The problem with lists

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Everyone uses lists to record information and convey that information to others in a way that’s easy to follow. We use lists in our work, for research, opening and closing files, and every step in between. 

We give our clients lists of things to do, and things to avoid, and lists of the steps we will take with their case, and they like knowing what to expect. 

We also use lists in our marketing, so we can do things quickly and efficiently, in the right order, without having to think about what to do each time. And because our readers like posts that contain lists, we use lists in our content marketing.

When a business lawyer publishes a post that promises, “21 ways to use the law to increase your bottom line,” for example, this usually attracts prospective clients in their market. “There’s got to be at least one or two of those ways I can use,” they think, and they read (scan) the post to find out.

List posts work, and you should use them liberally in your content marketing. 

Okay, so what’s the problem? 

The problem is that because list-posts work and are easy to write, everyone writes them. Lawyers, consumer and business writers, bloggers, consultants, et al., know that list posts are popular (by looking at their statistics), and so they write lots of them. 

Therefore, while you should use lists in your content, you shouldn’t rely on them exclusively. 

Use your knowledge and experience and credibility as a lawyer to write more thoughtful, in-depth content, the kind only a lawyer of your experience and standing can provide. 

Clients prefer to read and hire experts. A thoughtful piece by an attorney who practices in the area they need help with is more valuable to them than a simple list by a blogger. 

So, you need both. 

Write simple list-posts to get traffic and opens, and authoritative posts to “sell” readers on following and hiring you.

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Too long; didn’t read

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Lawyers tend to write articles and documents and memos and cover letters and emails… that are too long. They seek completeness and accuracy and to persuade someone of something, but often wind up doing anything but. Their writing is often long-winded, repetitive, boring, and ultimately persuades no one. 

Search engines favor longer articles. But to be effective, they have to be well written. If they are, in terms of sales, long copy usually pulls better than short copy.

What can you do? Learn how to write long copy effectively or hire someone to do it for you. One takes time and practice, the other takes money and the good sense to invest it. 

But that’s not the end of the story.

Yes, write long when you’re selling something (your services) or want to make love to Miss Google. But it’s okay to write short copy in your blog or newsletter, on social, in email, and for other purposes. In fact, it is often the best thing you can do.  

Writing shorter pieces allows you to write more often. Your audience hears from you more frequently and is more likely to read what you wrote. That gives you more opportunities to “speak” to them and remind them about what you do and how you can help them. 

You’re able to be in their minds and mailboxes more often, leading to more new clients and legal work for you.

This is a short message. If you got this far, it means you read it. We connected. That’s good.

Something else. Not only does writing longer articles mean you connect with your audience less frequently, your readers often save those longer articles to “read later” and we all know that later often never comes.  

Yes, they do see that you emailed them again or published another post and that has value even if they don’t read your message. But it’s better if they do. 

Ultimately, the best thing to do is to write both long and short articles, posts, and emails, and let each do their job. 

How to start and write an effective email newsletter

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My favorite outline

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Yesterday, I talked about the value of outlines and why you don’t always need them, especially when writing a short article. What I didn’t say is that having a supply of go-to outlines available can make help you write faster and better articles, whether long or short.

In your writing toolkit, you should have a list of the basic outlines at your disposal, such as these classics: 

  • The listicle: a simple, unordered list of various points, tips, techniques, problems, resources, questions, etc. Examples: 7 books everyone should read this year, Questions most people ask an Estate Planning Lawyer, 10 tips for organizing your legal documents. 
  • How-to/process: show the reader a step-by-step process for doing something, the benefits of doing it, and what might happen if they don’t. Examples: How to find a good bankruptcy lawyer, What to do if you’re in an accident, How to file a quitclaim deed. 
  • Story: what you (or someone else) did, what happened, what you learned, and how the reader can use this in their own life or business. Examples: How minimalism helped me become a better lawyer, My most difficult case and how I won it, What I learned about leading a successful life from a 70-year old history book.
  • A better way: challenge something everyone does or believes is true and show them why this is wrong or there is a better or easy approach. This type of outline includes the following parts: (1) Most people think/believe, do; (2) This is a mistake/ineffective/wrong; (3) It doesn’t solve the problem or accomplish the goal and can make it worse; (4) A better approach/way to think is

“A better way” outline is good for lawyers because by challenging conventional wisdom, it can position you as a thought leader, differentiate you from your competition, and stimulate word-of-mouth from those who like your better way and those who don’t.

 Which is why this is my favorite type of outline, and why I’m using it in a book I’m writing. 

How to use a newsletter to build your law practice

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Writing without a net 

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There are good reasons to create an outline before you write and with longer pieces, I usually do. I choose an idea, a working title, a list of points I want to cover, and some examples or stories to include. I often change these, but it gives me a place to start. 

Which is usually the most difficult part of the writing process. 

With shorter pieces, I rarely outline because I have only a fragment of an idea floating around in my head. 

Someone asked me a (marketing or productivity) question; I saw an article about a subject that interested me; I learned something from a video I wanted to share. That’s usually enough to prime my writing pump and I start writing, often with little or no idea of what I’m going to say. 

Which is what I’m doing right now. 

The genesis of what you’re reading is an article I read about writing blog posts. I zeroed in on the subject of outlining and realized I had something to say about that—that despite the value of outlining, it’s not always necessary, and sometimes, makes the writing more difficult. 

You can just start writing and see where it goes.   

Yes, it’s usually messy. Without an outline, sometimes you waste a lot of time trying to find your message and the best way to present it. But the other way, outlining first, can be equally messy and time consuming, especially when you think you know what you want to say (but don’t) or, as I often do, you change your message (often several times) before you finish. 

I also find that writing without an outline often leads to “fresher” writing. Instead of pure logic, you’re guided by what feels right, just as extemporaneous speaking often does.

It sounds like I’m saying, “Don’t force it, do what works for you” and I am. As a busy professional who has other things to do, strictly adhering to what your English teacher (or law professor) said to do isn’t the aim. It is to get something on paper and out the door.

IRAC be damned.

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Why you need a story diary

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You are a storyteller. You tell them to friends, colleagues, clients, and juries. You put them in blog posts, articles, and presentations. You use them to make a point or share a light moment. 

Stories are how humans connect with each other. They help us win friends and influence people. 

And you need a steady supply of them. 

Where do you get them? By keeping your eyes and ears open and noting what other people talk about, write about, and do. You get them by observing your world. 

The best stories are usually about things you did or that happen to you because you have an emotional connection with those stories (and the people in them).

You solved a problem, did something new and interesting, or met someone who made an impression. When you share these stories, you help people understand, appreciate, and remember your message. 

And you.

When you talk about a troublesome case, for example, you help the reader or listener step into your shoes, see what you saw, and feel what you felt. It’s an effective way of illustrating something important or something you care about and think your audience will, too. 

Now, since stories are so valuable, you should create (or expand) the habit of collecting them. 

Set up a “story” file and add notes and articles and quotes you might use someday. In addition, take two-minutes at the end of each day and make a note of what you did (or saw or heard) that day. 

Who did you speak with? What problems did you solve or work on? What did you see or hear?

Did you sign up a new client? Settle a case? Improve a skill or start learning a new one?

Record your day in a diary or journal. You don’t need to write out the entire story. Just jot down enough details to help you remember it when you want to use it.

Your journal will make you a more effective writer, speaker, and communicator. It will help you win more friends and influence more people.

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Ai ain’t Cyrano

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Ben Settle was talking about email copywriting, but it applies to any kind of writing if your objective is to get someone to do something, buy something or believe something. 

So, writing.

And we would do well to remember it when we toy with the idea of using Ai to do all of our writing.  

It might be a good idea if you just want to shovel words at a reader. But not if you want to persuade them (and get paid lawyer money to do it). 

Settle said, “Email is a transfer of emotion and energy from writer to reader”. 

Which is something Ai can’t do. 

A professional copywriter can. You can. But Ai can only transfer information, not emotion or energy, which is why we shouldn’t let it turn our heads.

Use Ai for research, for outlining, for ideas, even for first drafts. But not for anything that requires the human touch. 

Someday? I don’t think so. But what do I know? I’m only human. 

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The “one thing” every lawyer can do to build a more successful practice

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I often refer to the “Focusing Question,” posited in the book, The One Thing: ‘Ask yourself, “What is the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary”.’ My usual advice for lawyers, of course, is to improve your marketing. 

And I’m not going to change my mind about that today. 

There’s nothing more important or remunerative than getting better at bringing in new business and keeping it. 

But there is something that is a close second.  

If you’ve read me for a while, you won’t be surprised to hear me say it is, “improve your writing”. 

Yes, many lawyers have brilliant practices or careers without being talented writers. Trial lawyers might be good orators, for example, business lawyers, good negotiators or networkers, and those skills can more than make up for any deficiency they might have with a pen or keyboard. 

But any lawyer can be even more successful if they are also good writers. 

But you know this. You’ve heard me talk about it enough. About how improving my writing helped me build my practice and several successful businesses. 

For one thing, writing is a key component of marketing. Yes, you can delegate or outsource much of your writing, and many successful lawyers do, but for instructing those writers (and/or ai) about what you want done, and making sure you get it, there is no substitute for having some writing chops yourself. 

Besides, the most effective writing you do will come from you. And only you. 

Improving your writing will help you create better content, achieve greater engagement with your clients,  your social media crowd, and your professional contacts. You’ll get more repeat business and referrals and build your professional reputation, all with the power of your words. 

Improving your writing will also help you create better content and better work product, and do it faster. If it now takes you two hours to write an article, but you can get to where you can do it in 30 minutes, would that be valuable to you? 

Writing is also a competent in thinking, planning, and strategizing. The more you write, the better you become at formulating ideas and plans. 

So, how do you get better (and faster) at writing? By writing. You can benefit from reading books and taking courses, but there is no substitute for putting your butt in the chair and pounding out words. 

Hold on. I know you already do a lot of writing. It’s a big part of what lawyers do.

Do more. 

Write something other than your regular work and do it every day, even for 5 minutes. “Free write” to limber up your writing muscles and let your words pour out onto a page. Don’t worry about how good it is. Nobody will see it until you show it to them, and for now, you don’t have to do that. 

Write a journal, scribble a half page of ideas, or re-write your notes about something. The idea is to move your hand and spit out words and do that as often as possible. 

When I started, I did it first thing after I rolled out of bed, yes, before coffee. With my brain half awake, I was less critical and learned to write freely and naturally. 

Was it any good? No. That came later. But it came, and if you keep at it, it will come for you. 

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The best way to improve your content

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Content means information, right? About the law, how to recognize a problem, what to do and not do, what an attorney can do to help them (and why it should be you).

All good, but not necessarily compelling. 

You want readers to take action: click and visit your pages, read your articles, download your reports, view your presentation, and especially to contact you and hire you (or refer you). 

There are several ways to use your content to accomplish that. 

You can overtly disagree with what other lawyers say, to show the reader you’re different, i.e., better. Don’t just tell them what’s available, give them the pros and cons of various solutions, provide more nuanced comments about the risks, and follow with a well-reasoned recommendation. 

Tell them what and why. 

If you’re hesitant to do that without first speaking to the reader about their specific situation, use “if/then” writing to cover yourself and provide additional context. 

Another way to stand out and get readers to see you as the better lawyer is to explain how things work in the “real world”. Take them “behind the curtain” and show them why things are done one way and not another.

Or, when other lawyers provide “just the facts” and are serious and boring, you might take a lighter approach (if appropriate) and make your content more interesting and maybe even fun. 

The best thing you can do? Provide client success stories, to illustrate your points and show readers there are solutions to their problems—here’s proof. 

Give them hope while you educate them. 

But many attorneys tell client success stories. If you want to be more effective, don’t just tell the stories, make them personal. Tell the reader what the client told you, what you thought, how you felt, and what you did (and why).

Personal stories, for the win. 

You want readers to see you in their mind’s eye, asking questions, feeling what the client felt, considering the facts, weighing the options, and then being an advocate for or advisor to your clients. 

Why get personal? Because prospective clients not only want to know about their risks and options, they want to know what it would be like having you as their attorney. 

If you want to demonstrate your knowledge and experience, write about the law. If you want to build a following and get people to choose you as their attorney, write about your personal experiences.

How to write a newsletter that brings in more clients

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If they snooze, you lose

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For writing “content” (blog posts, articles, presentations, etc.) many lawyers struggle to get results for one simple reason–they write like lawyers, meaning they write like they were taught in law school. 

The inverted pyramid, IRAC, et al., are fine when you’re writing something “for people who are paid to read it,” as the author of an article I read recently put it.  

Your clients and prospects certainly aren’t. 

Your content needs to have helpful information, the kinds of things prospective clients look for when they’re searching online, but if it has to be interesting. If you write it the way they taught you in law school, you risk boring people into clicking away. 

Structurally, capture their attention with a good headline or opening and keep their attention by continuing to write about things that interest them. 

Here’s how to get better at doing that:

  1. Read a lot. Read the kinds of things your audience reads. Look at the subjects, the structure, and the pacing of the information. See how they capture attention with a good headline or opening and use sub-heads and/or bullet points to draw the reader into the article and through it. 
  2. Write a lot. Practice and you will improve.
  3. Edit a lot. Your first draft is usually not your best draft. Shorten sentences and paragraphs, use active verbs (and active voice) and make sure everything is clear. If you write about anything “legal,” explain the terms and provide context.
  4. Put people in your articles. Talk about their desires, their problems, their pain, and the solutions they seek, and how things turned out (with your help). 
  5. Have fun (if appropriate). Give readers something to smile about, nod their head about, think about, and remember. 
  6. Tell them what to do next. Don’t leave them guessing, tell them to call (and why), tell them to join your list (and why), or tell them what to read or watch next. 

Give them a good experience and they will come back to read more and contact you when they’re ready to talk to you about their situation. 

Finally, if you are writing for other lawyers, or others who are paid to read your writing, it’s okay to write like a lawyer. But you don’t have to. And if you don’t have to, don’t. 

How to write an email newsletter clients want to read

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What, me practice?

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I heard this on the Internet so it must be true. It’s called, “The Rule of 100” and states, “…if you spend 100 hours in a year, which is 18 minutes a day, in any discipline—you’ll be better than 95% of the world in that discipline.” 

So, writing, speaking, sales, poker, options trading… anything? 

18 minutes per day isn’t much. A year isn’t much. Since it is a big world, with a lot of people in it, I can see how this might be true, at least for many things. 

For everything? Who knows? 

But the point is well taken. If you practice anything every day for a year, you’re going to get a lot better at it.

As professionals, we depend on our communication skills, our ability to persuade others to a point of view. We sell our ideas and our services and writing (and speaking) are essential tools for doing that. 

If you want to get better at writing and speaking, are you practicing? Every day?

If not, you’re not going to get the results you want for yourself and your clients. 

I recommend writing a newsletter or blog, yes, to attract more prospects, build your list and fill your waiting room, but also because it is a great way to practice your core skills.  

Same with our old friend, marketing. 15 minutes per day. Every day. 

If you do, you’ll be more successful than 95% of the lawyers in the world. I heard it on the Internet so it must be true.

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