As a legal professional, you're in the business of constantly composing new writing samples - be they pleadings, speeches, client letters, or blog posts. All this writing isn't easy, especially when your goal is to finish quickly... and cover all your bases... and sway your audience... and stay within your page limit. Luckily, there are ways to improve your writing while simultaneously making the process less exhausting; the secret is planning ahead. Through strategic planning, you'll be able to convey your message in a more efficient way - which means fewer words, less time, and greater impact.
First, identify your thesis or core argument. Decide who your audience is, and define a successful outcome as it pertains to your specific application - whether you're teaching, convincing, storytelling, or summarizing.
Next, perform a thorough brain dump and write down everything you want to include in your composition, including facts, opinions, issues, ideas, assumptions, rules, conclusions and assertions. This preliminary step will give you an overview of all the elements you're working with, so you can formulate a more comprehensive and substantiated argument. Scribbles and messy notes are fine for now - as long they're legible enough to re-read later.
Once you have everything written down, use outlines to weave these strings of information together into one cohesive fabric. There are a multitude of ways to do this, but I find that bubble trees, flow charts, and traditional outlines are the easiest to create and utilize.
Bubble trees are my favorite type of outline; I use them to create my daily to-do lists, map out my annual goals, and decide what to pack before I travel. Always start by writing your purpose, thesis, or core argument in the center circle, and drawing first-level branches for all the bigger themes or concepts.
For example, if my core argument is "MerusCase is the best legal technology on market", I might designate my first-level branches accordingly: extensive features and capabilities, affordable pricing and ease/accessibility, loyal and satisfied clients, great culture and devoted support staff, numerous product integrations and automations, high-grade security and protection protocols, and limitations of competitors.
Break down each of your first- and second-level branches until you have: a) utilized all of the relevant content from your brain dump; and b) identified specific documents, quotes, statistics, and other resources that will help you prove your point.
Flow charts are extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of projects. When it comes to planning your writing, flow charts are particularly great for creating seamless chronology and visualizing the flow of logic that your audience will follow. Because of their flexibility, flow charts are also useful for mapping out arguments that have uncertain turning points. For example, if you don't know what approach your opposing counsel will take in court, flow charts will help your prepare for all possibilities. For a full tutorial on creating and using flowcharts, check out this guide from Creately.
Since you are well-versed in the IRAC method, you're likely to benefit from the structural similarity of traditional (skeletal) outlines. These outlines are easy to construct, formal enough to present to your colleagues, and can be used to organize any type of writing. Because of their presence in academic writing circles, most traditional outlines follow a standardized format - but as this guide from the University of Richmond shows, they can be as broad or as detailed as you'd like.
Whichever outline format you choose, focus on ideas, concepts, and logical thinking, rather than on word choice or grammar. Go with the flow; if you're stuck on phrasing, just leave yourself a ______ or [a suggestion, synonym, or paraphrase] - then move on.
Finally, begin your composition and use your outline as a roadmap; you'll be surprised how much easier it is to write when you've already thought through the brunt of your argument.
Alternatives to Blogs
Blogs are a great place to share information with your potential client base, and your firm should definitely have at least one... but let's face it, everyone is blogging these days, and it's easy for yours to get lost in the mix. Instead of making your blog your primary or only marketing channel, consider using multiple platforms to post useful information that potential clients can visit.
For instance, posting on Quora may give you an additional audience for your content. Quora is a platform for the public to post and answer questions - and topics range from "ways to optimize divorce settlements" to "ways to catch a leprechaun" (yes, seriously). Answering questions from a professional profile in Quora builds your web presence and sets you apart as an expert in the field. Do some research as to what your client pool is reading, where and what their interests are (check out the Google Analytics section below), and start posting information in those channels.
Track Your Marketing
We recommend using tools like MailChimp, Squarespace, Google Analytics, and Hootsuite to measure your marketing campaigns - and using your law practice management system to keep track of your marketing data.
MailChimp - MailChimp allows you to easily automate and send personalized emails to large groups of people. If you have a newsletter you want to share with your subscribers, you can use MailChimp to compose your message - then track the open rate and click rate to see who is engaging with your content.
Squarespace - Use Squarespace to build beautiful websites without learning a single line of code. It's easy to use, and includes a wide variety of design templates that you can choose from and customize to fit your business needs.
Google Analytics - Embed Google Analytics' tracking code into your website to receive demographic information about your visitors - including their location, age, interests, and gender.
Hootsuite - Don't have time to handwrite tweets and Facebook posts every day? Hootsuite can help you compose and schedule your posts en masse. Also, download the Hootsuite Suggestions app to repost and retweet others' content effortlessly.
MerusCase - The aforementioned tools will help you collect more marketing data - but where should you store it? Simplify your life by using the same secure and accessible platform you trust for storing client data: your law practice management system. MerusCase allows you to easily keep tabs on your marketing ventures, event calendar, growth goals, brand assets, marketing-related correspondence, and more. For tips on using MerusCase to market your law firm, check out this blog post!
Create Useful Content
Choose 5 cases that were beneficial for your firm (whether that means they were most profitable, or set your firm apart, or changed the course of your practice) and list the top issues in each case. For instance, if you're a family attorney, the issues may have been:
1. Whether the father has rights if he has been absent for x number of years
2. Whether the mother is entitled to child support payments if she did not demand them for several years
After you list out these issues, prepare a blog post or guest post on each topic, and promote them on social media. If your top clients were asking these questions, and you've helped resolve them, you can bet that other people have these questions and need your help as well. Multiply your success by helping other clients who have the same or similar issues, and use your past success to build your future.
Create Great Visuals
Lawyers are amazing with words (no, I'm not biased!). Analyzing the meaning of every single term you use in your documents, and carefully selecting the ones that could potentially win your argument.... that's pure art.
But what if you could channel that creative energy into explaining law to your potential clients - in a visual format? You can, and there are several ways to do this:
Infographics - Infographics are actually fairly easy to create. Use the issue list you created for your content piece (above) as a source of inspiration. For example, if your client is having a problem receiving child support, outline a few things they should keep in mind when receiving or trying to collect child support. Make a list and describe each point in a sentence or two. Then start creating your infographic.
The best resource (which we use religiously) is Canva. Click on the "infographic" template and get to work. Choose your favorite template that has catchy colors and start replacing the content with your own. It's that simple.
Post the content on your blog, in your social media, or in other channels that you know your potential clients are using. Even your personal Instagram or Facebook accounts can be great way to share your creation. Personalized content usually fares better than something coming from a company, so get to sharing.
Slideshows - Slideshare and Canva are great resources to publish slideshow presentations with relevant, easy-to-digest information for your target audience. A new feature from Canva allows you to publish directly from their platform, just like you would a regular web site. Best of all, there's no coding or technical troubleshooting involved. Simply prepare and post. Slideshare is easy as well: just compose your slides in Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides, and upload the document straight to Slideshare.
Three C's of Personalization
The term "innovation" has expanded to the legal industry. To stand out, lawyers have to be innovative in the way that they market their firms and solve their clients' problems. Here's one way you can be innovative and use modern marketing theories and methods to capture new clients: personalization.
Coffee Hour - Set up a weekly "coffee hour" at a local coffee shop and invite your blog/newsletter and social media followers there for a one-on-one session. It's a no-pressure, relaxed environment that will help you stand out from your competition. Make the consultation free, but follow it up with an email with the option to schedule a meeting and sign a retainer.
Chat Hour - Similar to the coffee hour, advertise a weekly "chat hour" on your site and social media, and allow people to anonymously ask you questions regarding their case. Again, make the consultation free, but follow it up with an email with the option to schedule a meeting and sign a retainer.
Calendar Invites - Allow your clients to schedule their consultation appointments directly from your website. Keep your availability visible and eliminate all barriers to them reaching you. This way, they can schedule their appointments based on their own availability and eliminate the hassle of back-and-forth calendar negotiations. Depending on what platform you use to build your site (or your website developer) calendars are pretty easy to implement. Simply look up "calendar widgets" and you'll find relevant information on their integration.