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.


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