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A planned approach to writing legal articles, and other types of legal content writing, will help ensure that your law firm’s website is the one which is found when people are looking for legal advice on a particular issue. Sue Bramall, legal marketing expert and director of Berners Marketing outlines best practice in legal writing and discusses the merits of managing this in-house or outsourcing to an external provider.
Before anyone puts pen to paper, the first thing to think about is the purpose of the writing exercise proposed. Is this a push or a pull situation?
Push content – is where you are writing for a newsletter, e-news, or magazine. The outlet already has an established audience, and so the purpose of your writing will be to inform readers, who are usually existing contacts, and encourage them to contact you or to introduce their friends or colleagues.
Pull content – is where you are writing something which you will place on your law firm’s website or blog to attract attention from people searching the internet. This might be because an issue is particularly topical or because you have analysed keyword traffic and have identified a key phrase to target. Here the purpose of your writing will be to appeal to those mystical internet search algorithms, and pull in people who may or may not know anything about your firm.
Where you are pushing content out to a known audience, you should know what level of technical knowledge is appropriate for the readers.
In a pull scenario, or where there is any uncertainty over the audience (for example with a national paper which has a broad readership) you should always err on the side of caution and write for the broadest audience. You do not wish to alienate any readers with incorrect assumptions about their knowledge of the law or use of legal jargon.
We often hear law firm partners say that when they put articles on their website, they do not result in any new business. A quick look at their website usually reveals a few obvious reasons.
‘Having been working with the legal profession for many years, I have edited thousands of legal articles and don’t think it would be unreasonable to claim that I have a slightly above average understanding of legal issues compared to the general public. But that does not qualify me to draft a contract of employment for my staff that would deliver the results that I require – which is to minimise any risks to my business. In fact, it is likely to have the opposite effect,’ Sue explains.
In the same vein, being able to draft a legal document is not the same as knowing how to write in a journalistic style or in a way that is effective for search engine optimisation. These are two different skills which need to be layered over the expert legal knowledge.
Given that lawyer time is so valuable, it is important to understand how certain editorial techniques will make a big difference to the number of people any article will be seen by.
Law firms will often establish a rota for staff to contribute legal articles. This is a good approach if you need content for newsletters and magazines, as you are in the push situation.
However, where you need content for the internet, this can be very ineffective as you end up with a number of people writing content in the wrong way. To avoid this problem, you would need an editor who understands search engine optimisation – maybe a professional support lawyer (PSL) or a marketing manager.
The principle behind outsourcing any aspect of your business is that it is not always cost-effective for an organisation to do everything itself. By outsourcing legal content writing of legal articles, solicitors can focus on the business of law more effectively and profitably, spending their valuable time on face-to-face marketing and business development activities.
Not all lawyers are natural authors and struggle to break out of drafting mode. Working with a ghostwriter can be productive where the expert focuses on the big ideas and legal detail, while the ghostwriter brings strong journalistic skills. This can result in first-rate content, particularly if you are seeking to raise your profile in the media.
If your law firm does not have an in-house marketing manager or PSL who can edit for search engine optimisation, then you risk wasting fee-earner time on articles which will not attract views.
Even for firms who do have an in-house marketing manager or PSL, we often hear that legal content is only produced on an ad hoc basis according to capacity in certain teams, instead of regularly and according to a planned editorial calendar. This can result in a website where the news is dominated by blog posts from one part of the firm, whereas other departments are silent and therefore invisible.
Successful websites are now generating as much business for a law firm as a whole new office, and this is because the manager sees that the website is an outlet in its own right.
Just as a retailer has to constantly evolve their stock to meet customer demands, and to update their window display to attract the attention of passers-by, so this is the case with the legal content which is written for your website which needs to be regular, relevant and recent.
Berners Marketing has been providing expert legal content to lawyers and law firms since 2004 and offers a free review of a law firm’s website content and will offer suggestions for improvement with no obligation. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org.