A Guide to Effective Blogging for Attorneys and Law Firms
Blogging is an important part of online marketing and awareness for every industry. That includes law firms. Indeed, people search the internet for answers to legal questions – both relevant and frivolous – every day. Being the law firm that answers that question can put you in their good graces, and make them more likely to turn to you when they need legal help in the future.
That said, the world of legal writing is a very, very different place than the world of blogging. Words in legal writing have very specific meanings, specific phrases need to be used, and even special formatting is required to file legal paperwork. You go to law school to learn all that stuff; we, your readers, do not. If you write your blog posts the same way you write your legal briefs, it's going to be very difficult to gain any sort of audience (other than other lawyers).
The great opportunity you have on a law website is working to make law and legal topics easy to read, easy to understand, and approachable. That's why there are high profile lawyers online who strive to do this and gain both a following and a reputation for doing so. People like PopeHat and Leonard French turn law topics into compelling content, proving that there's a market for it. You, too, can capitalize on that market. Before you do, you should understand how to mix blogging with legal content.
That's why I've put together this guide; guidelines, tips, and advice to help you get a law blog up and running in a way that attracts readers, not alienates them.
Blogging is Casual
In virtually all cases, blogging is a fairly casual format. People who read blogs, and most people who write blogs, don't spent a lot of time caring about things like the AP style guide or the font of their writing. They care about content, and more importantly, about conveying their message to their readers.
Remembering this is one of the most important things you can do, for a law firm or for any other company. Remember that you're not talking to a fellow lawyer, a law clerk, or even a law student. You're talking to the kind of people whose idea of the law comes from prime time television and things they heard from their cousin.
The harder your blog is to understand, the less likely it is that people are going to read it, or stick around to read more. Keeping your writing casual, whether you're doing it yourself or you're hiring someone to do it for you, is crucial.
Add a Disclaimer
If the above paragraph scared you, I can understand why. Law is a tricky concept, and there are regulations in place to prevent lawyers from making legal advice statements in ways that aren't approved. I don't claim to know the ins and outs of the law, but I know that you have to be careful with what you say, to avoid things like advertising, conflicts of interest, or misconstrued advice.
I also know that law varies from location to location; different states and indeed different counties can have different variations on the same laws and the same topics.
All of this makes it very difficult to give legal advice in a blog format. You want to be casual and explain things in a way that doesn't come back to bite you, but you can't be so stuffy and formal with it that it turns people away.
The general solution to this is a prominent disclaimer at the top of your blog posts. All you need is a sentence saying something like:
"Disclaimer: The below is not legal advice and should not be construed as such; for legal advice for your situation, please call us at ______."
The goal with this disclaimer is to avoid getting yourself in trouble, and it's doubly important if you're hiring a blogging firm to handle your blog for you. The people writing your blog might not know the law all that well, or at all, and they might not even live in your area. Unless you're hiring a specialized law blogging company, they probably aren't going to be willing or able to research specific cases or specific precedent to make advice.
Give Information to Your Writers
Almost none of your blog readers are going to want to read specific court cases, court filings, or legal documents. Some might, sure, and that's fine! You can provide links to them if you want. However, and this is important: it's not necessary.
You can run a successful law blog without citing cases more than is absolutely necessary or when you're discussing specific cases. You're a lawyer: people trust you to know what you're talking about.
And yes, if you're hiring a writer to handle the writing for you, that means you're putting your trust in their hands. So how do you reconcile this?
The solution is to give guidelines, specific information, and details to your writers. For example, you might want to publish an article about a specific precedent in your specialty, but you doubt the average writer knows anything about it. All you have to do is write a few lines with the relevant facts, and some links (or a copy and paste, if it's gated behind one of those case law portals) to the relevant content for the writer to reference if necessary.
At the core of every blog post you have written is the single message: for accurate advice, contact the lawyer. You can provide general information, but you don't need to treat each blog post as if it's a consultation.
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Also, remember that the more information you can give to your writers, the better they can write to your needs. This helps minimize the need for things like revisions and the back-and-forth strain of getting everything right. In a way, I'm almost saying to lower your standards, though that's not entirely accurate. Obviously, factual inaccuracies and outright wrong conclusions are bad, but if you provide the facts and conclusions to the writer, trust them to write it in a more compelling way.
Be Prepared to Pay for Quality
Everything relating to law is expensive. It's expensive to file, it's expensive to hire a lawyer, it's expensive to run paid advertising with keywords that cost upwards of $50 or more per click in general, with specific keywords running nearly $500.
A consequence of this is that many lawyers are turning to other ways to broaden their awareness and gain more recognition, which means more and more of them are turning to blogging. This makes blogging a more competitive place.
Five or ten years ago, a law firm could run a blog writing 100-300 word responses to common law questions, and it was a smash hit. Even having an online presence was enough to stand out, and the firms that did it could have their choice of advantages.
These days, there's a lot of competition, not just on a national level, but on a local level. Your direct competitors in law might have a blog already, and that's what you need to compete with.
You need to be prepared to pay for high-quality writing. Whether you're hiring a freelancer or contracting a marketing firm, you want to make sure you're getting one that can write high quality, casual, compelling, and informative blog posts, and that usually costs you. The more you want to cheap out, the harder it will be to succeed with your blog.
Start With a Strong Architecture
While these days it's pretty much a given that you have a website, you still need to set up a blog, and that might require some tweaking of the website you already have. Talk to whoever you hired to install it in the first place. I generally recommend WordPress, and I've found that this article does a good job of walking you through the basics, like how to install WordPress, which plugins you want to get, and how you want to configure your system.
Remember that even though you're not really a marketer, you're using a blog to market your services. On the modern internet, that means a lot of details like properly using SEO tools, formatting your URLs in a human-readable fashion, and so on. Starting out strong with these foundational aspects of SEO in place will help you in the long run.
Cover the Good Topics
One mistake I see a lot of companies make, whether they're in law or in another niche, is thinking that all the good topics are already taken. While that's true, that doesn't mean you can't take them too. Just because another law firm already wrote about a topic doesn't mean you can't cover it as well, in your own style, with your own perspective (within the law, of course), and in a way that promotes your services.
So what kind of topics should you pick to cover? Here are some of the basic ideas that can fill out a blog before you start getting into the more specific topics.
- General overview posts. These are the kinds of common, grade school level coverage of law topics you consider foundational to understanding your area of practice. What is copyright, how long it lasts, what constitutes reckless driving, what penalties there are for infringement, those sorts of things. Think about the basic concepts of your practice, and recognize that the average person on the street doesn't know much or any of that; it's all good to write about.
- Common questions. You likely get calls and emails all the time asking you common law questions. Sometimes the situation is such that you need a specific consultation to get into the details, but often there's a simple answer. To use a copyright example again, something like "what do I do if I receive a letter from a copyright troll?" is a good topic to cover.
- Google Autocomplete. You know how when you start typing something into Google's search box, they pop up a handful of possible suggestions for what you're trying to type? These are suggestions based on common searches and content online. It's a great way to generate ideas for topics and questions that people would ask you if they knew it was something you could cover.
- Actual case work. While sometimes you can't disclose information about specific cases, when a case is concluded and you achieved the outcome you wanted, blog about it! This is one cases where tooting your own horn can go a long way to benefit you now and in the future.
- News. Legal news is always developing, as cases hit higher courts and precedents are set. One thing many popular law blogs do is cover trending cases as well, even if they're outside their areas of specialty.
- Off-beat cases. One popular topics is to show how a lawyer reacts to seeing a case filed by a sovereign citizen, and the, ahem, "creative" interpretations of the law they use. Covering those can be a fun topic to cover, though it's something you might have to write yourself, rather than hire a writer to write.
This is just to get you started. There are thousands upon thousands of narrow, niche topics you can write about, so there's plenty to cover.
Don't Worry About Publishing Schedules (Too Much)
Another common mistake I see with novice bloggers is trying to write too much, too often, and burning out. This can be burning out because you're writing it, or burning out because you're paying for content expecting a much faster rate of return than blogging can produce, and thus running out of budget.
In general, I figure you don't need to publish more than one blog post per week, in many cases. Bumping that up to 2-3 per week is fine, but you absolutely don't need to be blogging every single day (or even every week), unless you have the resources to do so.
Don't get me wrong; more content is better than less content. However, depending on the resources you're spending on it (money, time, attention), publishing more frequently often results in lower quality writing. Quality is always going to be more important in the long run.
Know Your Typical Clients
You should probably have a good grasp of the kinds of people you usually work with and the kinds of cases you typically take. This, combined with basic information like demographics, allows you to put together a series of "client profiles", which you can use as targets for your writing. Know what kinds of questions and concerns these profiles tend to have, and write with a mind towards answering them.
As you get your blog established and traffic starts coming in, you can use analytics to identify if there are any potential client profiles you're not already reaching. This can give you insight into your readers, and possibly even help you build up your client list. All in all, analytics are a crucial aspect of blogging, but if you're hiring a marketing firm, they'll be able to handle most of that for you.
Possibly the most important piece of advice for any business looking to start blogging is to keep at it. Blogging takes a long time to get rolling, and it takes a while to build up a reader base, get yourself established on the search engines, build up a content backlog, and all the rest. The return on investment will come, eventually, but only if you keep at it. Far too many firms see no immediate returns and abandon it, and that just wastes the investment. Don't be one of them!