I’ve worked in the legal field for 10 years, and I’ve worked directly with lawyers the whole time. I’ve worked for Bar Associations assisting members with their program initiatives and copy editing their long, detailed, complex event descriptions and CLE titles – seriously though, why are CLE titles so long?
I’ve worked for a legal tech company selling e-discovery products to attorneys where I worked endlessly to describe technology to both the tech-savvy and the self-identified “old-school” attorney.
And now with AttorneySync, I work directly with lawyers and help them craft their brand and tone on their website. What is neat about working here is that each brand and client audience is different. This is my first job where I’m not actually writing or copy editing to an audience of lawyers. And I’ve noticed a trend, lawyers have a very strong opinion on writing, on their tone, what and how they want to say something.
And trust me, I get it – there can be consequences for bad legal writing. I used to work as an Ethics Paralegal, and the Bar Counsel would have loved to have reviewed a case with bad writing. Plus, you are this highly-educated, attention-to-detail, and fixers by trade, so of course, lazy marketing copy is going to drive you insane.
I’d like to find some common ground between our two worlds. Here’s what we both agree on:
Be direct. Sometimes you find, in marketing copy, these sentences that seem to be going somewhere but they are really just filling up word count for SEO because it’s better to have a blog post with 800 words instead of some pithy blog post of only 300 words; interestingly enough this sentence has 64 words and that is just over eight percent of this entire post. Filler is a killer. A good content writer will use each sentence to make a substantial point or a call to action.
Know your Audience. Your potential clients are coming to your website in a time of stress. They are often trying to figure out the next course of action. A mom reading about teen car accidents needs different information than a financial advisor looking to transition financial institutions- obviously. But the point is that both tones can still be educational, simplified, and make the reader feel empowered. You know your client and you should rely on your instinct about what makes your client reach out to you. Tell your marketer what that is and everyone will win.
Avoid passive voice. Passive voice can be written into marketing copy (oh, wow, that hurts, but I’ll do anything for a joke point). Okay, this rule is easily agreed on: marketers and lawyers (and potential clients) alike do not care for passive voice. Passive voice is weak. It makes you look weak. So there is no room for passive voice on your website.
Write positively. In the legal field, it can be difficult to find a positive spin on certain topics… birth injury and will contests come to mind. Writing positively is more than avoiding obvious negative words and adding excessive exclamation points. It’s making sure your reader feels safe with you, or empowered by the information. Direct, digestible writing tends to sound more positive as long as it’s not curt or too brief. When it’s appropriate, one tactic I use is to take a casual tone.
Use Headlines or Paragraph Breaks. Just like in long legal documents, you want to give your reader digestible bits of knowledge at a time. The best way to keep a reader engaged is to give them some rhythm and space while reading. It also aids in accessibility for readers who are using screen readers.
Include meaningful citations (or hyperlinks). If marketing copy is linking to anything, especially if it’s linking to your own site, this is important. The text that hyperlinked is as important as the source. To find out more, you could reference here or you could reference the Four Elements of Great Content Strategy. A user is more likely to click the link with a description. But there is also an SEO benefit! Links to your website with relevant keywords or brand name make those links stronger and more relevant. Clarity gets rewarded!
Marketers and lawyers may continue to squabble over punctuation and word choice, but we can both agree that good writing in invaluable. Hopefully, you put up with my silly writing today. If you have questions about content, tone, copyediting, or if you have an answer for why CLE titles are so long – feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.