Whether you are setting up a new law blog, or trying to keep up with content creation and moderation on your existing site, the idea of dealing with user comments can be daunting. But should you allow comments on your law blog at all? Here are some considerations to think about.
ABA Journal Cancels Comments Site-Wide
As of May 29, 2019, the American Bar Association Journal will no longer allow commenting on its site. The ABA Journal has a reputation for providing lawyers and legal industry professionals with information, industry news, and a forum to discuss the biggest legal issues of the day. So when the ABA Journal Board of Editors decided to shut down comments on their publications, it was a big deal.
The ABA recognized that its readers had “a wealth of interesting, constructive things they can add to public discourse.” But ultimately, the Journal decided that moderating and responding to user feedback was simply too big a job to manage. So if the ABA can’t handle it, should you? Do you need to allow comments on your law blog?
What’s the Value of Comments on a Law Blog
Before making any big marketing decision, like whether to turn off comments on your law blog, it’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons. Let’s start with the plus-side.
Allowing comments on a law blog can boost SEO by making the site seem more active. Comments by readers help you generate the new content search engines are looking for without putting in the work to create content on your own.
As the ABA noted:
“One substantive comment coming from an informed legal professional is worth more to us than one hundred off-topic, inflammatory comments by trolls.”Lee Rawles, ABA Journal
Allowing comments on your law blog can give you the means to engage in meaningful dialog with other industry professionals and experts from related industries. If you have done the work to cultivate a readership of engaged professionals who read and comment regularly, this can turn your law blog into a go-to source for lawyers and lay-people alike.
Carefully managed comments can also make your firm seem responsive to users who ask questions on your law blog. By providing clarifying information and inviting those clients to contact you for a consultation, you can show other readers that you (or your social media team) care about their questions, and are ready to provide answers.
Why Might You Want to Skip the Comments
With all those great pros, why would anyone follow the ABA Journal’s lead and cancel the comments? Well, have you been to the Internet recently?
Advertisers and Spammers
Unfortunately, allowing comments on your law blog opens you up to a variety of unsavory activity on your website. Without careful screening and constant vigilance, your blog could accidentally become an advertisement for online prescription drugs, companies with shady marketing practices, or even your competition! There are bots out there which have 1 job: to post meaningless comments on unsuspecting blog sites. If only 1 in 1000 posts goes through, these bots will still be able to reach a large audience of people who wanted nothing to do with the subject of the ad.
That’s why if you are going to allow blog comments, you will need to be sure that you have a high-quality (probably not free) spam filter in place or require each comment to be approved by a moderator before it appears on your site. As your website becomes more popular, that means you will need someone on-site monitoring the comments and approving the substantive ones you want to feature.
Trolls and Uncivil Discourse
Let’s face it, sometimes law and politics are inseparable. If you post even moderately controversial topics and allow comments, you are opening yourself up to a torrent of trolls and uncivil posters turning your law blog into the next battle ground for their political movement.
This happened to me in 2017. My local legislature was considering a bill that would have directly affected my area of law (family law), in a bad way, in my opinion. Being an experienced blogger by this point, I took to my law blog to explain the bill and why I felt it was not in the best interests of Michigan families.
Little did I know at the time, the bill was backed by a number of fathers’ rights advocacy groups. One of their members found my blog, and the comments quickly became angry, aggressive, and for the most part had nothing to do with the content of the post. Instead they were attacks on my professionalism and personality.
Suffice to say, I turned off comments on my law blog after that. I still write about controversial topics and pending legislation from time to time, but now I know that any backlash will have to occur on my social media platforms, each of which have means to report and respond to harassing trolls and commenters.
Comments and Confidentiality
There is one other important reason that you may want to disable comments on your blog which has little to do with marketing, and more to do with professional responsibility: confidentiality.
As lawyers, we all know that we need to protect our firms from accidentally receiving confidential information when there is no attorney-client relationship in place. But all the disclaimers and warnings in the world won’t keep a distraught reader from posting his or her confidential legal issue in your blog’s comment section.
If you are moderating your comments, you can at least respond to this person privately rather than responding to his or her post. But to avoid the chance that your blog accidentally creates an attorney-client relationship or causes a public disclosure of confidential information, your best bet may be to disable comments altogether, and invite readers to contact you directly instead.
There are pros and cons to including comments on your law firm’s blog. In the end, whether you decide to allow all comments, moderate, or turn commenting off entirely depends on your marketing goals, who your readers are, and how much risk you are willing to take. Whether you decide to follow the ABA Journal’s example or not, you should make your decision after fully considering both sides of this comment-worthy issue.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes blogs and websites for law firms and small businesses. If you need help keeping your blog on track, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.