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July 05, 2006

NEWPORT BEACH LAWYER BEATS THE TIMES TO WIN PRESS CLUB'S TOP BLOG AWARD

By Robert Iafolla, Daily Journal Staff Writer

NEWPORT BEACH - J. Craig Williams moved to Southern California nearly 20 years ago and never attended a celebrity award show. So when he was nominated for a Los Angeles Press Club award, he decided to go. It wasn't the Academy Awards, but at least Larry King was scheduled to speak.

The way he figured it, his chances of winning were slim-to-none. He is a lawyer, not a journalist. And he was up against nominees from the Los Angeles Times.

But "when they put my name up on the screen as a winner," Williams said, "I nearly jumped out of my skin."

The Los Angeles Press Club presented Williams with the Best Individual Weblog award for his blog MayItPleaseTheCourt.com at its June 24 ceremony.

Out of the estimated 1,500 legal blogs, sometimes referred to as blawgs, this is the first time that Kevin O'Keefe, founder of the legal marketing company LexBlog, has heard of one winning a mainstream journalism award.

"The fact that Craig was recognized over and above professional writers is an extraordinary accomplishment," said O'Keefe, whose business focuses on the design and use of legal blogs.

Williams started the blog in August 2003, a few months after he founded the Williams Law Firm in Newport Beach, and it now pulls in a daily readership, he estimates, of between 10,000 and 17,000 readers.

Like many other legal blogs, MayItPleaseTheCourt.com is partially a networking and marketing tool.

"You get clients based on relationships, and I can only shake so many people's hands," Williams said. "A blog is like a handshake with the world."

Beyond the practical business application, the blog also serves as an outlet for Williams' long-time passion for writing.

After majoring in communication arts at James Madison University, his first job was writing newsletters, speeches and press releases for an AT&T subsidiary in Richmond, Va. Drawn to the law by the promise of intellectual challenges, Williams attended a fast-track program at the University of Iowa College of Law, and earned his degree in just over two years.

Being a business litigator has allowed plenty of opportunities to write, and he also teaches legal research and writing at Chapman University School of Law.

On his blog, however, Williams can take some literary liberties that don't jibe with briefs and motions.

Describing his writing voice, he said, "if you were advocating against me, you'd say I was sarcastic; if you were advocating for me, you'd say I was wry."

Joseph R. McFaul, a senior associate at the Williams Law Firm, said that a side of Williams' personality comes across on the blog, the side you might hear when discussing cases over a cup of coffee.

On the site, Williams primarily writes about cases that are relevant to his practice like environmental, labor and tax law, but he will address any legal matter that intrigues him.

A potential pitfall with any blog is that the content might offend somebody, and for a lawyer this could mean scaring off clients. This is not much of a problem for Williams, though, who said his personal views typically align with those of his clients.

"I represent businesses, companies and small-to medium-sized entrepreneurs," he said. "I don't think you're going to read anything on my blog that takes an anti-business position."

His ability to tie his posts to the news of the day elevates his blog above many others, said Jennifer Collins, managing editor of Law.com, which hosts Williams' blog.

The quality of the writing also makes it shine, said Lisa Stone, who developed Law.com's blogging strategy and recruited Williams.

"Craig's gift comes from his love of language, which gives him the ability to boil down legal arcana into something that layman can enjoy," Stone said.

Since its launch, the blog has become a regular part of Williams' life. While it takes about an hour to write a post, he rarely misses a day, regardless of what else is going on.

"Sometimes I blog first thing in the morning, sometimes very late at night, sometimes in the middle of the day," he said. "I've blogged on vacations, sitting on a beach, on boats - it blows my mind where I've blogged."

In January, he began co-hosting a weekly Internet radio show with attorney Robert Ambrogi, which is the most popular legal podcast on Apple's iTunes. And his ambitions don't stop there.

Others in the legal community, like Melissa Lafsky of Opinionistas.com and Jeremy Blachman of AnonymousLawyer.com, have parlayed their blogs into book deals. When this is mentioned, Williams' face brightened.

"I actually have a book written," he said, "and if anybody knows of a good literary agent, I'm looking."

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