How to make your writing more accessible

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A lot of lawyers’ writing is formal and stilted, and I’m not just talking about legalese.

Using phrases like, “In order to” or “What’s more” or “Please note that” and the like–that’s formal.

Academic, archaic, stale.

If your writing sounds like Star Trek’s Data (no contractions), or Star War’s Yoda, (ass backwards), your writing could probably use a level 5 diagnostic.

There may be times when formal phrases are appropriate. But when you write to clients or prospective clients or to anyone you want to connect with, you’re usually better off ditching them.

Lose your inner professor. Take off your tux and tails. Take that stick out of that place where the sun don’t shine.

And write simply and informally. Not to impress but to communicate.

Formal language puts distance between you and the reader. Even when your reader is another lawyer.

Yes, sometimes you’ll catch me using formal phrases and ten-dollar words, but I try to avoid them because when I write to you, it’s supposed to be just the two of us, sitting on a porch, having a chat.

Why do we struggle to let down our hair? Because we’re professionals and we associate professionalism with formality. We’re uncomfortable being anything but, so we keep our distance.

And yet, when we give a presentation, we speak plainly, don’t we?

Correctamundo.

So, here’s a good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t use a word or phrase in a speech or a private conversation, don’t use it in writing.

Here’s your homework:

The next time you write an email or article or letter, before you send it off to your victim, read it out loud and listen to how it sounds.

If it sounds like it was written by Chewbacca or Groot , put that thing through the universal translator before you send it.

How to get more clients with your website

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Vaccinating clients and prospects

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I watched a CLE video on what to do when you have “bad facts”. The evidence is weak, the client is a bad mamma jamma, the witnesses have a history of making things up.

Your case or client has issues; what do you do?

The presenter talked about inoculating the jury by bringing out the negatives of your case yourself because they’ll be better received when they come from you instead of opposing counsel.

The presenter told a story about Domino’s Pizza that took this to an extreme.

They ran a series of ads in displaying negative comments they’d received about their pizza. “The crust is cardboard, the sauce is thin and tasteless, it’s not real cheese,” and so on.

Can you imagine running ads telling the world things like this?

Domino’s did it. And then they said that most companies would never admit things like this, they’d try to cover it up or excuse it, but Domino’s took this seriously and have made dramatic improvements.

They said that the crust, the sauce, the cheese, the whole product is better, and we think you’ll like it. Come try it and see.

Within six months, sales were up 17% company-wide, which is an extraordinary increase for a company of that size.

Domino’s admitted their flaws, fixed them, and won the day.

Which reminds me to remind you to do the same with your practice.

If you’ve been criticized for not doing something other lawyers do, for example, inoculate clients and prospects by admitting this “flaw”.

And then, turn it into a strength.

I don’t handle X, I only handle Y. By specializing (focusing), I’ve been able to develop expertise many other lawyers don’t have. . .

If your competition does a lot of advertising and some prospective clients wonder why they’ve “never heard of you,” explain that you get most of your business by referrals and don’t “need” to advertise.

If clients think your fees are high, make it a selling point: “You can find lawyers who charge less but you get what you pay for. . .”

Inoculate your clients and prospects (and juries) by admitting your flaws before someone else points them out.

Careful, though. If your crust tastes like cardboard, change your recipe before you tell anyone.

Marketing strategies that can help your practice take a quantum leap

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Need more ideas? Start with this one

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If you want (need) more ideas–for building your practice or anything else–including ideas for articles and blog posts and other content–you might want to follow author James Altucher’s recommendation.

And that is: Write down 10 ideas a day.

He says that if you do this for 30 days, you’ll not only have a heap of ideas to choose from, you will also train your brain to become an idea finding machine.

You’ll become more creative, seeing ideas everywhere. And you’ll become more prolific because when you have more ideas than you could possibly use, you’ll be able to easily push out new content.

Where do you find these ideas?

Everywhere.

Read blogs and articles for lawyers and by lawyers, in your field and allied fields.

Read things written by and for people in your client’s industry or market.

Read books and watch videos on any subject that interest you.

And write down everything that comes into your head.

Good ideas and bad ideas, and everything in between.

You won’t get usable ideas from everything your read. But you will stimulate your brain to make connections between seemingly disconnected ideas and formulate new ones.

Can you do this for 30 days? Altucher says he does it every day. It’s been a part of his routine for years and allowed him to turn out a plethora of articles and blog posts and best-selling books.

If you’re ready to try this for 30 days, you can start you list with the idea you just read.

One down, only nine to go.

More ways to get ideas for emails and blog posts

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The case of the florescent green house slippers

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I needed a new pair of house slippers and ordered a pair online. They arrived, I tried them on but didn’t like the fit. 

Back they went. 

I ordered a different brand and they fit alright but I couldn’t get used to the bright green lining which showed even when my feet were in them.  

You want to relax when you put on your slippers, don’t ya? Not feel like you’re at the circus. 

I sent these back and ordered a third pair. Plain black, inside and out. 

Guess what happened? 

They fit, they look good, they’re comfortable, and I kept them. I’m wearing them now, as a matter of fact. 

You may be wondering why I’m telling you this not-very-interesting and seemingly pointless story. (And why you spent valuable time reading it.)

It is to make a point about stories, and why you should use them liberally in your writing and presentations. 

Yes, you’ve heard this before. You know that stories are more interesting than facts, usually because they have people in them, you know that “facts tell but stories sell,” and you know that stories are a great way to connect emotionally with your reader. 

You also know that stories are a good way to show people what it will be like having you as their attorney. 

Showing instead of telling.

But there’s another reason why stories are effective. 

It’s because human beings are hard-wired to listen to them. 

It’s a survival instinct. When we hear stories, our minds seek to predict what happens next. 

When we sat in caves and heard tribal leaders tell stories of being chased by ferocious creatures and what they did to escape, we learned what to do when we’re chased by ferocious creatures. 

Our brains pay attention to stories to find out what happened. 

So the next time you want to persuade someone to do something,  don’t just tell them the facts, tell a story. 

If a busy professional like you will listen to my boring tale of buying slippers, imagine what your prospective clients will do when you tell them about your client being chased by ferocious opposing counsel and how you saved them from being devoured.

Put stories in your newsletter. Here’s how

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How to find a good attorney. . . according to an attorney

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If you were looking for a good auto mechanic, podiatrist, accountant, or therapist, you’d want to know what someone in that field recommends about how to find them, wouldn’t you?

That’s why you should write an article that shows people how to find an attorney in your field.

Include your practice area in the title. “How to find a good personal injury attorney. . . according to a personal injury attorney,” for example.

Then, to save time, search online for similar articles or blog posts, and use the information as prompts to write your own. You should see ideas about who to ask for referrals, places to find “candidates,” questions to ask, things to watch out for, and so on.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Who to ask for a referral. (Friends, other professionals they know.) What should they tell the person about their case or situation? What should they ask them about the attorney they recommend?
  • Should they look at ads or lawyer directories? If so, what they should look for? If not, why not?
  • What to look for on the candidate attorney’s website. What kind of experience or qualifications? What else they should note (Testimonials, reviews, endorsements; types of clients they represent; cases or issues they emphasize. Are they a certified specialist? Fees and billing, free consultations, etc.)
  • Where to get more information. (Review sites, Bar website, websites where the attorney has published articles or been interviewed, etc.)
  • Questions to ask the attorney when they speak to them. What should they look for in their answers?

Include examples and stories from your practice. These make your article more interesting to read and allow readers to see you “in action,” talking to people like them, handling issues similar to their own.

You might talk about the questions a new client asked you, for example, and how you responded.

Valuable insights from an industry insider like these should be easy to get published on websites or blogs that target your market. You can also feature it on your website, turn it into a video, or use it to get interviewed by blogs and podcasts.

You could also turn it into a “free report” and advertise it to build your email list.

People want to know how to find a good attorney (like you). Now’s your chance to tell them.

How to write a report and use it to build your list

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Grok and grow rich

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If you wanted to attract Martian clients, you’d learn to speak Martian or hire someone who does. The same goes for any group of clients.

But I’m not talking about translating a foreign language. I’m talking about speaking to prospective clients in ways they will not only understand but relate to.

That means using examples, idioms, and market-specific references that resonate with them. It means using the words they use to describe their world and making statements they agree with.

If you target blue-collar workers, you would talk about long hours, coming home tired and sweaty, bosses who take advantage of them, union issues, and so on.

If you target medical professionals, you would talk about escalating costs and regulations, declining revenue, legal issues, risks, stress, and the like.

In other words, the kinds of things they talk about among themselves (and to themselves).

Most people are attracted to people with whom they have something in common and to people who understand them. You may have nothing in common with your target market but you can show them you know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

Read what your target market reads. Pay attention to what they talk about, especially the things that irk and frustrate them.

If you want more Martian clients, learn to speak Martian.

My email marketing course helps you learn to speak Martian

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Stealing ideas for fun and profit

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Ideas are a dime a dozen, it is said; execution is the key to success.

So, if you need ideas–for your newsletter, blog, or presentation–look at what others are writing and copy them.

Not literally. Write what they’re writing about, but make it better. Or different.

Take the idea and add your own spin. Infuse it with your own examples or stories. Add more arguments, more points and authorities, or take an opposing view.

Steal the idea and make it your own.

If you produce any kind of content, you should follow other lawyers in your field, to see what they’re writing about. Follow their posts, read their blog, sign up for their newsletter.

Do the same with lawyers in allied fields, as well as business owners, bloggers, and others who sell to, advise, or write for the niches or industries you target.

The world is awash with ideas. More ideas than you could ever use, right there for the taking.

Ideas really aren’t a dime a dozen. You can get all you need for free.

If you’ve got original ideas, great. The world wants to hear them. But if not, don’t feel guilty about using someone else’s idea.

They probably got it from someone else.

Taking other people’s ideas and making them your own is at the heart of invention and art. As Salvador Dali reminds us, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

For more ways to find ideas, and more ways to make them your own, check out my email marketing course.

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White space. The final frontier.

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Yesterday, I encouraged you to put more white space in your life. Don’t try to fill every minute with activities–give yourself room to breathe and think and recharge.

Today, I’m encouraging you to do the same thing for your clients.

Especially clients with a stressful legal situation or who aren’t used to working with attorneys.

What can you do to give them more white space?

A few ideas:

When you send documents, don’t weigh them down with everything all at once. Dole it out. A little to start, a little more on another day. Let them know there’s more, but give them time to digest what you’ve already sent.

Preface your message with an executive summary–a few paragraphs that tell them the bottom line–so they don’t have to wade through everything to find out what happened or what you recommend.

Make your documents and correspondence easier to read by using, yes, lots of white space. Use short sentences, short paragraphs, and bullet points, so they can scan and get the gist of the document without having to read every word.

Consider highlighting key words or phrases, with bold or CAPITAL LETTERS, or other visual cues.

Instead of a monthly newsletter covering everything under the sun, break it up and send a shorter newsletter once a week.

You can also add white space in meetings and phone calls. Keep them short, get to the point quickly, and only tell them what’s essential for them to know. Then, tell them where to get additional information if they want it and invite them to ask questions.

In your writing, conversations, and presentations, number your points. Then, as you begin, tell them how many points you’re going to cover.

When you begin with, “There are five reasons I’m recommending you take the offer,” the client knows what to expect and is better able to absorb your message.

When you speak to a client, you can help them relax and feel more confident by letting them hear that you are relaxed and confident. If you’re in person, use body language (eye contact, smiling, relaxed posture).

Give your clients more white space and you will make it easier for them to hear you, trust you, and follow your advice. When you make it easier for them to work with you, they’ll make it easier for you to do a good job for them.

How to write an effective email newsletter

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When the typo hits the fan

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I heard from an attorney who liked my new Kindle book but. . . found a typo. A big, hairy one I can’t believe I missed because it was in the introduction. In fact, it’s the word “introduction” which was missing the letter “r”.

Did you catch it? Neither did I.

Neither did my writing software. Or my editing/spell-check software. Or Amazon’s upload mechanism which gave me the “all clear” on spelling when I uploaded it.

I’ll take the blame but that software has some ‘splainin’ to do.

Anyway, Christine, the attorney who caught it, pointed out that the error could cost sales and she’s right. People judge you on things like this. So, as soon as I heard from her, I fixed it. It took a couple of minutes and the updated book was available within a few hours.

Which is one of the nice things about publishing ebooks. A few clicks and you can fix or update your book or the sales page and get back to work.

So, if you want to write a book but are concerned that it might not be your best work (or might have typos), go ahead and do it anyway.

But you might want to send a copy to Christine because she’s got a great eye for typos.

NB: “How to Sell Your Legal Services in 15 Seconds or Less” will be coming off the free promotion tomorrow so if you’d like a copy, grab it now.

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How good do you need to be?

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Lawyers need to be good at many things but they don’t need to be great at anything.

It helps, but being good is usually good enough.

Take writing, for example.

Lawyers need to write clearly–to express their ideas and persuade people to follow a course of action.

They also need to write succinctly, so readers don’t have to work hard to find their point.

From a marketing and practice-building perspective, a lawyer’s writing should also speak to the reader’s self-interest.

Your writing should show that you understand what your reader is going through–their problems, their pain, their desires–and cast vision for a better future for them, with you by their side.

Your writing should also be–for lack of a better word–“interesting”.

Your articles, blog posts, emails, presentations, et. al., should have some color in them. Don’t just talk about the law, talk about life–your readers’ and yours.

Just about any lawyer can accomplish this and turn out good writing.

Some lawyers may need practice. Lots of writing to sharpen their saw.

Some lawyers may need someone to edit or at least review their writing prior to hitting the send button.

Some lawyers may need to do some homework, to learn more about their clients’ business or industry, background, and personal interests.

And some lawyers may need to get out of the office more or take up a hobby or loosen up a bit and be willing to talk about their day.

Writing is what lawyers do and we need to be good at it. But we don’t need to be great.

If you want to learn how to write a more effective newsletter, get this

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