To build business, try not writing like a lawyer

By Carolyn Lavin

The Daily Record Newswire

I recently had two lawyers -- one a small-firm attorney and the other a member of a mid-sized firm -- working with me on updating the professional biographies, practice group descriptions and other strategic info on their websites.

These smart and savvy litigators have outstanding reputations, win complex cases (often with precedent-setting components) and are impressive writers. However, when it comes to writing for marketing and business-building, even the brightest of attorneys has to be reminded of the basics for effective communications, such as using short, complete sentences; choosing active voice and action words; avoiding case citations and legalese; and being succinct.

In fact, one might pontificate that writing for contracts and briefs is the antithesis of writing for a firm website, newsletter or other marketing communication.

Writing a brief vs. being brief

One of the greatest challenges to writing in the marketing arena is that people just don't read. If you have won an amazing case, set a precedent or had some stellar kudos, you must be able to get quickly to the heart of the news and highlight why your reader would really care.

Think about the people visiting your site or reading your communication and figure out how you can hit them over the head with the crux of your message -- in an instant.

Lawyers are known for leading up to their main point through careful trial strategy, but in the real world, readers will lose interest if they don't see a compelling reason at the start to keep reading.

So, next time you are recapping a litigation win, step back and consider what your target audience will find most riveting. Dazzle them with a direct manner -- and as few words as possible.

Not a natural fit

Many legal documents use passive voice where the subject may be general or unclear. Passive construction is often long and unwieldy; active voice is more direct and vigorous.

Instead of saying: "in a ruling that was decided by the court," use the active voice to say: "the court ruled." Instead of: "it was agreed by all parties," state that "all parties agreed." Look for the subject of every sentence and create a straightforward writing style that focuses on simple sentences with a subject and an action verb.

Avoid qualifiers, such as "in most cases" or "in certain circumstances," that are important to preserving the enforceability of legal documents but often result in diluting marketing-oriented writing.

Your web page about your employment law capabilities, for example, is not a legal and binding document, but rather your best effort to set forth what you do. So relax and simply explain what you're offering to potential clients.

Targeting your audience

Unless you're an appellate lawyer whose work comes mostly from other attorneys, you are likely to be writing for a non-lawyer audience that might include knowledgeable business people and other well-informed professionals from the worlds of real estate, banking and finance.

Super-shrewd attorneys and their marketing professionals often do some informal market research to determine what their clients and prospects really want to know. Is it only winning that amazing case or the firm's reputation for its killer litigators that clients value? Or do clients want cost-competitive fees, lots of interaction and availability, and attorneys with whom they feel some personal synergy?

Tantalize, don't sensationalize

If your firm does not have a marketing professional editing its website and other communications, do a quick Google search for "effective writing for law firm marketing" or "tips for writing for web." You will be reminded that it is OK to repeat your key selling points, that less is more, and that focusing on benefits to clients is crucial.

Most of all, remember that your professional biographies and practice group descriptions are designed merely to start the conversation, not outline every positive outcome you have achieved.

Present just a smattering of what makes you special. In doing so, you can tantalize your readers to pick up the phone or send an email to learn more.


Carolyn Lavin operates Lavin Marketing Communications and has more than 20 years of in-house experience at leading law and CPA firms. She can be contacted at or at

Published: Tue, Oct 18, 2011


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