Show, Don’t Tell Isn’t Just for Fiction

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When we read fiction, we want to become immersed in the story, to feel like we are there, seeing and hearing and feeling what happens. To accomplish this, the author doesn’t just tell us what happened, he shows us.

At least he should. Thus, the oft-repeated advice, “Show, Don’t Tell”.

That’s good advice for all kinds of writing, including the writing lawyers do in our work.

Of course telling is important, too. But showing makes your writing come alive.

Showing adds interest, clarity, and an emotional element to your words. It helps the reader understand your point and makes it more likely that they’ll act on it.

When you show instead of merely tell, your words are more persuasive. The reader sees what you see and often comes to the same conclusion you came to.

When I had cases I thought my client should settle but they resisted, I didn’t just tell them my opinion, I showed them what could happen if they didn’t settle.

I described the process of filing, discovery, and trial, in vivid detail, explaining some of the questions a judge or jury might ask about weaknesses in the case, and explained that if they lost, they would be liable for the medical liens they’d signed, in addition to the costs of pursing the case. I explained how long this might take and how much time they’d have to take off of work.

When I was done, I asked the client what they wanted to do, but they often stopped me before I could ask that and told me to go ahead and settle.

I’d shown them the future and they didn’t like what they saw.

According to the old adage, “If you say it, they can doubt it; if they say it, it must be true”.

Showing also helps the reader to remember what you say.

When I took the Bar Exam, I remembered more material because of the notes I wrote to myself when I studied. For each rule, for example, I added notes about applicable cases we’d studied, and my own hypotheticals. During the exam, I could “see” those cases and hypos and this helped me to remember the rules.

Another benefit to showing versus telling is that it allows the reader’s mind to rest and enjoy your story or example, before continuing on to the heavier narrative.

How do you do it?

Showing means creating a picture in the mind of your reader, allowing them to see what you want them to see.

Saying, “My client is confident about getting his price,” is telling. Saying, “My client got 3 other offers this week,” is showing.

Instead of telling an adjuster, “My client is still in pain,” you could show him by saying, “My client takes 3 Extra Strength Excedrin every morning and sleeps with a heating pad every night”.

In other words, provide details. Use specific nouns and active verbs to show the reader what you want them to see.

Here are 3 additional ways to do that:

Examples

Add examples to clarify understanding. When you say, “This document will protect you personally,” add an example to show what that means: “If someone gets a judgment against your business, they won’t be able to come after your personal assets”.

Get in the habit of adding the words, “For example” or “What that means is. . .” (or equivalent) after your statements or questions.

Stories

Talk about other people who had the same or similar experience, to illustrate the risks or benefits, and to add an emotional element.

“I had a client who was in the same boat recently, and here’s what happened.”

Stories are one of your most effective ways to show.

Lists

Checklists of steps, instructions, useful resources, help the reader understand what they need to do and see themselves more capable of doing it.

Now you know the benefits of showing and not just telling, and some techniques for doing that. I used some of those same techniques in writing this.

I told, but I also showed. How did I do?

Email Marketing for Attorneys

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How to become a better writer

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When asked how to get better at writing short stories, Ray Bradbury said, “Write one story a week”.

Write 52 stories a year and how could you not improve?

The same is true for writing anything– emails, articles, scripts for videos or podcasts, motions, final arguments, or appeals.

The more you do it, the better you get.

Just like any skill.

You’re a better lawyer today than you were the day you started because you’ve had a lot of (ahem) practice.

One reason I write every day is because I want to get better at it. That’s Bradbury’s advice and mine, too.

At first, you may not be good at it. Do it anyway.

Don’t show it to anyone if you don’t have to, but keep writing. Focus on quantity, not quality.

Quantity will lead to quality.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret.

When you show your writing to people, when you publish it on a blog or send it to newsletter subscribers, when you stand up in front of a judge or jury and flap your gums. . .

. . .you get better faster.

If you want to get better at writing, keep doing it. If you want to get better, faster, do it publicly.

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How to use ProWritingAid to improve your legal writing

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The other day I mentioned I use and recommend the grammar app ProWritingAid (PWA). This article, “6 Reasons Attorneys Should Use ProWritingAid to Write Legal Documents,” has some helpful information about the app and how to use it.

The author isn’t an attorney and most of what she says applies to any kind of writing, but she does a good job of highlighting some of PWA’s important features that should interest every attorney.

Note that PWA doesn’t have a “legal module” or dictionary, but it allows you to “teach” it legal words or phrases so it won’t continually flag them as errors.

The article makes a good point about why lawyers should use a Plagiarism checker. If you quote a legal opinion, for example, search engines may consider it plagiarism and penalize you. Using a plagiarism checker will alert you to anything that might be a problem.

PWA has a built-in plagiarism checker, but note there is an extra cost.

PWA works on your desktop or in your browser and offers integrations with Scrivener, Word, Docs and other writing apps.

Most of the apps we use for writing check spelling, and many also check grammar and usage, but these apps usually aren’t as thorough as a stand-alone app.

I checked this post with PWA before publishing it, and it suggested a couple of improvements. No matter how good we think we are, there’s always room for improvement.

If you’re looking for an app to improve your writing, or want to compare what you’re using now, consider signing up for the free version of PWA and giving it a go.

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Do you make this mistake in writing your newsletter?

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You may have thousands of subscribers to your newsletter but when you send your list an email, remember to write to one person at a time.

Don’t write as if you’re speaking to a group. Unlike social media, email is an intimate medium, sent from one human to another, who reads your message as if you sent it to them and them alone.

Don’t address your readers in the collective. Don’t say things like, “Some of you. . .”. Don’t even hint that there is anyone else reading your message.

A writer I follow put it this way:

“I just got an email today with the line, “I can’t wait to see you guys in the webinar!”

The comment was innocent enough, but it was enough to snap me out of the one-to-one conversation this person’s email had with me.”

Your readers no doubt get other newsletters. They read yours, or read yours first as many of my subscribers tell me, because you don’t just deliver useful information, you speak to them as a friend or colleague.

And people crave personal relationships.

Your readers know there are other people getting the same message. They also know they can reply and ask a question or continue the conversation, and they like knowing that a real person will read what they write.

Take advantage of email’s greatest strength and use it to build a relationship with your readers. At first, it may be a simulated relationship. Eventually, it can turn into a real attorney-client relationship.

How to write an email newsletter that brings in clients

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When you don’t know what to write, write one of these

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It’s called a listicle and it’s exactly what it sounds like–an article that is basically a list. They’re easy to write because you don’t need to provide a lot of detail or analysis, and the title or headline usually writes itself:

  • 3 things you MUST do before you file for divorce
  • 5 reasons bankruptcy might not be right for you
  • 10 ways to help your personal injury lawyer get a bigger settlement for you
  • 11 websites I recommend to all my estate planning clients
  • Want to re-negotiate your lease? Here are 15 ideas that might save you a fortune
  • 22 tips for small business owners who want to get paid
  • 127 reasons why you should hire me instead of any other lawyer

Kidding about the last one. Or am I?

Readers like listicles because they know they can scan the article and find a few useful ideas.

To write your first (or next) listicle, start by brainstorming topics, things prospective clients usually ask you, for example. Also brainstorm ideas or tips for the body of your article.

If you don’t have enough content, visit your favorite search engine and scoop up more tips, answers, or ideas. Don’t forget to visit other lawyers’ blogs.

For future listicles, start collecting tips or ideas and saving them to a file. Also collect listicle-type headlines you can use as templates.

You can use a listicle headline from any field. For example, the headline, “5 Steps to Improving Your Garden” can become “5 Steps to Updating Your Estate Plan”.

More ideas for blog posts and articles can be found here

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Are lawyers human?

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An article at ProBlogger.com encourages us to “sound more human” in our writing and offers 10 tips for doing that.

“Use more contractions” is good advice for lawyers who tend to write more formally than most humans. Same goes for “Use shorter, simpler, clearer words.”

Indubitably.

Also important for lawyers is to avoid using jargon. Don’t “tortuously interfere” with someone when you can simply trash talk them.

We’re told to proofread before we publish, and that’s always sound advice. Many of us also benefit by using a grammar checker like Grammarly or ProWritingAid (the one I prefer).

There’s some important advice about putting ourselves in our reader’s shoes and making them the focus of our writing. As the author says, he is often told, “I feel like you’re writing to me,” meaning he’s doing it right.

I like the idea of creating a style guide, to standardize spelling, capitalization, localizations, formatting, etc., so your writing is consistent.

I like the idea, but I’ve never done it and probably never will. I kinda like being random.

The final tip is something I can’t abide: “Don’t be snarky”.

I’d never write anything if I I followed that one.

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4 ways to produce more content in less time

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Content marketing is a simple concept. You write or record something that educates your target market about legal problems and solutions and thus show them what you do and how you can help them. This brings you more traffic, more subscribers, more followers, more new clients, repeat clients, and referrals.

You can use articles, blog posts, newsletters, podcasts, video channels, social media, and other means to disseminate your content. 

Sounds good, right, but producing a steady stream of content for a blog or newsletter or podcast, takes time, and you don’t have that time.  

Never fear, here are 4 ways to get the job done more quickly.

1) Don’t write, re-write

Re-write your old posts and articles with fresh examples and stories, updates to the law, or different ways of saying what you said before. 

You can also “slice and dice”. Cut up old posts and combine them into new ones. 

No doubt have lots of material on your hard drive that can be re-written, updated, or re-purposed. Or, if it’s been awhile since you published something, publish it again. 

You can also re-write someone else’s content. Use their idea and basic structure but your words, examples and stories. 

2) Don’t write one article, write ten

Instead of writing one blog post on a topic, write 3. Or ten.

Take a subject you know well, or research for an hour or two, and write a month’s worth of articles on different aspects of that subject. 

It’s called “bundling” or “batching” and it’s a great way to produce a lot of content. 

If you handle personal injury, for example, you could write about tort law, the claims process, how cases are evaluated, medical treatment, liens, first party insurance, negotiation, and a lot more. And that doesn’t include litigation. 

3) Write less

Instead of writing lengthy newsletters, like I see many attorneys do, cut them up into shorter articles, one subject per post. People don’t have time to read 3000 words. Help them (and yourself) by delivering 300. 

4) Write faster

You can write content more quickly by outlining it first and then dictating it. Pretend you’re teaching a class or doing a presentation on the subject–talk, record, transcribe, edit, done.

Something else:

The more you write, the quicker you get at writing. Write often and you’ll soon crank out a lot more content in a lot less time. 

I’ve used all of these tactics and they work. They’ve helped me produce millions of words, which have brought me millions of dollars.

Now it’s your turn.

How to write more content for your blog

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Just the facts, ma’am

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In the pantheon of bad marketing advice, is the notion that telling prospective clients about your experience and your services is enough to persuade people to choose you.

Because it’s not.

They’re important. A client wants to know what you offer and what you can do for them, and you need to tell them, but if that’s all you tell them, if you give them just the facts, you’re not giving them enough to make a buying decision, that is, to hire you.

Because people “buy” for emotional reasons and then justify their “purchase” with the facts.

Your job is to trigger an emotional response to your words, to make them feel something that compels them to act.

The simplest and most effective way to do that is by telling stories.

Stories are the juice of marketing. They lubricate your message, give it context, and show the need for and benefits of what you offer. Stories convey importance and urgency and persuade people to act.

Seth Godin said, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”

Stories are especially important when you sell something abstract like legal services.

Stories work because they’re about people. Prospects pay attention to your stories to find out what happened to them.

Oh boy, look at that. Here I am trying to convince you to use stories in your marketing and I haven’t used any. I made an important point, but that point would be more effective and memorable had I told you about these two lawyers in the same market who offer the same services, but who use a slightly different marketing strategy.

Lawyer Moe’s marketing primarily consists of brochures, and a website filled with facts. He describes his practice areas, his experience, and his services, and it’s impressive.

Lawyer Larry also tells the facts, but includes stories from his practice to illustrate what he does for his clients. His stories are usually no more than a few paragraphs, but like any story, they have a beginning (a problem), a middle (complications), and a resolution (problem solved by Larry, our hero).

Moe has more experience than Larry, but Larry earns three times what Moe earns, primarily because his stories “show” instead of “tell”.

Facts tell, but stories sell. Use stories in your marketing.

Put stories in your newsletter

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Practice makes pregnant

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In college, I lived in a dorm. If the nickname “El Konk” sounds familiar to you, you know the place.

Like most dorms, we had a rec room where we played cards, read, talked about life, and occasionally do homework.

Just outside the rec room was a hallway. The walls of that hallway were about 6 feet apart.

No, I didn’t measure them. I know how far apart they were because I’m a little over 6 feet tall and I was able to “walk” up those walls.

By putting me feet on one wall and my hands on the opposite wall, I was able to push my way up the walls, all the way to the ceiling.

Some people thought it was funny and called their friends to come look. Some thought it was cool and wanted to try it. Some thought I was nuts.

Why did I do it? Because I was curious and wanted to see if I could.

So, what’s the point of this story?

That I was in better shape when I was in college? That I was an unmitigated clown? That I drank too much?

None of the above.

In fact, there is no point to this story. It’s just something I remembered recently and thought I’d write about.

And that is the point.

Writing down memories, however pointless, is a good way to improve your writing. Any skill gets better with practice, so if writing is important to you, I suggest you write something every day.

Not legal work, something creative or fun.

You might keep a journal and write down your thoughts about the past, what’s going on in your life right now, or your dreams for the future.

Writing regularly will improve your ability to come up with ideas (because there’s no pressure to write something pithy or useful). It will also improve your ability to put your ideas into words.

Writing every day will make you a better writer.

Do it enough and who knows, you might get lucky and write something with a point, something you can use in an article or blog post.

Like I just did in this one.

Ideas you can use in your blog or newsletter

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What secret word unlocks email marketing success (But isn’t a secret)?

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One word. A word that can turn a boring newsletter, blog post, or article into something your subscribers look forward to reading. A word that helps you forge relationships with your readers and bring them closer to hiring you and referring you.

The word is hardly a secret. You use it every day in conversation, but perhaps not so much in your newsletter, articles, and blog posts, because “experts” tell you to avoid it.

The word? “I”.

Yes, talk about yourself.

Of course you will mostly talk about your reader–their problems, their wants and needs, their niche market or community.

Talk about subjects that interest your reader, but don’t leave yourself out of the picture.

Tell your story. Let people get to know you and what it’s like to work with you.

Because you are the solution to their problems.

When you talk about the law, use examples and stories from your practice. Talk about how you’ve dealt with these issues before, on behalf of other clients.

Describe yourself in action, talking to people, creating documents, writing letters, arguing or negotiating on behalf of your clients.

Your readers what to know what you’ve done for other clients, because it shows them what you can do for them.

Don’t make your newsletter all about you. But don’t forget to talk about yourself, because that’s how your readers get to know, like and trust you.

Email Marketing for Attorneys

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