We know that attorneys know how to write. You spend years honing your research and writing skills for briefs, memoranda, motions, academic papers, and client letters. Yet when you’re asked to generate content for a practice area blog, social media post, or to increase your professional online presence, you may feel stumped. The thought of producing one post can be overwhelming, let alone conceiving new content day after day, and week after week.
At LISI, one of the ways that we support our clients is by helping them to conceive and create valuable content, either by themselves or with our help. We plan content calendars, write blog articles and social media posts, and recently our Communications Manager and Legal Content Writer, Julie Ackerman, held a blog writing workshop for attorneys, to help attendees get past the terrifying blank screen.
So, how can you move beyond posting announcements about new hires and attorney awards, and start creating valuable and original content for your clients and potential clients?
Who are you writing for? And why?
Before you get started, you must consider your medium, your target audience, and your purpose in writing; these will affect the content, tone, and length of your piece. Your medium will determine the length of your piece: a Tweet is limited to 280 characters, the new maximum on LinkedIn posts is 3,000 characters, and a blog post, though theoretically unlimited, should still be succinct to capture and hold your reader’s attention.
Your audience will also affect what and how you write. If you are writing a high-level tax article for a target audience of CFOs, you can assume that your audience has a certain level of understanding about the topic, and your language will be very different than if you were explaining what to do after a car accident to a general audience.
Finally, consider your purpose in writing. Lawyers may write to retain existing clients by providing useful information, to attract new clients by increasing their visibility and demonstrating their knowledge of a topic, to increase their stature in their practice area, or to grow their online presence by increasing organic search traffic. All of these goals can be achieved by creating valuable content that your target audience is looking for, wants to read, and will recommend to others.
Now that you are ready to write, what should you write about? Here are 5 ideas to help generate valuable content:
1. What questions are your clients and potential clients asking?
Every day in your practice, you field inquiries from existing and potential clients about a variety of things: their case, their settlement, your fees, changes in the law, or something they have seen on the local news. These are clues as to what your clients and prospects want to know, and what content they might find valuable. Use these common questions as a starting point to brainstorm for your next blog article or series of social media posts, keeping in mind your ethical obligations of client confidentiality if using a client’s circumstances as a source of content.
Another idea generator is good old Google, which has a feature called “People Also Ask.” You can type a question into Google, then use People Also Ask to see what people are searching for online related to this topic.
2. What are people looking at, or reacting to, in your content?
One of the great things about sharing your writing online is that you can tell who is reading your material and engaging with it. On LinkedIn and Twitter, you can easily see how many likes, shares, or comments a post gets (either yours or someone else’s), and identify which topics are resonating with your target audience. Build on the topics that people want to read, and steer away from issues that are not gaining traction.
On your firm website, you can track which pages are the most visited, who is visiting them, and how long people are spending on those pages. This can identify not only the more popular topics and questions, but can also reveal what topics specific clients are reading about. Providing valuable content on this topic is a great opportunity to grow your relationship with that client.
3. High profile cases and legislative changes
Surprised that this isn’t higher up the list? Big cases and new laws tend to be the focus of the lawyer more than the client, unless you are writing for a professional or sophisticated audience. Most clients are not operating at the cutting edge of the law and these legal headlines may not seem relevant to them.
However, it is always important for lawyers to be on top of new legislation and stand-out cases in their practice area, particularly if you are trying to build your reputation as an authority in your area. In these instances, it is especially important that clients and prospects see you engaging on topics at the forefront of your practice. Additionally, some clients do need to be informed about these changes because they directly impact their business or personal life, or because the case or law is on point for your client base. In these situations, make your content valuable by interpreting the case or law for your audience rather than just reporting the news. On a recent episode of LISI News + Views + To Dos, Adrian Lürssen, Co-founder and Vice President of Strategic Development of JD Supra said:
“… people mistake breaking the news with making sense of the news. So sometimes you’ll see firms just kind of reporting what everybody already knows. And other times, you’ll see firms introducing this news that has been reported, and then making sense of it on behalf of their clients. This happened, and here’s how it impacts you. And this is what you should do as a consequence.”
You add value by interpreting the news.
4. Non-legal newsworthy events
Local and world events that are not specifically legal can also be used as a hook for new content in two ways:
- To discuss the legal implications of a non-legal event; or
- To explain existing laws
For example, when COVID-19 hit, there were a host of legal implications for businesses, employees, schools, healthcare providers, and the world in general. Many lawyers created helpful content on this topic, and continue to do so.
Topical events can also be used as an opportunity to offer content on existing laws, and can make a complex or unrelatable topic more relevant to the reader. For example, a high-profile celebrity marriage or divorce can be used to explain prenuptial agreements, separation agreements, or alimony.
One disadvantage to using current news events as a hook for your content is that your piece can get lost in the bulk of news articles and other content on this topic. In a normal week, your scheduled article on your state’s dog bite laws might rank highly on Google but if the President’s dog happens to bite someone that week, your article is going to get pushed way down the Google search rankings. (We may or may not know this from experience. Thanks, Major.)
5. Future predictions
Lawyers are not generally inclined to make future predictions. In fact, ethics rules often warn against it! However, you do have knowledge and experience that your audience does not have, which you can apply to current situations and suggest possible outcomes. This is especially useful as a content generator in practice areas affected by frequent legislative or political changes, such as taxation or immigration, and in areas where people or businesses are trying to plan future strategies and budgets. Obviously, this kind of content will be littered with disclaimers and qualifications but it is useful content nonetheless.
Now that you have a starting point for your content, brainstorm it, explore it, and consider all of its possibilities. Very often, one idea can lead to a whole series of posts, or one blog post can be repurposed to provide content across multiple platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.) And don’t be afraid to change direction if you discover that your audience is reacting particularly well, or badly, to some topics over others.
And finally, … remember that you are a highly educated professional with a unique skill set to offer. Writing about the things that you are knowledgeable about, and enthusiastic about, is easier for you, and so much more engaging to the reader. Now, go forth and write!