How to develop an effective legal content strategy (first published in the Solicitor's Journal)

Solicitors_Law_Journal_website_content_strategy.JPGIn her article for the Solicitor's Journal, Sue Bramall advises on developing an effective legal content strategy for your law firm’s website to improve your online presence.

Knowledge is a law firm’s raw material and yet getting your lawyers to draft expert legal content (in plain English) to keep a website up to date can be like pulling hens’ teeth.

Few firms have an effective strategy to plan and produce high quality content, and this is often evident when looking at a website. What does it say about your firm if the news is out of date, or the legal updates are dominated by one enthusiastic blogger?

Law firm marketing consultant and content expert Sue Bramall outlines the key steps for any law firm wishing to improve their online presence.

Set clear objectives

It is important to establish a clear set of objectives for your website and your online communications.  Do you wish to generate direct enquiries from new clients, or do you wish to set out your credentials for clients who are being referred by your professional contacts?  Do you wish to attract business from overseas? In a foreign language?  Do you wish to launch a new service? Do you wish to highlight your profile in the local community? Or emphasise your culture and commitment to certain good causes?

Each of these objectives would be supported by a different type of content strategy in terms of key messages and distribution channels – and so it is vital to be clear about your direction. 

Failure to set this out as a guiding principle can result in a glut of random content which does little more than fill space.

Determine the content that you need

With your objectives in mind, you can develop a shopping list of content for different parts of the website. 

This could include new pages, or amendments to the following sections:

  • Pages describing your legal service – think in detail about types of matter you handle (or wish to handle more of);
  • Lawyer profiles
  • Sector credentials pages
  • Case studies or testimonials
  • Resources (eg downloads or a brochure)
  • Research or white paper to promote thought leadership
  • News or blog posts
  • Multimedia – podcast or video.

With this shopping list in place, you can simply slot these items into an action plan and calendar and allocate responsibilities among your team – or outsource to a content specialist or legal copywriter.

Contrast this approach with what often happens in law firms - when someone is tasked with writing a blog post and they simply look at whatever their competitors have been writing about recently and draft something similar without any regard to whether this will help to meet the firm’s objectives. 

Choosing your topics

Choose your topics carefully, focus on issues where you can offer a solution which yields profitable work.  Think about your ideal client and what they need to know.  Don’t just write about a subtle nuance of case law which will only interest a couple of people.

Look beyond what everyone else is writing about and seek out a point of difference – remember marketing is all about differentiation.  Have you spotted any trends or opportunities about which no one else is writing?  Do you have a strong opinion on something?  Do you disagree with the popular view?  Do you have insight into a new and emerging area of law?

Embrace a journalistic style

“There are two things wrong with all legal writing.  One is its style.  The other is its content.  That, I think, about covers the ground,” said Fred Rodell, Professor of Law at Yale University in 1936.

One of the most common reasons why a law firm will be disappointed in the results of their content strategy when they have been adding plenty of content, is that authors are not writing for the right audience in the right style. 

Old habits die hard and having been taught to write for other lawyers and practised legal drafting over many years, it can be very hard to break these habits and develop a more client-friendly journalistic style.

Few lawyers have had any substantial training in writing for the media or the internet – so think about investing in some training. A style guide is also a great resource to help lawyers understand how to present their blogs. The Economist Style Guide is a good one to start with.

Embrace design and other formats

Your online content does not only need to be in writing.  Think about how you could illustrate the issue – perhaps by drawing a table or a flow chart, a graph or a bubble diagram?  Could the topic be addressed in a podcast or a video? 

Your choice of format should be determined by the preferences of your clients, rather than because you think something is trendy.  Ask your clients how they prefer to consume their legal updates and build this into your plan. 

Be clear about your reader

Who is your reader?  Make sure that this is clear for the author, as a different style will be required according to whether you are writing for:

  • Lawyers – in the same practice area? Or another area?
  • Other professionals, with clients to refer
  • Busy clients, who do not want to learn about the law
  • Journalists or conference organisers, looking for good communicators
  • Algorithms, serving up internet search results.

If you are writing for journalists, then it is important that you know their publication and the style of their articles.  Remember that they have a deadline to meet, and if you let them down you are unlikely to hear from them again.  Be proactive and drop the legalese.

If you are writing for an internet search algorithm, then you need to think carefully about your titles and subtitles and resist the temptation to abbreviate each set of key terms.  Remember your initialism may mean something completely different to a reader from another sector.  FCA stand for something entirely different, depending on whether you are in finance or athletics!

Meet the needs of your reader

Unless you are writing for other lawyers, make sure that your first one or two paragraphs answer all the following questions:

  • Who does this change in the law affect?
  • What is this article about?
  • When will things change? When do I need to act?
  • Where will it occur?
  • Why will we benefit or be worse off?
  • How can you help us?

Ask a colleague to read your first paragraph only (don’t let them see the rest) and see if they understand what the article is about.  If they don’t, then you need to redraft it. 

Remember that the reader can leave your content and your website at any time, and if you don’t hook them at the outset, they can surf away to find an article elsewhere on the internet which is more accessible.

Give your content a good push

It is not enough to simply upload an article to your website and hope it is fantastic enough to attract lots of potential clients via organic search. You need to give it a helping hand and push it out into the marketplace to be noticed.

This means you need to identify all the distribution channels available to your firm and your professionals, and then take a focused approach to its distribution strategy. If you have not mapped your marketing and social channels, this may prove difficult.

Finally, remember to monitor performance and refine your approach.  The great thing about online content is that you can measure its reach and you can adapt your strategy accordingly.

This article was first published by the Solicitor's Journal and can also be read on their website by clicking here.

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