Having worked with dozens of law firms and scores of attorneys over my career, I have encountered two types of lawyers when it comes to writing thought leadership articles: those who write content that people want to read and those who write content that almost nobody wants to read.

My identification of these two types of lawyers is not based merely on speculation. I have looked at enough Google Analytics dashboards to see the pattern play out. Both categories of attorneys clearly know how to write thought leadership. They understand legal principles, and they have the ability to explain subject matter through the written word. However, what separates them are two important factors: topic selection and writing style.

If a lawyer is going to take billable time out of their day to invest effort into drafting thought leadership, it serves them well to understand the basic principles behind content marketing so they are not wasting time writing content that no one will ever read. While I don’t expect lawyers to be marketing experts, it does help for attorneys to incorporate basic writing principles into their work, such as knowing your audience and writing in a manner that facilitates sharing knowledge.

Yet all too often, I see attorneys writing for an audience of none. Sometimes the subject matter is too esoteric, such as providing analysis of procedural minutiae. Other times, the subject matter is on point for the lawyer’s audience, but the writing has the flow of a law school essay, compete with a trail of footnotes.

Here are some practical tips to help lawyers stop wasting time on writing thought leadership that collects digital dust on their law firm websites.

Give Your Audience What They Want

When you give someone a present, you want to make sure it’s something they will either use or enjoy. Perhaps the person only has a broom, so you think that giving them a practical gift like a vacuum cleaner will make their lives easier. Maybe they enjoy pro baseball, so you give them a T-shirt featuring the logo of their favorite baseball team.

This kind of thoughtfulness is similar to how you should approach topic selection for your law firm-hosted thought leadership content.

What’s key to understand here is that it’s not about you. It’s about your audience, so you need to first know your audience before you can select a topic, just as you need to know a little about the intended recipient of a gift before you can successfully go shopping.

To get a sense of who your audience is, ask yourself these questions:

  • What industry am I targeting with my content, and how does that shape the interests and personalities of my target audience?
  • Are my intended readers company executives, in-house counsel, a combination of the two or someone else entirely? There’s a big difference when writing just for other lawyers versus writing for anyone else, especially the general public.
  • How sophisticated is my target audience? Am I at a plaintiff’s firm writing for the general public, or am I a corporate IP lawyer writing for an audience of Ph.D.-level engineers?

If you want to go the extra mile, take some time to sketch out an audience profile, also known as a persona. To do this, write out all the audience attributes you identified to create a fictional person, and then go forth in your topic selection with that person in mind.    

Another valuable tactic for knowing your audience better is to literally talk to them. Hit up a few clients you have a good working relationship with and ask them what they would like to read about to help them be better at their jobs. Their responses might confirm your speculations, but they also might reveal information you have not considered.

Ultimately, you should be writing articles about topics that your target audience either needs to know about (e.g., guidance on how to proceed with new legislation, a new regulation, etc.) or wants to learn more about (e.g., achieving business goals).

Write to Be Read

As I mentioned, some lawyers write their thought leadership as if they were still in law school. Their topic may be thoroughly explored and their copy well-researched, but it is stuffed with dry background information and crammed with clunky citations that make reading it a chore.

If you’re taking the time to write a piece of thought leadership, you need to be strategic with how you achieve your primary goal, which is to educate and inform. Part of that strategy is to write in a manner that encourages reading. That means the copy should be approachable (i.e., not academic), flow smoothly, and — trust me — be entertaining to read.

The best way to approach infusing your thought leadership with a writing style that demands to be read is to develop your writing voice. That’s what dictates the manner in which you convey yourself through the written word. It’s basically extracting a part of your personality and putting it to paper so what you write is uniquely yours in style.

Here are some tips for how you can find your writing voice.

  • Your writing voice is an extension of who you are as a person. Stay true to yourself, your values and your unique perspective. Embrace the quirks, idiosyncrasies and nuances that make your voice distinctively yours, and let your authenticity shine through in your writing.
  • Read other industry professionals’ thought leadership to see what you like and don’t like. You might read content written by other attorneys at your firm, from attorneys at competing law firms or from industry contacts you’re connected to on LinkedIn. The point is to expose yourself to different writing styles so you can incorporate what fits you and leave behind what doesn’t.
  • Make sure that whatever style you choose to use when writing is both comfortable for you and suitable for your audience/the subject matter. Maybe humor doesn’t come naturally for you — don’t force being funny. On the other hand, maybe you’re great at infusing humor into your writing, but your subject matter isn’t suited for a light-hearted approach.

Putting It All Together

In a sea of legal analysis, client alerts and case summaries, you want your content to stand out so you get a return on the effort you put into your writing. To do this, you need to really understand your audience so you can select topics that they want to read, and you need to write about these topics in a voice that makes reading easy, enjoyable or, if at all possible, both.

If you’d like help with your law firm content marketing program or are interested in having some one-on-one or group writing training, contact Jaffe’s Keith Ecker, SVP, Marketing & Branding, at kecker@jaffepr.com.