Layer cakes and legal content writing

A guest article from Sue Bramall of Berners Marketing.

A sponge cake is a cake, but it is not quite the same as a Victoria sandwich (with its cream filling), or a Sachertorte with its rich chocolate coating, or a carrot cake with its cream cheese frosting.  These extra ingredients transform a mundane sponge cake into something special, something altogether more enticing.

And, so it is with legal content writing.  A legal article is a legal article.  But one set of 800 words is not always as enticing as another.  Would you have been reading this article, if it was called “The problems with legal content writing”?  Probably not.

If you are the Knowledge Lawyer or PSL charged with producing a newsletter and have to source articles from a number of solicitors around your firm, then you may have to cope with varying quality of material which comes into your inbox.

Some legal articles will be witty, engaging, in plain English and right on the button.  Others will be incomprehensible, full of jargon, tortuous or tedious. Regardless of the quality, very few articles will be written in a way which is designed to maximise the chance of being found in an internet search.

Many solicitors will recognise that drafting an article for marketing purposes is not the same as drafting a contract or pleadings.  If they also acknowledge that they are not a search engine expert, then they are likely to be grateful for you to add some frosting in the way of journalistic flair.

But others will be less enthusiastic and may present an article as “signed off and ready to send out” as a firm signal not to “mess about” with it.  This is often a signal that they do not understand the role that content plays in a digital marketing strategy.

In either case there are a few things that you might consider including in your baking kit to make life easier:

Planning – check the recipe first

Occasionally you might receive an article and wonder why on earth the topic was chosen.  Before someone puts pen to paper, if possible, encourage them to prepare a short synopsis first to outline:

  • Why is this important now?
  • Who is it relevant to?
  • How might the firm benefit (ie win more work on this topic)?

Commissioning – check the ingredients

It can be useful to have two things in your store cupboard:

  • Prepare some model precedents for different types of articles, such as for a deal, a case report, top tips, new legislation.
  • Provide a crib sheet, highlighting the information which you need:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? How did we add value? How can we help?

Editing – check it is baked correctly

Consistency of style is really important, especially if your newsletter comprises articles from several contributors.

Editing – adding the filling & frosting

Even the best drafted legal articles will benefit from some editing for a number of reasons:

  • A fresh perspective will highlight jargon or acronyms which may mean different things outside of this legal practice area – for example, LPA means very different things to a private client lawyer and a planning lawyer.
  • The marketing team will be familiar with the structure of the website, and they will know which hyperlinks are required and the best wording for those links – the best words are absolutely not “click here”.
  • They will also know which keywords are being targeted and which social media hashtags should be used.
  • If an article has already been published on one website, then it will benefit from some tweaking before it is added to your firm’s website.  For example, a journalistic headline is great for print media, but not so effective for internet search purposes.

Update your recipe book

It is worth having a content policy which pulls all this together in order to ensure high quality and consistent content, and highlights that the content is part of your digital strategy so needs to confirm to a few digital protocols. 

Whether or not you enjoy baking, wouldn’t we prefer to offer our clients a Sachertorte rather than a plain sponge?

Sue Bramall of Berners Marketing is a colleague of mine from the Law Consultancy Network and has more than 25 years of experience marketing professional services.


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About knowledge4lawyers

I am a lawyer and a Knowledge Management expert. Through The Knowledge Business I help law firms improve their efficiency and profitability through knowledge services - consultancy, training and implementation help.
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