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Why Lawyers Should Not Just Write About the Law

robin-oliverRobin Oliver works at JDSupra as business development manager and wrote a useful and pertinent post about lawyers and how they should be marketing their content.

My friend and colleague Adrian Lurssen has a mantra you may have heard him utter over the years at various conferences and on webinars to do with content marketing:

Don’t write about the law; write about how the law impacts the people you serve.

Adrian began saying this around the time he put together an LMA conference presentation on what makes some pieces of content more popular than others. He looked at all of the legal writing we published on a particular change in the law in 2013 to do with the United States patent system (from ‘First to Invent’ to ‘First to File;’ about 80 articles produced by about as many lawyers/law firms), and found that one article in particular did really well, far and above the others.

I won’t go into the detail here (I have a fresh example, below), but can send you a video copy of Adrian’s study if you’d like to see it. Suffice to say, in the list of content marketing takeaways was included this one directive, paraphrased by me here:

If you want to stand out in a very noisy crowd, even if you are writing about legal matters for in-house attorneys, frame your writing by talking about how the law impacts your clients. In short: be specific, be helpful, focus on what matters most to your readers.

All of this sounds great in theory, and whenever I was in a room listening to Adrian offer this advice, I would see the pens come out and the note taking begin. However, as much as everyone seems to agree with this type of thinking, it still seems hard to actually put into practice. It takes editorial skill. How to do it? What follows is one good example.

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The Test Case

Earlier this year, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case in which it became clear that employers can be required (in some circumstances) to allow telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation per the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We knew quite quickly that this was a hot story – with three clues: 1) lots of firms began writing about the decision; 2) the topic became one of our most popular with our readers at the time; and 3) the mainstream press began writing about the decision (and, more importantly, its impact on employers).

…employers will always be interested in the answers to evergreen questions.

Most law firm articles had the very legal terms “reasonable accommodation” and “ADA” in the title. Others titles also directly mentioned the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In other words, starting with the title (the first thing most prospective readers see as they are inundated all day, every day, with lists and lists of possible items to read; often the only thing prospective readers see before moving on to other titles, looking for whatever grabs their attention and compels them to click) …starting with the title, most of the articles and alerts focused on the law, the change in the law, not the impact of that law for employers, in plain and simple terms.

(In contrast, I just searched on this topic on Google and found a headline from a recent, updated story on a business news site that reads: “Work from-home policies for disabled employees need review…”)

Now, I want to be clear: all of these legalese-focused pieces were well written by experienced attorneys. I’m not going to directly reference any of the pieces here because my point is not to call out any one writer or firm for producing sub-par work. The analysis was excellent in every case. My point is simply about using editorial best practices to stand out in a noisy online landscape so that your excellent analysis actually reaches an even wider, worthwhile audience.

And the Robin Oliver “takeaways”?

So, what’s the point? What are the takeaways here? A few:

  • I’m not suggesting to stop writing initial analysis of the important decisions that matter to the clients and industries you serve. Continue to do that. It is an important digital record of your expertise and knowledge.
  • However, do also return to the subject at hand and write more. Write about these important rulings through the filter of how they actually affect your clients. Don’t just include a “client takeaways” paragraph at the end of your initial analysis. Make your entire article the client takeaway.
  • Another rallying cry you’ll hear from us: one update is good, several are better. Yes, it’s a noisy landscape. You need to work hard to earn your readers. When you write more than one article on a matter, you greatly increase your chances of being noticed for your expertise. What matters most in this experiment is not that your article got four or five times the readership of others, but that, in total, all of the work – all of it – amounted to a large readership.
  • Look at which of your publications are getting the most traction. Use those articles as springboards into new work on the same subject. Now that you have written one piece on the matter and readers are showing you that they’re interested, what’s the next piece you can write on the matter? Conceive of it entirely from the point of view of your readership, and what they really need to know today, tomorrow, six months from now.

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