Free writing makes attorneys sound less professional and be more successful


“Writing is thinking on paper,” said William Zinsser. As someone who does a lot of thinking and a lot of writing, I have to agree.

Years ago, I read an ode to writers and would-be writers, “Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within,” by Natalie Goldberg. If you love writing–or want to–this book can help you overcome doubt and unshackle your hidden talent.

It was in this book I first learned about “free writing,” a technique for writing quickly, without editing or a hint of self-consciousness. Free writing is raw and uninhibited, allowing you to find out what you think, and what you feel. Goldberg describes it as “writing practice,” a warm up before getting down to “serious” writing and a way to create raw material that can be cultivated into finished work.

For some, free writing is a cure for “writers’ block”; for others, it is a form of therapeutic journaling, unlocking hidden memories, imagining a better future, or reconciling a troubled past. For me, it was the key to becoming a better writer and a better attorney.

As a young attorney, I wrote in a way that could only be described as “constipated”. My writing was clear, my points well thought out, my letters and pleadings effective, but I still wrote “like a lawyer”–stiff and constrained. Free writing helped me stop trying to sound “professional” and start sounding like myself. My writing came alive and in a way, so did I.

Free writing helped me not only to write better but to get clear on what I wanted and what I could do. It helped brainstorm ideas and simultaneously see what I thought about those ideas. It helped me weigh pros and cons and make better decisions. In short, it helped me to think better.

I’ve just read, “Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content”, by Mark Levy, a writer and business consultant who teaches free writing to his business clients to help them, “. . .spot opportunities and options, solve problems, create ideas, and make decisions.”

As Goldberg does in “Bones,” Levy uses a series of writing exercises that stimulate thought, but more importantly, action–the action of writing. In free writing, quantity produces quality and writing exercises get the hand moving and keep it moving long enough to bypass the critical mind and produce meaningful results.

I like Levy’s ideas and recommend his book; his exercises are suited to writers and professionals alike. And yet, as I read Levy’s exercises, I couldn’t help feeling, “this is something I should do,” whereas when I read “Bones,” I felt, “this is something I want to do.”

It may be because I was at a different place in my life when I read “Bones”. I haven’t read it in years but I still remember how it made me feel. Goldberg’s voice was comforting, warm and empowering. And, she got my hand moving. Her exercises were simple and unstructured and I did them all. I wrote and wrote and wrote and I felt good about it. I never once looked over my shoulder to make sure I was doing it right and that, of course, is the point of free writing: letting it happen rather than making it happen.

Levy references several books about free writing (I’ve read most of them); curiously, he never mentions, “Writing Down the Bones,” the book that introduced me to free writing and helped me discover my “accidental genius”. In my view, “Bones” is a seminal work, one I’m sure he’s familiar with, and I was surprised by its omission.

Perhaps I’m just being nostalgic and if I read “Bones” today, as the person I am today, I would see it as more suited for writers than professionals and look for something else. Nah, I’d probably be too busy writing to give it any thought.


Why some attorneys shouldn’t blog (and most attorneys never will)


The evidence is clear: content is still king and blogging does work. The more (quality) content you have on your web site, the more traffic and leads and clients you get.

The August issue of Entrepreneur Magazine, reports that, “sites that have 401 to 1000 pages get nine times more visitors than sites with 51 to 100 pages”. Hubspot reports that consistent bloggers saw a 4.2x increase in the number of leads without four months, and reduced their lead costs by 60 percent.

The reasons are equally clear. Search engines like fresh content and so do readers who use those search engines to find that content. When someone has a legal issue, they’re not looking for an attorney’s “about” page, they want information that will help them understand their problem and their options for solving it. The attorney who provides that information is the attorney who gets more traffic, more leads, and more clients.

But it takes time to write good content and doing it consistently is hard work. That’s why so many people who start a blog don’t keep it up. (95 percent of blogs are abandoned, according to Technorati, long before they see an appreciable return on their investment.)

But you’re not like other people, are you?

“If you knew you could earn an extra $20,000 per month by blogging, and it would take you an hour a day, five days a week, would you do it?”

Let me ask a question: “If you knew you could earn an extra $20,000 per month by blogging, and it would take you an hour a day, five days a week, would you do it?”

If the answer is “no,” stop reading.

Of course I don’t know how much you will earn by blogging any more than I know how much the attorney-bloggers in the top 5% earn through their blogs. I’m pretty sure they are happy with their “top 5% results,” however.

And here’s some good news: you don’t have to spend an hour a day on your blog for it to be effective. An hour or two a week will probably be enough. That’s because:

  • You’re already reading in your field; you don’t have to invest a lot of extra time for blogging purposes.
  • You can write. If you can pass the essay portion of a bar exam,  you probably write well enough to write a blog (although you might want to have someone edit out the legalease).
  • You can get help. Your staff can do research, find articles you can incorporate into your blog, write first drafts and even write finished posts. If you don’t have staff, you can outsource.
  • You don’t have to post every day; once or twice a week, done consistently, is enough to put you in the top 5%. Even once or twice a month can bring you more business.

What are you doing now to market your practice? Could you use some of that time for blogging? If you’re not doing anything right now to market your practice, don’t you think you should?

In the past, my blogging has been sporadic. Stretches of consistency followed by stretches of “I’m busy with other projects and I’ll get back to blogging when I can”. Recently, I decided to take my own medicine. Not only have I started posting consistently again, at my wife’s urging I’ve been doing it every day. Even though it’s only been a couple of weeks, I’m already seeing a lot more traffic, subscribers, and new business.

Is blogging for every attorney? No. If you have other ways to build your practice and they are working, you don’t need a blog. It is hard work and it is a commitment. (Actually, the writing really isn’t hard, what’s hard is the commitment.) But if you’re looking for something to bring in more business, if you have more time than money or you’re willing to make the time because you can see why it would be worth it, if you like to write or have someone on staff who does, then blogging is a great way to rise above the competition and get into the top 5%.


Social media marketing for attorneys in a nutshell


This morning, I was reading an interview with Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, which as you know is my favorite application. I’m not the only one who loves Evernote; they’re adding one million users a month, without advertising.

The company’s growth comes in large part from its enthusiastic user-base sharing their love of the product with their friends and colleagues. Libin said,

“The job of getting someone who’s [sic] never heard of Evernote to use it for the first time is the job of our existing users. The job of our marketing department is to help our existing users do that job.”

He’s talking about social media marketing, of course, also known as referrals.

It struck me that this is the essence of social media marketing for attorneys. Social media platforms are just another conduit for customers (clients) to recommend products (services) to others. Obvious? Sure. Then why do so few get the referrals they want?

The key to success in social media isn’t how many likes or followers or friends one has. Those numbers are important, of course, but far more important is “passion”.

I didn’t just recommend Evernote, I raved about it. Well, my version of raving. I wasn’t over the top, mad with emotion (the California Bar frowns on that, I think) but I hope you could hear the enthusiasm in my voice, my love for a product that has truly changed my life.

I don’t know how many readers of this blog or my social media posts and tweets will go to the Evernote web site and try it but I do know that Evernote doesn’t pay me a nickel for sending them. Social media marketing works and it’s free.

There’s another point I want to make but Libin made it for me:

“. . .we started measuring stuff and found that users who had been referred to Evernote by a friend were much more valuable to us than users who had stumbled across us by themselves. . . .”


Referred clients are better clients. They are pre-sold on you, more likely to pay their bills on time, and less likely to complain about something you did or did not do. Best of all, referred clients are themselves more likely to refer other clients.

If you want more referrals, do something your clients can get passionate about.


Book review: “Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story”


In "Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story," author Jerry Weissman talks about the importance of capturing your audience’s attention at the beginning of a presentation. He warns about launching into your presentation "at full speed" because you would mentally bypass your audience and they would have a hard time catching up.

He suggests seven different "opening gambits" or short statements designed to simultaneously grab the attention of your audience and help launch into your presentation, "in a comfortable, conversational manner." [p 83]

The seven Opening Gambits

  1. QUESTION. A question directed at members of the audience.
  2. FACTOID. A striking statistic or little-known fact.
  3. RETROSPECTIVE/PROSPECTIVE. A look backward or forward.
  4. ANECDOTE. A short human interest story.
  5. QUOTATION. An endorsement about your business from a respected source.
  6. APHORISM. A familiar saying.
  7. ANALOGY. A comparison between two seemingly unrelated items that helps to illuminate a complex, arcane, or obscure topic.

Weissman says that you can combine two or three of these options to create your opening gambit.

He also says that your opening should be linked to what he calls your "Point B" or your "call to action" (what you want the listeners to know or do) as a result of your talk. By foreshadowing your "Point B," you make it more likely that your audience will recognize and act on it when you get to it.

For example, your opening might say, "When you. . . I know you’ll want to. . ." as a way of alerting the audience to what is expected of them. They will then listen to your "proof" in the context of those expectations.

I used this book recently to prepare a presentation. It’s excellent, equally strong on content and visuals. It is useful for any kind of presentation, whether for marketing purposes, in the courtroom or boardroom.