Monday, 12 May 2014

Alex Aldridge

When Legal Cheek founder Alex Aldridge spoke about monetising online content at an event this week, I was all ears. How the media industry is adapting its business models in the digital age, and how the maverick world of blogging is becoming more business-like, are two subjects very close to my heart.

Alex was a guest of a "Pivotal Tribes" Question-Time-style panel discussion, which attracted 140 or so bloggers and would-be-entrepreneurs. Fellow panelists included Guido Fawkes alter ego Paul Staines, Student Beans founder James Eder and fashion & lifestyle blogger A Lady in London, Julie Falconer.  The audience hungrily gobbled up their tips for monetising content and turning blogs into successful digital businesses.

Alex was representing the legal community, billed as found and editor-in-chief of "the UK's most widely read legal blog", and I was keen to know how he feels about being part of the establishment. "I think for anyone this transition from internet hobbyist to professional media outlet is always an interesting one. Looking back now at the start of the legal twittersphere and the explosion of legal blogging in 2010, it's interesting to see how many names have disappeared from the scene. Not necessarily because they weren't so good, but sometimes people just lacked the time or ran out of steam. There's definitely been a slowing of growth, with just a handful of legal bloggers remaining now, a much smaller core. We've definitely seen the end of an era in legal blogging, but the rise of the "superblogger" is just the beginning: legal blogs that continue to go strong include Richard Moorhead's Lawyer WatchDavid Allen Green's Jack of Kent, Carl Gardner's Head of LegalLucy Reed on family topics, plus now there's Colm Nugent's emerging Wigapedia alter-ego and, of course, The Conversation."

Alex has been named the "Guido Fawkes" of the legal world which he finds very flattering, he tells me, although he is keen to underline Legal Cheek's liberal credentials in contrast to Guido's famously right wing stance. "What is interesting about the parallel though", he says, "is that political blogging being a few years in front of its legal equivalent, you can see what lies ahead. Paul [Staines, Guido Fawkes founder] began as a hobbyist in a sea of other political bogging enthusiasts. Where others have dropped off, he has kept going and today is a full blown professional media operation." [Since 2006 Staines also owns a digital advertising agency advising on social media campaigns, most notably the successful Boris Johnson London Mayoral Campaign in 2012.]

Legal Cheek now employs its first full time member of staff, reporter Tom Connelly who joined six months ago. "It certainly feels to me much more a serious business now I have someone else's salary to think about! But the profile of our advertisers has changed hugely since our early days. Now we list Hogan Lovells, Mayer Brown, Hardwicke, The University of Law, Norton Rose Fulbright, amongst other advertisers and are able these days to pick and choose to keep the quality of the names.' 

And has Legal Cheek's audience changed too?  "We aim to be the social media website for the legal profession and the BuzzFeed for law students and lawyers. So yes, as social media usage permeates through more layers of the profession, our audience does change. As you'd imagine we've always had a huge following from the student community and barristers have been quick to latch on to the profile-raising opportunity provided by Twitter. We have a big following amongst associates too. Law firm partners have been amongst the most reluctant to engage with social media, particularly at the senior end, although there are notable exceptions. Mayer Brown's Head of Finance Dom Griffiths springs to mind, for one... and engagement from this group is growing all the time. We now have 90,000 unique visitors to the site (equates to 250,000 page views) every month now, 83% from the UK."

Most definitely a serious business with serious advertising partners to match. But don't get too "establishment" Alex, we like you as the maverick you are! "Don't worry," he says, "I'll always remain the outsider... and the thorn in the establishment's side!"
Serle Court's Annual Party is always an event to look forward to in the legal calendar and this year's bash at the Barbican was no exception.  It's always staged somewhere exciting: this year the Barbican's Conservatory and Garden Room (you'll see from the photo this space is like a mini urban Eden Project); in previous years the The Museum of London, The London Transport Museum and the very beautiful St. Luke's. The food is always first class also but more than anything it's the wonderful company we all enjoy. We always bump into the other clients and friends. 

As ever, I had great fun catching up with Russell-Cooke's Francesca Kaye (although far too briefly) and Edwin Coe's David Greene, both known to us as past presidents of the LSLA. Also got to know some of the peeps I hadn't met before from client firms: Russell-Cooke litigator Mary Hodgson, Head of Fladgate's regulatory, governance and investigations team, Sophia Purkis; also had an illuminating conversation with a high profile judge that I can't say anything about for fear it might suggest he courts publicity.  Clearly he doesn't. 

Thanks for the invite Nicola! A really special do! :)
Speaking of David Greene, over canapes at the Serle Court party he regaled us all with a fabulous story.  When "leaning in" at a lunch with Lord Justice Jackson to clear the air over the LSLA Litigation Trends survey that criticised his reforms, David suddenly realised to his horror that his tie had found its way into his Lordship's soup.  The phrases "Jackson reforms" and "in the soup" will forever be linked in his mind no doubt!

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