Attorneys should be paid by the word

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Many attorneys tell me they don’t write a newsletter or a blog because they don’t have anything to say.

I cry foul.

Have you ever spoken to an attorney?

Give them a minute and they’ll talk non-stop about their latest case, complain endlessly about a client who drives them crazy, or tell you all about a jerk attorney who makes their life miserable.

They’ll brag about a big case they just settled or a prestigious client they just signed up. They’ll opine about the law in their field or about an appellate case that is about to be heard.

If they’ve been ill or injured, they’ll share all the gory details. If they bought a new snowmobile or boat, they’ll go on and on about their new toy. If they just came back from Italy, they’ll tell you why you need to go.

Blah blah blah–it’s almost like they’re getting paid by the word.

No, attorneys have lots to say, about a lot of subjects. Fortunately, we can use our verbal alacrity to write a newsletter.

The trick is to have something to say that your clients and prospects want to hear.

Here are some ways to find out what that is:

  • Go through your email inbox and see what they’re asking you
  • Send them an email and ask them to submit questions; invite them to do the same thing on social media
  • Visit sites like Quora where people ask questions and lawyers answer them
  • Visit other lawyers’ blogs and see what they write about
  • Visit other lawyers’ blogs and social media profiles and look at comments and questions posted by readers and followers

You can supplement this by writing about things like what you like about being a lawyer, and what gives you pause. You can educate your readers about the law and procedure in your practice areas. You can share news about their industry or local market.

You can write profiles of your business clients. You can interview other professionals who work in your niche market. You can comment on articles and posts written by others who write about topics similar to your own, agreeing or disagreeing with them, and sharing your experience with the same subject.

You can also share a smattering of personal information about yourself, your hobbies and outside interests, movies you like, restaurants and books and software you recommend. Your readers want to know about you, the person, not just you, the lawyer.

There is no shortage of subjects you can write about that your clients and prospects would like to know.

If you ever feel that you’ve run out of things to say, you can repost what you’ve written before. You can do that because you will always have new people joining your list who haven’t read anything you wrote in the past. And because the people who have read your previous posts won’t remember most of the details. And because your prior opinions, experiences, and observations may have changed.

I don’t buy the “nothing to say” argument and you shouldn’t, either. Pretend you are getting paid by the word and I’ll bet you never run out of things to say.

How to build your practice with a blog and/or newsletter

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Decide what you want before writing the first word

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You’re preparing a presentation. An email. A blog post, article, or report. Whatever it is, the best place to start is at the end.

Before you write the first word, think about what you want your reader to do.

When they are done reading your email or watching your video, what do you want them to do next?

Examples:

  • Call to schedule an appointment
  • Call or email with questions
  • Visit a web page for more information
  • Sign up for your email newsletter or download your report
  • Fill out a form and turn it in at the end of the seminar
  • Tell your friends about this offer, article, or link
  • Register for the upcoming webinar
  • Pass out the enclosed referral cards
  • Watch a video
  • Comment, Like, and share
  • Tell your friends to call, subscribe, or download
  • Write a review on xyz

And so on.

All designed to get your reader or viewer to do something that helps you to get more clients, subscribers, traffic, referrals, or other benefits.

They get benefits, too. They learn something, get legal help, save money, or protect their family or business. Or they get the satisfaction of helping their friends or helping you.

Both of you get something.

The call to action at the end of your message is the most important part of that message. Think about what you want them to do before you start writing.

When you get to the end, tell them what to do. Don’t make them figure out what to do next. Tell them: Click here, call this number, go to this web page.

And tell them why. Don’t assume they know. Don’t be vague. Spell out exactly what they get or how they benefit.

Like this: “To learn how to easily get more referrals from your clients, get this

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Thinking like a lawyer? Fine. Just don’t write like one

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Stop. Really, just stop. Stop writing like a lawyer when you communicate with your clients and prospects. You cannot bore anyone into hiring you or sending you referrals.

And let’s face it, most legal writing is boring, even to other lawyers.

Write the way you must in your briefs, motions, and memoranda. Shovel in the prophylactic latinate phrases and legal terms of art in your contracts, leases, and trusts. Write the way lawyers write when you’re being a lawyer.

Just don’t do it in your emails or newsletter.

I know it can be difficult to switch roles. But if you want to attract business, you have to know when to put the law dictionary back on the shelf.

It takes practice. It takes a fair amount of re-writing. Having someone edit your early drafts is a good idea.

But you can do it.

Actually, it’s easier than you think.

You already know what to do. “Write like you talk” and “Imagine you’re speaking to a client sitting in the office” will get you most of the way there.

The hard part? Letting go. Unclenching your sphincter muscles because your brain is telling you that writing naturally and informally isn’t professional.

The solution? A stiff drink.

Hemmingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober”. You probably shouldn’t follow that advice literally, but you can do the next best thing by giving yourself permission to write a crappy first draft.

Write quickly. Pour it out. Let your fingers fly. Get it down on paper any way it wants to come out and don’t give it another thought because nobody is going to see your first draft.

The first draft is just for you.

Write every day. You will get better, and quicker. Eventually, you’ll be able to flip a mental switch and instantly turn off the legal draftsman and turn on the communicator.

You need both, of course. You need the lawyer to do the work, of course. But you need the communicator to bring in the work.

How to use your communication skills to get more referrals

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You may be boring but your message shouldn’t be

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Yesterday, I said that being boring isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a lawyer. Having a sober and level-headed countenance suggests that you know what you’re doing and are confident in your ability to help people.

But while you might be boring, there’s no excuse for having a boring message.

If your articles, blog posts, and presentations are boring, people aren’t going to read or listen, and if they don’t do that, they’re not going to act on them. From your headline or title all the way to call to action, your content must grab the reader by the collar and keep them engaged. It doesn’t necessarily have to be exciting but it can never be dull.

There are many ways to put life and energy into your writing and presentations. One of the simplest is to put people in your content.

Your written and spoken content should include stories about your clients and cases. Illustrate your points by talking about people you have observed or heard about. Provide quotes from experts and other people who have something interesting to say.

In a way, your content should resemble an appellate opinion. Present the facts and the outcome, of course, but drape the facts on the shoulders of real people.

Write a blog post about your client’s business or cause. Interview a colleague about their work or their life. Tell success stories about clients who had problems, hired you, and had a successful outcome.

It is often said that, “facts tell, but stories sell,” and it’s true. Stories sell because they have people in them.

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Scrivener writing app is on sale

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f you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for the writer in your family, or for yourself, you can pick up the Windows version of Scrivener right now for just $20.

If you ask me, it’s a bargain at full price.

I use Scrivener every day, mostly for long-form writing (books and reports), but you can use it for articles, blog posts, and any other writing. More than a few lawyers use it for first drafts of briefs, motions, appeals, et. al.

I couldn’t find the discount link on the Literature and Latte site but I’ve seen several sites promoting this so a quick search should give you the link.

Last summer, the publisher released a long-awaited version of Scrivener for iOS. It is full-featured and syncs (via Dropbox) with your Windows or Mac desktop.

In any form, Scrivener gets my highest recommendation.

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What vs. How

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In a “how to” article, report, or post, you describe the problem and present the various solutions you offer, but you should also tell the reader what they can do without you.

Tell them how they can avoid the problem in the first place. Tell them how to mitigate damages. Tell them how to protect themselves in the future.

The question is, having told them what to do, should you also tell them how to do it?

If you say that filing a quit claim deed is an option, should you tell them where to get the form and how to fill it out? If they can file for a simple divorce on their own will you tell them how to do it?

These are things you need to think about.

You want to provide value to readers and that usually means telling them more rather than less. More information shows them you know what you’re doing and builds trust. Being generous with your knowledge and advice endears them to you, making it more likely that if they hire any attorney, you’re the one they will choose.

But the choice isn’t always simple. If you tell them how to do something and they mess up, you may lose credibility and expose yourself to liability. If they follow your instructions successfully, they may decide they don’t need you for anything else.

Should you tell them all of the “whats” but none of the “hows”? Should you tell them all of the “hows” but encourage them to contact you to look it over?

Decisions, decisions.

My advice? Err on the side of too much rather than too little. Add your “on the other hands,” cover your backside, and encourage them to contact you to learn more. But don’t hide from telling them what to do and how to do it. Remember, you’re writing a “how to” not a “what to”.

Marketing legal services successfully starts with successful philosophies

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The benefits of a daily writing routine

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Most attorneys write every day. It’s a big part of the job. But let’s face it, most of that writing is formulaic and dull. Here’s our demand, this is what that case held, the facts are as follows.

You can dictate this stuff in your sleep.

Set aside 15 minutes every day to do a different kind of writing. Write something that expresses what you THINK and how you FEEL. Share your professional and personal experiences and observations. Inspire people to think, act, and buy.

Writing every day will make you a better writer. Faster, too. You’ll also produce more content (articles, blog posts, ebooks, reports, presentations, newsletters) that can bring you new business.

You don’t have to show your writing to anyone just yet. Just keep writing. The day will come, sooner than you think, when you know it’s time to put your writing to work.

If you love to write, writing every day can be a guilty pleasure you don’t usually get to experience. If you hate to write, talk. Record yourself “thinking out loud”.

Write every day, even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it. If 15 minutes is too much, start with ten. Or five. Do three-minute writing sprints, squirting out words as quickly as possible, without thinking or stopping.

Have fun with it. Be funny, or bitch and moan. Write whatever you want to write. But don’t break the chain. Writing daily is as much about discipline as it is communication. Once you’ve established this new habit, who knows what you might be empowered to do next.

Make a habit of getting referrals

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Torturing the cat before my first cup of coffee

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My cat is sick. We thought it was a cold he got when we boarded him recently when we were out of town. He’s never had a cold before and we figured he would get better on his own. When he didn’t, we took him to the vet and they said it was a good thing we did because what he had could kill him.

So now we’re in the middle of twice-daily doses of two antibiotics and an antihistamine. Unfortunately, our little guy won’t let us give him a pill and he won’t eat food that is adulterated with anything else so we are forced to deliver his meds by squirting them into his mouth with a hypodermic (minus the needle).

Seamus is a feisty Tuxedo and strong as hell. I hold him while my wife does the deed. I have to let him go each time while she re-loads because he fights me and claws me. I have the scars to prove it.

My wife and I hate doing this to him and he hates having it done. But we go through this routine, twice a day, because it has to be done.

I think that somehow, Seamus knows it has to be done. Yes, he tries to hide every time he sees me coming to grab him, but there’s a look of resignation in his eyes when I do.

Okay, so the point. The point is that whether it’s dosing the cat or marketing legal services, we all have to do things we don’t want to do. That’s life.

The other point is that when you put more of yourself into your emails–your personal life, client stories, observations about world or local events or about people you know–your emails are more interesting to your readers who would rather read about your sick cat than the rule against perpetuities.

It also makes your emails easier to write. And quicker. I shot this out in about five minutes while I waited for the coffee to brew.

Don’t know what to write about? Write about your world and the people (and animals) in it.

If you want more ideas about what to write about, get this

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What?

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In college, I had a professor who mumbled. I sat in the front row and could usually figure out what he was saying but sometimes he also spoke at a low level and I couldn’t understand him at all.

One time, I raised my hand and said, “Could you mumble a little louder?” Everyone laughed, including my professor. (All was okay. He later wrote me a recommendation letter to law school).

Now, as you probably know, I get a lot of emails from lawyers. To my chagrin, many of these professional communicators (that’s who we are, after all), are just as difficult to understand as my mumbling professor.

Frankly, they can’t write their way out of a paper bag.

It’s one thing to send an informal email to someone you know. You don’t always have to format properly or use the King’s English. But you can’t send emails that make people think, “What the hell did they just say?”

Clarity is right up there at the top of the effective communication mountain. If people don’t understand you, you can’t expect to persuade them of anything. They’re not going to learn what you want them to learn. They’re not going to get your jokes.

If your legal documents are muddled, if your closing arguments are a mishmash of thoughts, if your marketing documents and presentations are as mushy and boring as a bowl of oatmeal, you’ve got some work to do.

How do you improve? Read more. Find models of clear writing and study them. Write more. Write something every day and re-write it as often as necessary. You can ask someone to read and critique your writing, and maybe edit it. You might take classes or read books about writing.

You don’t ever want someone to wonder what you just said. As Robert Louis Stevenson put it, “Don’t Write merely to be understood. Write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood.”

Clear instructions on marketing your practice

 

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Stop it, you’re putting me to sleep

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It’s nice hearing from readers who say nice things about my emails. It’s even nicer when they tell me I’m full of it.

If your readers don’t at least occasionally tell you that you missed something or you said something they strongly disagree with, you’re missing the boat.

You’ve want to be edgy. Controversial. Provocative. You want your readers to feel something, even if that something makes them want to take a swing at you. If you never lose subscribers over something you said that offended them, you may be guilty of the cardinal sin of being boring.

If you’re boring, readers won’t read you. If they don’t read you, they may forget you. If they forget you, they’re not going to hire or recommend you.

Now, someone is reading this and thinking they would never go that far. They cherish their subscribers and would never do anything that might get a complaint or, hell-to-the-no, cause someone to unsubscribe.

Too bad. So sad.

If you never take risks with your writing or marketing, if you don’t do anything to stand out and be remembered, you run the even greater risk of living a life of mediocrity.

Because boring is one step away from irrelevance.

Besides, do you really want subscribers who can’t stand a little heat and never get the joke? Who are easily triggered and need to hide in their safe space?

I don’t. I want them to go away and make room for people who get me and support me and buy from me.

You should, too.

You want fans. You want champions. You want people who look forward to reading you, and who might sometimes disagree with you, or get perturbed with you, stick with you, no matter what. Because they love you and know you love them.

<Group hug>

One of the best tools for building your practice: email

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