In the August issue I wrote about how to build your law practice by publishing. Here are more tips on getting the most out of your legal writing and publishing.
- Make sure your title is catchy. This is particularly important when writing web content, because often a search engine may show your title and little else. A working title is fine for drafting purposes, but don’t just use it automatically when your article is published. Titles are of critical importance.
- Make sure your title is accurate. The title should tell the reader what the article is about, and the reader should receive whatever the title promises.
- Make a bold promise in your title – but only if you can deliver on the promise.
- Create urgency or an emotional response in the title. Consider using strong, emotion-laden words: “Painless,” “Essential,” “Best,” “Incredible,” “Amazing,” “Awesome” …you get the point.
- Also consider good teaching/rational words like, “principles,” “rules,” “guidelines,” “secrets,” “ways.”
- Consider making the title fun. You could use alliteration, or reference or allude to pop culture topics or icons. Promise fun or mystery.
- Keep it short. Search engines prefer titles that are less than about 65 characters.
- Promising “tips” works well. Readers like tips; it promises a short article with a definite end-point. Also, odd numbers, and larger numbers, are apparently most enticing.
- Consider starting titles with question words like “Why” or “How.” These words ensure good promises.
- Beware signaling readers not to read your article. If your title says, “11 Key Estate Planning Tips for Quick Shop Owners,” you have signaled owners of businesses other than quick shops not to read your article.
- Add a little personality if you can, but make sure your title is still informative.
- Focus on benefits, not features. To improve my earlier title, how about, “11 Key Estate-Planning Tools for Business Owners to Protect Their Families.” (Which, by the way, is 64 characters.)
- Consider but don’t become enslaved by SEO (Search Engine Optimization) concerns. Try to use a key word or phrase in your title – but don’t feel compelled to do so.
- Proofread your titles. (Often everyone checks the article, but no one checks the title. A spelling mistake in the title is really, really embarrassing.)
- Revisit your title when your work is complete. Treat your initial title as a “working title,” and try to make the final title even better.
- Always include your contact information—best at the top, but at least at the bottom of your article.
- Develop your promise in your opening paragraphs. Make sure a prospect knows the purpose of your article right away. Don’t say, “There is a new case about X.” Instead say, “If you are a small business owner, you need to do X, as demonstrated by this new case.” That way, your reader derives value right away, even if they stop reading.
- Keep the opening paragraph as short—and easy to read—as possible.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms until later; they may turn off a reader.
- If you want to use an anecdote or the like to open an article, keep it very short, and use different formatting (like indenting or italics) to distinguish from the content of your article.
- Keep a bank of ideas for articles. This will help you get started, or satisfy a deadline that sneaks up on you.
- If you want or need to write, start writing. This will get things going. You can always fix your writing later.
- Avoid too much selling (or boasting about yourself, your firm, or your practice). This turns off your reader.
- Consider a fun format. Would a comic work? What about a conversation or story to prove your point?
- Use present tense.
- Use active verbs and short sentences and paragraphs.
- Use subheadings.
- Use images, pictures and diagrams. Of course, make sure you comply with copyright law when using others’ images.
- Make your articles look attractive. Look at how your articles will appear on the page. Visit articles after they are published, to make sure you are pleased with how they appear.
- Give credit to people whose ideas you use. It makes your writing seem more authoritative and will endear you to the people you recognize.
- Use spelling and grammar checks.
- Keep it simple. If your computer or someone pre-reading an article tags a section as clumsy or unclear, rewrite the section to make it better. Often the easiest trick is to divide the section into additional sentences and make sure each contains an active verb.
- Consider introducing and resolving a conflict in your article.
- Consider a “fictional” format—like a fictional letter from a client. But if you are using fiction, admit this in your writing.
- Embrace writing for a small group or niche, particularly if that group presents a target-rich environment for your law practice. But make sure you identify a publisher—or means of distribution like a listserv or website—that you can use to distribute your article to that niche.
- National circulation is not always best. The articles that bring me the most legal business are published locally, not nationally.
- Write for business development, not a court. Your business development articles are not legal briefs. So don’t write them like legal briefs. (By the way, your legal briefs also should have short sentences and paragraphs. But that is a topic for another day.)
- It is okay to have one-sentence paragraphs. And to start sentences with “and.” Those rules we learned in grammar school are rules of thumb for young writers, so that every sentence doesn’t start with “and.” But hopefully you have now moved past needing such basic rules of thumb.
- Consider linking your writings to other things you have written. Reference a prior article, or tell what readers to anticipate in the next article. This will encourage readers to look or your other writings.
- Consider linking to other resources that may interest the reader.
- Invite your readers to contact you for more information, copies of other articles, and the like.
- Track readership. This can be difficult when you publish on paper or in someone else’s publication. If you publish on a website you control, however, you should definitely see what attracts attention—and keep doing it.
- Reuse your publications. Give presentations on the topic, and use your article as part of your materials. Link to your publication in blog posts. That said, while persistence is good, don’t become a pest.
- Keep track of your articles. I often send my articles to people when the article may be helpful. And, of course, I have them all laid out with my firm logo and contact information, in an attractive format.
- Have fun writing. If you hate writing, find another way to build your law practice. Writing is not a business development tool that works for everyone.
About the Author
Michael Downey is a legal ethics lawyer at Downey Law Group LLC, a law firm devoted to legal ethics, law firm risk management, lawyer discipline defense, and the law of lawyering. He can be reached at (866) 961-6644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.