Friday, February 24, 2017

Should You Put Disclaimers on Your Legal Blog Posts?

There has been ongoing conversation and even state bars have weighed in on the topic of legal blogs, advertising, and required disclaimers. In general, state bars prohibit lawyers from advertising anything that can be misconstrued as misleading. That includes discussing previous wins on your blog.

Journalism vs. Advertising

Many have argued that legal blogs resemble journalism, rather than advertising.

In fact, Rodney Smolla, the former dean of Washington and Lee University of Law, leading First Amendment scholar, and current president of Furman University of South Carolina, stated that he didn’t ”think the mere fact that a lawyer has been involved in a case means everything a lawyer says about it is an advertisement for future clients. Lawyers talk about their own cases all the time, in public settings, publications … and members of the public are able to take that speech for what it’s worth.”

This revelation came back in 2011, when Smolla defended Virginia attorney, Horace Hunter, because Virginia State Bar brought a misconduct charge against Hunter regarding his blogs, which included previous cases his firm won, as well as local and national criminal justice topics. The state bar stated that Hunter’s blog was advertising and required a disclaimer that told readers clearly that it was an advertisement.

Hunter, on the other hand, contended that his blog was commentaries and news stories. He further argued that the state bar’s requirement to add a disclaimer to his blog posts violated his rights under the First Amendment. However, because Hunter’s blog posts referred to cases that his firm won, it seemed to the state bar that Virginia Ethics Rule 7.2 should be upheld. Virginia Ethics Rule 7.2 once said that when attorneys are discussing or listing previous cases that they have won, it should be considered advertising and a disclaimer that states that all cases and outcomes are different must be written along with it.  

Ethics Rule Deleted

However, on July 1, 2013, amendments were approved to delete Virginia Ethics Rule 7.2. This deletion puts us back to the beginning, wondering whether disclaimers absolutely, positively must be used or not. It also leaves the decision about whether or not legal blogs are considered as advertising or not up to the discretion of each individual state bar.

Some states believe that if a legal blog is attached to a law firm’s website, the blog is considered advertising because a website is a form of advertising and the blog is a part of it, rather than being a stand-alone blog. Other states believe that if certain information is discussed on a blog, such as previous case wins, that is considered advertising and should include a disclaimer. Some states say that using a “call-to-action” at the end of a blog post is advertising. All of the state bars state, in some form or fashion, in their ethics rules that lawyers should not make misleading or false statements – and simply omitting important information is enough to be charged with an ethics violation.

Needless to say, it is important to check with your state bar’s ethics rules regarding blogging and decide whether or not you should be using disclaimers on your blog. Contact Law Blog Writers if you need help building the content, as well as advice, on your legal blog.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Should Your Website and Blog Be Combined or Separate Entities?

We could list the many reasons why lawyers should have websites and the many other reasons why lawyers should have legal blog posts. The next question? Whether or not the two should be combined or function as separate, unconnected entities. Several experts have weighed in on the issue, including the California Bar, and the answer may surprise you.

Blogging is Long-Term Marketing

Let’s scoot over to the Lawyerist.com, where Sam Glover stands firm on the subject. He talks about the blog tab that “leading to a few boring, useless posts that stopped shortly after they started” or “may even have a few posts that might be interesting to someone looking for a lawyer in the firm’s practice area(s).” He points out how keywords were the main reason, at one time, to even have a law blog, but that blogging is long-term marketing.

What Sam means is that by maintaining a well-written blog, you can build readership that keeps coming back. They might not need a lawyer today or tomorrow or next week, but when they do need a lawyer, they will automatically think about you, because you have such an interesting and informative blog. In addition, you can use your blog as a media outlet, bragging about your successful cases before the media touts them. (And if you have a successful blog to start with, the media will pick up and spread the word about your successes.)

10 More Reasons

Kevin O’Keefe listed 10 reasons why a law blog should not be attached to a law firm website on Lexblog. He made several excellent points. One was that keeping your blog and website detached allows Google to display content from both separately in search results. Another superb point is that you can link to your blog from your website and to your website from your blog and improve the search engine rankings of your website drastically.

The California Bar Weighs In

The California bar has provided yet another reason to separate your blog and your website. The bar says that when lawyers use to actions such as “call us today for a free consultation,” on their blog posts, the blog and website are subject to advertising rules set forth by the bar. In fact, just by being part of the website, the firm’s website would be considered advertising by association and subject to bar advertising rules regulations. However, if the firm’s blog is freestanding, it doesn’t have any call-to-actions, and it offers educational and informational content, it would not be subject to bar advertising rules and regulations.

Of course, it is up to each and every law firm to decide whether they want to integrate their blog with their website. Whether you decide to have your blog on your website or as its own separate entity, we can help you build up-to-date content on a consistent basis. We can help you become an authority of law on the internet and improve your long-term marketing strategy at fair and competitively low pricing.

Blogging is a lot of work. If you have been struggling to keep up with your law blog, we understand. Most attorneys are just too busy to keep up a well-written and thought-provoking law blog in between court, clients, and keeping up with new prospects. Contact Law Blog Writers today to discuss your blog marketing needs.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Exhaustion is Overrated - Outsource Time-Consuming Legal Writing Tasks

Do you try to do it all yourself? Do you assume that feeling constantly rushed is simply part of being a professional in the modern world? Do you live as is life is an emergency?

If you are a lawyer (or a marketing professional working with lawyers), then chances are that all of the above apply.

But it doesn't have to.

In the legal profession, status symbols matter. A 10.0 Avvo rating. A member of Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Published cases. News media interviews. On and on and on. It is easy to assume that being "successful" in the law requires 24 hours a day of commitment. Work your life away out of law school, become partner, make money, get on the news...succeed.

But here's the reality: Exhaustion is not a status symbol.

A fascinating new book, Ted talk, and interview on this subject is particularly apt for lawyers (and the professionals who work with them). Professor Brene Brown discusses how the modern world's assumption of "doing more with less" is simply not on a human scale. Cramming more tasks into each day does not actually yield better results than doing reasonable work in that same time frame. We cannot "work" our way past every problem. Feeling constantly exhausted because of 15 hours straight on a To Do List does not automatically correlate to "success." Instead it often correlates to stress, unhappiness, broken marriages, addictions, heart attacks, and ignoring non-work passions.

Contrary to assumptions, this around-the-clock work is usually not based on fear or demands from superiors. It is habit. As Professor Brown explains
Less than half the people I’ve interviewed would say they work around the clock out of fear, and more than half would say they do it out of habit. We use work to numb out. We can’t turn off our machines because we’re afraid we’re going to miss something.

As legal content writers, we are proud to partner with law firms and marketing agencies seeking a better balance in their work. Doing everything yourself is rarely the best option for business success or personal sanity. If you are unable to actual enjoy your work because of constant time pressure, then Stop..and do something about it. Make a change. See how you can hand off tasks or cut back on commitments. Your To Do List is not a measure of your value or success.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Mobilegeddon" - What Is It? And Will It Affect Your Law Firm Blog Content?

If you are a practicing attorney or law firm marketing director you may not have heard the term "Mobilegeddon." If you are an SEO professional, then you definitely have.

What Is Mobilegeddon?

The moniker refers to an algorithm change from Google that is intended to skew certain search results toward web pages that are "mobile-friendly." This change took place yesterday, April 21st.  A few important caveats:

*This only applies to searches on mobile devices (phones). This means that anyone who searches on a computer will see zero change.

*The change applies to web pages--not entire sites.

The Cliff Notes idea is that individual pages that read well on a smaller screen are likely to rank better in searches that are conducted on those small screens. Interestingly, according to Google, a page is either mobile-friendly or NOT mobile-friendly. There is no gray area.  You can test whether your pages meet the standard or not by putting in the URL at Googles's handy testing site: HERE


Will Mobilegeddon Affect Law Firm Blogging or Content Writing?

The most common legal answer applies here: "It Depends." On one hand, law firm webpages and stand-alone blogs will be included in the changes. So some attention must be paid to the details. However, this is not a content-specific change. The information provided by Google does not suggest adaptations that should be made to the text on your pages.

Whether on a phone or a computer, content itself remains the heart of a page--and the critical component to your Google ranking. Before and after Mobilegeddon, it is essential to have useful, interesting, readable, original words on your website and blog. That will improve your search ranking, draw in readers, and increase the chance that those readers are converted into clients.

However, this algo-change should be used as a critical reminder that online writing is a unique beast. Reading content online is not identical to reading a book...or a brochure...or a newspaper article. Those differences must be considered when managing a blog, adding new pages to your site, updating pages, or creating a new website altogether. The increased focus on mobile readers only amplifies that need. What are some of those mobile-friendly writing styles:


* Slightly shorter posts - after all, it is difficult to read a blog post that is 2000 words when scrolling on a 3 inch screen. However, do not confuse this with assuming that longer pieces are never appropriate. They still have their place, but peppering material with shorter options may be worth evaluating.

*Clear, bold headlines - mobile-users skim headlines. Even desktop users do (which is why headers have always been important). But for the mobile-reader, the headline is even more critical because it very well may be the only thing read on the page.

*More bullets, paragraph breaks and word emphasis - Think of the skimming mobile-user. If they get past the headline/header, they are still unlikely to dive quickly into a dense paragraph. They will likely look for the easiest read--bullet or emphasized text.


The bottom line: Mobilegeddon does not require major or automatic changes to your legal content strategy. However, if you are a lawyer or firm marketing director, be sure to have a discussion with the team that handles your website/SEO to ensure they are doing what they can to make your pages mobile-friendly.


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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hiring Legal Writers? Do Not Drown Them in Rules, Requirements, Mandates, & Guidelines

Delegation is not easy. The challenge is manifestly harder if you think that the goal of delegation is to have someone else do something exactly as you would do it yourself. This is a fantasy. No matter what the task--from painting a wall to writing a blog post--it is always possible to find something that the delegate did which you would have done differently.

While no delegation is perfect, some tasks simply cannot be given to others without a clear understanding that it will not be done exactly as you would have done it yourself. Writing is the prime example of this. There are many ways to quantify "good" writing. But there will always be immense disagreement about what exactly is or is not good. And perfection in writing is unattainable.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”                                                   - Mark Twain
In an attempt to have a writer produce something exactly right every time, clients (lawyers, legal marketing directors, marketing companies) sometimes create comprehensive, exhaustive "guidelines" for their delegate-writers.

You can never use these words
No contractions, or adverbs, or unnecessary adjectives
You must put this link here
You cannot link to this phrase
You cannot quote these types of sources
Or these sources
But "try to avoid" these sources
Never use "fluffy" language
You must use this type of phrase X number of times
Always reference this
But never this
Use underlines here
And bold text here
But never here
Italicize these
But not these
Spell these out
But write these out...

...It can go on indefinitely

Unnecessary chaos. What starts off as an attempt to control the relationship and produce uniformly better results actually has the opposite effective- an inferior product and soured relationship.

Comprehensive guidance may work great in completing some tasks--but not so in writing. It is trying to keep hold of sand by squeezing so tight that it all falls through your fingers. Excessively detailed requirements cause various problems

1) Writer Paralysis - No writing project is easy. From a 200-word blurb to a 2,000 word article, writing is work. The challenge is made infinitely harder when you have a 2, 3, 4, 10 page checklist of guidelines to follow. Giving a writer a task and then giving them an unnecessarily detailed list of Do's and Don'ts is like handing a marathon runner 25 lb weights before the race.

2) Inefficiency - Providing very specific and comprehensive guidelines inherently makes the writing process longer and harder for the writer. Unless those guidelines are absolutely necessary, they end up doing nothing more than make the writing process less efficient. The most detailed guidelines are usually only created to advance a vague notion of uniformity without a real focus on exactly why something is or is not required. If the only reason your guidelines are so detailed is because you simply want everything to be identical to everything else, then you are likely hurting your writer efficiency unnecessarily. This leads to higher turnover among writers, paying more for writing, or settling for mediocre writers who are great at checking off all the boxes but not necessarily producing the most original, interesting, or useful content.  

3) Wasted Creativity - You are hiring a writer both for their available time to complete the work as well as their skill in doing the inherently subjective task. By overloading requirements upon them, you snuff out much of their own ability to add personal style and substance. You do not get their best work.

4) Stale Redundancy - In today's new SEO world, the focus should be on crafting helpful, original, material--not dwelling on random uniformity preferences. Trying to meet very specific guidelines frequently results in writing that comes across as bland, formulaic, and uninteresting.

5) Creating a Dead End - It is easier to write guidelines than to write the finished product itself. Many firms or company guidelines become too by accident, because new rules are added over a long period of time. Some individual post or client has some problem, and so a new line is added to the handbook. Repeat over a period of months or years, and *voila* an extra long rule sheet emerges. When not crafted all at one time, this can create an actual maze for the writer leading to a dead end-where it is virtually impossible to meet all of the requirements in a single piece.

6) Unnecessary Conflict - By hiring writers, you become an editor. This gives you power. You can make a change in any regard and insist that the change was necessary because some error was made by the writer. You are paying the writer, so they do not have much recourse and will usually accept the change or make the edit with an apology. But the use of edits (or at least the explicit condemnation to the writer) should be done with care, because it inherently sours the relationship. The longer the list of guidelines or requirements the easier it is to find various words, phrases, links, or actions that the writer did "wrong." It is easy to point out the problem in frustration ("I explicitly said never to use contractions!"), but was the breach of the very detailed requirement actually in any real way relevant to the quality of the writing? Was calling out the inconsistency with the random preference worth hurting your relationship with the writer?


Caveat: This is not at all to suggest that all guidance to hired writers is inappropriate. Sharing basic parameters, general goals, preferences on style, main topics to discuss, and other details are essential to a healthy relationship with your legal content writer. Instead, this is merely to suggest that there is a point where it all backfires.

More rules and requirements given to writers is not always a good thing. Be judicious in this regard to ensure the best final product and the most beneficial relationship with your delegate.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Legal SEO Basics in 2014 - Content Writing Rules for Panda 4.0

The task of online legal content writing and blog writing can be broken into two parts: (1) Writing interesting, useful, share-able material; (2) Ensuring the material takes into account up-to-date search engine optimization details.

A common mistake is focusing too heavily on only one of those prongs. The writing may focus only on keywords and buzz topics and mirroring every detail of the perfect SEO scheme without emphasis on quality material. Or the writing may be oblivious to modern day search engine optimization, with duplicate content and dense structure. Either approach is a problem because it means that the writing either wont be worth reading or won't actually be read (because no one will find it online or devote the time to absorbing it).

Many attorneys working to write content for their own website or blog struggle most with the second prong--the SEO part. You may have may ideas about topics to discuss, commonly asked questions to analyze, and other information that is very much worthwhile for potential clients and the community at large.

But the SEO details are foreign to most legal professionals. And the challenge is made ever harder by the fact that the rules are changing on a monthly (or even daily!) basis. That is one key reason why it is worthwhile to have help with online writing and marketing. Whether you want help with the writing itself or need guidance getting your thoughts found, going it alone on that front is often a mistake--leading to lost business potential.

If You Read Nothing Else About Writing Online Content At This Moment:

For these intrepid souls who want to get their mind around the basics of SEO writing today, a very helpful short article at SiteProNews breaks down the basic writing in today's "Panda 4.0" world (referring to Google's latest algorithm update targeting content). The cliff notes version of the lessons we can take from the latest update include:

1) Remove all duplicate content. Ensure that no content is copied verbatim from anywhere on the web, included your own pages (and including long snippets of statutes, case law, etc.)

2) Remove "thin" content. Ensure that all material actually grapples with a question or issue. That does not mean that all pieces must be 2000 word white papers. But, brief 200 word, bland, ultra-generic pieces are worthless.

3) Write for people, not search engines. This is counter-intuitive considering this is a list about how to write for search engines. But, ultimately, Panda changes are all about rewarding quality material that is written for the quality of the prose with far less emphasis on keywords and marketing.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Legal Content Writing & Google's Panda 4.0 Update

Anyone who follows SEO news on a daily basis was likely swamped with one topic over the last week-- Panda 4.0.

The Update
On May 20th, Google's Matt Cutts revealed that the latest algorithm changes targeting spammy content was rolled out--likely affecting search rankings for a variety of sites. As a Search Engine Watch story explained, "The Panda algorithm, which was designed to help boost great quality content sites while pushing down thin or low-quality content sites in the search results, has always targeted scraper sites and low-quality content sites in order to provide searchers with the best search results possible."

The Panda updates first started over three years ago and were mainly targeting "content farms." These "farms" including low-quality nonsense pages that provided readers with little information but included a high percentage of keywords. These sites are on the way out. Instead, Google is pushing natural, useful copy. Google wants to reward websites that add text to their website and blogs that is well written, well organized, and answers actual questions or provides genuinely useful information.

The Lesson for Law Firm Web Copy
The ultimate take-away from this update (like all others) is simple: high quality content is critically important.

It is best to view these updates as akin to changes in the enforcement of criminal laws. If you follow the law, then there is no reason to worry about an increase in enforcement efforts. If the speed limit is 70, then go the speed limit. If you do, there is no reason to fear a dragnet to catch all speeders.

The same is true for best practices in legal SEO. Create high-quality original legal content that is actually useful to readers. If you do, then not only won't you worry about these Google actions--you will welcome them. If you have high quality legal content, Panda 4.0 is a net-positive, resulting in  an increase in rankings.

Whether you are an SEO company working with law firms or managing you own firm's online presence, the time to invest in legal content is now.

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