Posted by Sue Bramall, a member of the Legal Futures Associate Law Consultancy Network
“Our solicitors put lots of content on our website, but we don’t get much business from it”, the managing partner of a law firm said to me recently. Indeed, there was plenty of legal text on the website but there were several reasons why it was not yielding results.
Of course, all lawyers can write, so it might seem logical to think that they can write content for a website. The question that you need to ask is, how well can they write? In particular, how well can they write for the internet?
One of my favourite bloggers on legal writing is Bryan Garner, editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary and the author of many books on English usage and writing style.
His blog ‘Why lawyers can’t write’ for the American Bar Association is a classic, and explains why lawyers think they are great writers due to the scientific phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Another key question for law firm owners is whether you are happy for your website to act as nothing more than an online brochure, or do you wish it to function effectively as an online generator of new business?
If you are looking for a return on your investment, then you need to avoid filling your website with content which is ineffective for one or more of the following reasons:
1 Lack of content strategy
If your content strategy might best be described as ‘let’s have a look at what our competitors are doing and do something similar’, you need to be confident that you are copying a firm with a successful strategy.
If you cannot be sure of this, would it not make more sense to plan the content that you need and then ensure that it gets written?
2 Too much law, too little help
Clients do not generally look on law firm websites because they wish to learn about the law. What they are interested in is finding practical solutions to their problems, and in identifying someone who can help.
3 No clear audience
‘Is this relevant to me?’ will be uppermost in the minds of most readers and is a question they should be able to answer within the first couple of paragraphs. It can be very frustrating to reach the end of an article only to discover that it does not apply to your situation.
4 Get to the point
Articles written by lawyers tend to start with the history of a case or the area of law and gradually work up to the point of interest which is buried somewhere towards the end. The reader, meanwhile, has surfed off to find an article with an executive summary in the first paragraph.
5 Too much legalese
Even if a potential client finds a page on a subject of interest, if it is full of jargon and abbreviations the reader may not stay too long before trying to find another law firm with an article on the same subject in plain English.
6 No key messages
Even if a reader reaches the end of the article, it is often not clear how the solicitor might be able to help them, or how the client might benefit by instructing a solicitor.
The story of Little Jimmy’s battle against BigCorp is so much easier to grasp than the impersonal tale of a faceless claimant and defendant. Illustrating the case with a story and painting a picture of the background brings the issue to life, makes it easier to relate to and more memorable.
8 No call to action
Sometimes the author of an article, presumably a specialist in this area, is not identified and it is not clear who to make contact with or how.
9 Nothing to appeal to Google
Drafting contracts and pleadings requires a different skill to writing for the internet or the media where you need to understand the role of titles, sub-titles, keywords and hyperlinks.
Of course, given training, time and plenty of practice, there is no reason why a legal team cannot develop these skills. But is this really the best use of a valuable fee-earner’s time?
Working with a ghost writer is a great way for busy experts to leverage their time to ensure that written material on the internet fulfil its objectives.
10 Not the most profitable way to spend time.
Even if someone has time on their hands, remember that there are more productive face-to-face business development activities that they could undertake to build relationships with potential clients.