Monday, March 18, 2013

Legal Content - Future Clients will Expect It

For better or worse, right now most law firm content strategies (blogs, white papers, Avvo articles, etc.) are focused on search engine optimization.  Obviously, SEO is hugely important and becoming more so as online networks encroach more and more on human lives.  However, we have long pointed out that law firm blogging is about much more than SEO.  While the SEO value alone is enough to make it virtually required for all serious law firms, it is a mistake to view these tools--of which blogging is the most important--as only useful to increase pageranks on Google searches.

Playing the Long Game

One way to look at it is by considering the legal client of the future. Picture the twenty year old today.  This person likely has not had any use for a lawyer and doesn't think much about it right now.  Creating a will or crafting an estate plan is not on their radar.  They are unlikely to be developing a business in need of legal advice.  They may seek out an attorney after a car accident or if they get into some criminal trouble, but overall, they may not be the target market for many attorney right now.

But they will be.  In a decades or two, this generation will be hiring lawyers for a wide range of issues, from real estate needs and landlord disputes to bankruptcy matters and disability benefits.  How will these people BOTH find possible lawyers and decide which one to call?

They will look online, of course.  That's a given.  Their lives are consumed by social networks, search, and free information sources.  If you are even reading this blog post it means you must be aware that billboards, yellow pages, and even things like traditional TV commercials are (perhaps slowly) fading in importance.  

Understanding this reality is required but not sufficient to best position yourself to be seen by these clients of the future.  You need to not only position yourself to be seen by these clients online (SEO does this), but you must also figure out a way to convert them to actual clients.  It is here where blogs are pivotal.

The truth is that today's twenty year old expects to find helpful information provided to him immediately by those whose services he or she may utilize.  Visiting a website with contact information is one thing, but if that website provides little besides a phone number, email, and biography, then the potential client is far less likely to take the bait.  Today's twenty-year old is used to being given a wealth of useful, interesting, and timely information immediately.  Those who do not provide it are far less likely to ever get a dime of business from the twentysomething. 

This applies to a wide range of products and services--and legal services are no exception.  Consider a website selling camping backpacks.  One site has a neat list of all the different packs that they offer, with prices and links to order.  A competitor has the same neat product list.  But they also have a dynamic website that provides useful information on a wide range of topics: discussions about the new, stronger material being developed for these products, a list of the top 10 best weekend hikes, summaries about celebrities using certain packs, and more.  The latter company is going to get the business 85% of the time.  Because the online searcher will be spending significantly more time on that website.

It is important for law firms to accept that the client of the future will absolutely demand useful information from a potential attorney before calling.  Law firm blog writing provides that information.  The earlier you start committing to this essential part of your online storefront, the better.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dunning-Kruger Effect & Legal Writing

This month's edition of the ABA Journal includes a story with the catchy headline: "Why Lawyers Can't Write."  The story essentially argues that most lawyers are not very good writers and, critically, they often do not recognize that they are poor writers.

This general lack of awareness is encapsulated in a principle identified by two Cornell psychologists about a decade and a half ago: The Dunning-Kruger effect.  The principle posits that those who are not skilled often do not realize their inadequacies.  This would apply, some suggest, to lawyers and their writing ability.  The psychological argument is expanded to also suggest that the unskilled are unable to recognize genuine skill in others and think of themselves as skilled.  Sadly, the psychologists not that studies have found that the unskilled are only able to reverse this only after "highly effective training."

Long story short:  Many lawyers are poor writers and don't realize it.  This is a recipe for a career of inadequate submissions in all forms--from briefs to blog posts.

More specifically, the ABA article argues that there is a woeful lack of focus on style.  Obviously substance is key in legal writing--you've got to get the legal principles/arguments right.  But far too many place all emphasis on substance and next to nothing on style.  This is a huge mistake, particularly when it comes to legal blog writing.  If failing to address style in a legal writing piece submitted to the court is inadequate, failing to address style is a law blog post is crippling.  A blog post is simply wholly inadequate if the writer has no appreciation for writing style.  The reader of an online piece will mostly skim, and they won't give more than three seconds focus to a post if it is too dense and unreadable.

Improving vs. Perfecting
To be fair, we do not for a moment envy the job of legal writing instructors.  On many levels, it is next to impossible to change a lifetime of habits that students have developed over a twenty to twenty five year period.  A few legal writing classes mixed in over the course of a law school career cannot work miracles.  Of course, that is not to say that improvements cannot be made, but it takes a yeoman's efforts to go from inadequate to top of the class.

The same principle is relevant in legal blog writing.  Of course individual attorneys can be trained to improve their writing ability generally and blog writing ability specifically.  However, there is a far cry from "improving" and "doing very well."  At the same time, most "blog training" is highly inadequate.  It usually involves an SEO professional at a website company talking with the attorney on the phone a few times and explaining how to insert links, keywords, and categories.  None of the "training" has anything to do with writing quality itself, and it offers only a cursory look at the issues.

That is one of the reason that law firm utilize our services--understanding that it is far more effective to outsource the task to those who are drilled in that particular service.  Please contact our office if you could benefit from the support of our legal blog writers.