SCOTUSblog Won Readers, Not Clients
Popular blog didn't work as marketing tool for law firm but was a hit with readers, founders tell UGA audience
On the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would uphold the Affordable Care Act in June 2012, more than 1 million people clicked on SCOTUSblog, the site devoted to information and analysis of the high court.
The next day, the justices issued routine orders, and about 200 people visited.
"It was humbling," said Amy Howe, who in 2002 founded the site with her law partner (and husband) Tom Goldstein.
The pair participated in panel discussions Monday at the University of Georgia, which was honoring SCOTUSblog as the first blog to win a Peabody Award, administered by UGA's journalism school. They were joined by two veteran Supreme Court reporters, Pete Williams of NBC and Tony Mauro of the National Law Journal (a Daily Report affiliate), and Georgia Tech digital media professor Janet Murray.
Mauro noted how Goldstein started his Supreme Court practice by finding lower court decisions that conflicted with other courts' holdings and calling the losing sides to point out that their cases could be ripe for Supreme Court review.
That style didn't impress the tight-knit fraternity of established high court advocates. Mauro recalled how one lawyer said if he needed heart surgery, he wouldn't want to hire the surgeon who cold-called him looking for business. The lawyer? John Roberts, now the chief justice of the United States.
Goldstein said he and Howe, who had both interned with National Public Radio legal correspondent Nina Totenberg, decided one night to start a blog on Supreme Court issues as a way to market their law firm. They figured that looking like experts was an inexpensive way to draw potential clients.
"That was incredibly wrong," said Goldstein, adding they realized a general counsel won't hire a lawyer for a bet-the-company matter just because the GC likes the lawyer's blog. Their Supreme Court practice thrived nonetheless, as Goldstein has argued 28 cases there, with Howe serving as counsel in more than two dozen cases.
They eventually gave up using the blog as a marketing tool and instead decided "to try to do something good," said Goldstein. They brought in Lyle Denniston, who had covered the court for decades for the Baltimore Sun and other publications, to report on cases.
Their expenses increased, too, going from about $250,000 to about $500,000, which are now covered by an exclusive sponsor, Bloomberg Law, said Goldstein.