the same place and can be searched. I write with the hope that someone may find a post months or years afterwards and find it useful. Gordon Exall’s Civil Litigation Brief serves the same function for his audience.
The masthead of the Civil Litigation Brief now reads “Updates and Commentary on Civil Procedure” to reflect that fact that it covers a much wider range than it did originally. Many of the posts are about disclosure points, or involve disclosure as part of a wider set of issues, and many of my own posts begin with thanks to Gordon for bringing those case reports up from the depths of the law reports, and doing so immediately.
I do not know how he combines this task with his full-time practice. He seems to have the ability to write wherever he happens to be, while I must be at my desk, my head clear of everything except the writing.
Congratulations on the eight years, Gordon, and thank you.