There’s a reason why lawyers speak and write the way they do. Legal language is an art which is honed for accuracy, clarity and authority. It is advisable to avoid jargon and write concisely, but often painstaking detail is required to express your client’s position adequately.
Throw out these rules when you are writing for the web. Beneath all that legal language is a fascinating subject, waiting for an energetic approach to breathe fire into its belly. Online audiences are looking for snappy, engaging content; offer them something dry and they will simply hop to another site.
How we read online
When an audience finds your content marketing online, there is no supervisor standing over them insisting they start at the beginning and read to the very end. Readers typically process the title, scan down the article for headlines and pull-out quotes or images, and then start reading if these seem engaging.
Engaging is a tricky word in a legal context, however; how do you produce the kind of eyeball-grabbing content that works without losing your legal gravitas? Here are some simple rules for cutting the yawn factor without compromising your brand values.
Five top ways to avoid being boring
1. Address your target market
Know what your clients and prospective clients are interested in and how they speak and think. Write in their language and at a level of detail suited to them.
2. Keep it punchy
Use short, direct sentences and don’t include waffle. Avoid using the passive voice and make sure your piece has a clear structure that builds an argument.
3. Have a viewpoint
It’s much more thought-provoking to read an article with a clear viewpoint. Describing how a particular field is developing may be useful, but it won’t be gripping unless you draw some conclusions and point out trends.
4. Variety is the spice of online content marketing
Are your articles always in the same format? Shake things up a bit with different lengths, layouts and the inclusion of subtitles, bullet points and pull-out quotes. Graphs and images are helpful too – we respond much more strongly to visual information.
5. Make it relevant to the firm
Your content should always be related in some way to how your company can benefit its clients. If something is a particular hobby-horse of yours but of interest to only your esteemed colleagues and a handful of niche clients, think twice before writing that essay.
Five top ways to create sparkling content
1. Include the right amount of evidence
Statistics and quotations are very helpful in lending authority and interest to an article, but it is possible to overuse them. The piece should be peppered with them, rather than doused.
2. Write in the first-person
The reason why it feels a little risky to write in the first person is the reason why you should do it: you’re putting your neck out to say something on your own account. That makes it more compelling for the reader.
3. Structure your piece for suspense
If you have an especially dry subject, including a little tension in your piece can work wonders. Ask a controversial question which is only answered at the end, or go through a process of considering and dismissing possible responses to the problem.
4. Explain your terms
Your readers might be accessing your content on a crowded train, or in a snatched lunch break. They might have a passing familiarity with legal terms, but why not make it easy for them? Explaining what a term means will stop readers turning off.
5. If you’re not interested, don’t write it
If your heart sinks at the idea of sitting down to write an update on the latest revision of the appendix to some obscure regulations, your readers are likely to pick up on your disaffection. Pick topics where you have strong feelings and in-depth knowledge to make your pieces more interesting.
Read over some of your recent content marketing. Is it the textual equivalent of a strong cup of coffee, or more like a soporific mug of cocoa? Why not take a change of tack to ensure you are engaging readers?Ben Hollom
June 3, 2016