Nearly Legal started life as a personal, anonymous blog when I was a paralegal in 2006. It had posts on my experience, opinions on recent events and anything law-related that interested me. As I was working in a housing law department, this included reports and views on housing cases, then more and more housing cases.
After about a year, it was clear that the blog was picking up a readership of housing law specialists. After a couple of years, some other people, solicitors and barristers, joined me as writers. Through all of this, I remained anonymous, not actually coming out until I had qualified in 2008. But by that time, the blog had become something of a fixture in housing law circles and continued to grow. We are now at 35–40,000 page views a month, which for such a specialist site seems a lot, and to my horror the site has been described as an institution.
We are a lot slower at getting case reports out than we used to be! Sadly everyone involved is very busy. But if our original practice of having a detailed case report out as soon as (or before) the legal information services did has faltered, we still aim to provide detailed and critical reports and updates for housing law professionals – solicitors, barristers, advisors, and even the judiciary. While the site is free to all, our target reader is not a complete lay person. We are, I hope, accurate and thought provoking, while keeping a sardonic air. The site is very much a collection of individual voices, often with internal debates, and I think that contributes to its success.
For me, it was initially a way to keep myself updated and thinking. During my anonymous period, I watched with bemusement as others started talking about the site around me. Since it became known it was my site, its reputation has certainly helped my career progress and got me involved in some very interesting things. It is not a direct generator of cases, though. I have only had about 3 or 4 clients come to me through the blog.
The firm, thankfully, was happy for me to be known as the editor of the site, and I now write under my own name and firm. It doesn’t hurt the firm’s reputation.
I use self-hosted WordPress and have taught myself some ways to hack about with the standard installation. The biggest problem, and one that crept up on me from the early days, is how to have a decent categorisation and search system. The archives of the blog are now fairly huge and keeping that information in some kind of useful and accessible order is not easy.
I use Twitter a lot, having built up some 5,600 followers, and it is now one of the largest sources of traffic to the site.
At the moment, we are trying to keep going as we have done for the last 7 years! We have had campaigning moments, including organising a letter to ministers signed by some 168 lawyers and law academics, but those arise out of specific circumstances. We are keeping the site free, and free of advertising in any form. I’m not wholly sure how we develop from where we are. But things do come along.
Giles Peaker is a solicitor with Anthony Gold Solicitors.