Propel Your Legal Copywriting to the Next Level
You already know that effective copywriting is good for your firm’s business development, Google rankings, and overall publicity. But what is effective copywriting, anyway, and how do you engage in it for your law firm in a meaningful way?
In this guide, we’ll answer some of your burning questions about copywriting for law firms so that you can publish authentic copy that complies with the rules and regulations of your state bar and the American Bar Association’s ethical guidelines, especially when it comes to the rules on marketing and advertising.
Just like studying for the bar, creating content is not for the faint of heart. You need to be focused on consistently creating content that:
- Tackles important, thorny questions
- Positions your firm as a thought leader in your market
- Attracts the kinds of clients you want hiring you
- Adheres to state and national ethical and legal requirements
To help you hit these targets, we’ve compiled this guide to legal copywriting. As a marketing agency, we have written more than 500 pieces of copy for our law firm clients, and we've learned the dos and don'ts of legal copywriting. In this guide, we’ve answered some common questions lawyers and their staff tend to have about copywriting, such as:
- What is a style guide, and why does a law firm need one?
- What are ABA and State bar ethics considerations?
- What are some dos and don’ts for legal copywriting?
- Why aren’t lawyers always in the best position to write for a general audience about legal issues?
- How does content marketing build confidence in a law firm?
- How should lawyers choose blog topics?
- How much time should law firms devote to copywriting?
- How frequently should law firms publish blog posts?
Not all legal copywriting is blogging and even writing, dare we say, brief content can be really impactful. Think about how much attention one tweet or one small slogan can get for an important issue. While we’ll spend a lot of time talking about blogs specifically here, the best practices covered in this guide apply to copywriting for your law firm whether it’s a five-word sentence or a 2,000-word blog.
So, if you’re ready for a crash course on creating fresh, engaging content that tells a compelling story about your firm’s values — and positions you as a thought leader in your market — let’s go!
What Is a Style Guide, and Why Does a Law Firm Need One?
One of the most impactful ways to build brand authority is through style choices that are rarely noticed unless they’re done badly.
Even small differences like going from sentence case to title case for H2 headings will be noticed in the reading of even one post. And if you’re doing this right, your target audience will be reading more than one post, which just increases the chances of their noticing when you make different stylistic choices. Inconsistencies can make your practice look sloppy and poorly managed.
Some common legal stylistic choices to norm on are when and how to use certain words, phrases and punctuation choices. For example:
- Plaintiff and defendant/descriptive terms, such as employee and manager, or consumer and business
- Serial comma
- Em dash
- Header capitalization
- Header punctuation
In addition to your firm’s preferences, consider learning common AP style guidelines and knowing when and how to look up uncommon guidelines when you need to, like how to use hyphens properly.
What Are ABA and State Bar Ethics Considerations?
It’s likely natural for you to stay within the absolutes of state and national bar ethical guidelines when it comes to the aspects of your everyday practice. However, we know many lawyers don’t go into the profession expecting to devote a lot of energy to marketing considerations — unless that’s your niche — so thinking about those same rules from this perspective might not be second nature yet.
We’ve compiled some specific examples of common issues that come up in legal copywriting and ways to address them.
- Absolutes: Writing content about an area you know well may sometimes result in the use of definitive words and phrases. For example, Texas estate planning attorneys often want to emphasize the benefits of their services, but the State Bar of Texas says statements like “The probate process is always lengthy and complicated” can be “potentially misleading and may create unjustified expectations.” One easy solution for issues like this is to avoid definitive words like always and replace them with can be or may be.
- Legal advice: You know this one inside and out, right? Staying on the side of general information while writing long-form content means that you might find yourself riding this line in ways you might not realize. Sticking with general explanations of the law and offering simple hypotheticals (as opposed to discussing specific applications) may help you avoid inadvertently giving legal advice.
- Blogs vs. advertising: The American Bar Association's rules of professional responsibility include specific rules regarding where and how attorneys can advertise, and many state bars have adopted tose rules in full or in part. But did you know that blogs are often not included in this category? In Texas, for example, educational blogs or social media status updates that are educational or informational are not required to be filed with the Advertising Review Department.
- Contingency fees: Even if they’re not officially advertising, that doesn’t mean that many blogs don’t contain information about the firm’s contingency fee structure, such as in the final paragraph’s call to action. The best way to stay compliant with bar requirements about communicating your firm’s contingency fee structure is to keep it general, and always consult your jurisdiction's rules on professional responsibility before you post.
- Past successes and verdicts: If yours is a smaller or new-ish firm that hasn’t done a ton of advertising yet, you may not even be thinking about the way you talk about past successes and verdicts are regulated, but you will need to pay attention. Several states have issued ethics opinions on this subject; North Carolina, for example, allows a section on past verdicts as long as they contain factually accurate information accompanied by a disclaimer. Be sure you read and consult the rules and advisory opinions in your state before you post.
- Specialization: We’ve already mentioned that your blog should avoid words like “expertise” and “specialization,” but here’s just another reminder that both state bars and the ABA offer their own board certification and specialization programs, and these are the only cases in which an attorney can be called an expert or specialist. Additionally, some states have issued opinions regulating the ways in which membership in “self-laudatory” organizations can be listed. Have you been selected as a top lawyer by a peer organization? Congrats! But read the relevant ethics opinions and rules in your state before you list that on your website or blog.
- Catchy headlines: Great blog writing means catchy headlines, but you don’t want to write such a zinger that you catch yourself an ethics violation for a misleading motto, slogan or jingle.
- Comparison: A lot of words that come naturally to blogging about a business are comparative, like some of the words to avoid we listed above. Whether you’re accidentally using a superlative or actually comparing your law firm to another, it’s a no-no.
For many attorneys, avoiding ethics violations isn’t terribly difficult. Often, these kinds of concerns come up when keeping up with copywriting becomes more than the attorneys themselves can handle. That’s when the blogging duties start being shared with non-lawyer staff, who may not be as familiar with the guidelines.
Speaking of, remember that you are still responsible for the decisions they make and the content they post.You should carefully review any content created by your non-lawyer staff before it is posted, just as you would carefully review any filings or documents prepared by them before submitting them in court.
What Are Some Dos and Don’ts for Legal Copywriting?
- Get to the point. Don’t try to recreate a 45-minute long opening statement, no matter how mesmerizing. The opening paragraph of your blog post needs to impress three things upon your reader: 1) what you’re going to talk about, 2) why they should read about it, and 3) what kind of experience reading your content is going to be.
- Avoid word walls. Long, uninterrupted chunks of text are not fun to read, especially when you consider that 43% of people admit to skimming blog posts. Word walls are generally the result of two major offenses: overly long paragraphs and a lack of easy-to-read formatting.
The next few Dos offer some additional tips for creating engaging blog posts and web pages that are mobile- and skim-friendly.
- Organize your information. Your readers aren’t here for a book club. Breaking up content into easily digestible chunks of text is important — How many of your readers are already likely overwhelmed by whatever is causing them to need the services you provide? — and it makes Google happy.
- Use FAQ format. FAQ-type headers are awesome for helping readers see that you can already anticipate what they need to know. They’re also pretty great for SEO. Google your topic, and look at the “People also ask” section to find out what kinds of relevant questions might make good headers for your copywriting.
- Keep paragraphs short. Long-form content doesn’t mean long paragraphs, even if they’re nested under headings and subheadings. However, knowing just where and how to break a paragraph and transition to the next is a sophisticated writing skill, not just a click of the enter key.
Paragraph breaks can affect readability, but they also impact the tone of your writing, so make sure you are considering all possibilities when arranging your text.
- Use bullets and lists. People go to blogs because they need specific information. Bullets and numbers are signals to readers that you have valuable information to provide, and if they like what they see when they skim, they’ll stick around for the rest. If your bullets are weak, you’re more likely to lose readers.
- Add a closing call to action. Louder for those in the back: blogging is marketing! Don’t assume that adding a CTA is going to discredit the information you have just provided readers. Still, lawyers should generally be especially careful not to be overly salesly in their CTAs.
If your blog has done its job of demonstrating your authority and communicating your brand, a simple “Contact us to schedule your consultation and learn more about…” should suffice.
- Link to other sources. Linking to your sources or other places where readers can get additional information boosts your authority by showing you're willing to do your research and rely on factual information.
From an SEO standpoint, outbound links boost the topic signal but make sure that your linking doesn’t kick readers off your blog before you want them to leave.
- Cut unnecessary words. The next section of this guide gets way more in-depth with word-level guidance, but it’s important to consider your wordiness overall. Maybe you’re just a chatty person, or maybe you’re the kind of person who has to write your way to the point of what you wanted to say in the first place. Either way, be concise.
- Remember your keywords. People aren’t going to be impressed by the wealth of information you provide if they can’t find your page. Know what keywords are important in your market and geography, and include them in your copywriting in a way that sounds natural. Also, get creative to include those pesky “near me” and “near you” keywords to improve local SEO.
- Use parallel structure. Readers are better able to process blogs that are organized effectively, presented professionally, and making sure to keep their attention. See what happened there? In lists and in sentences, use parallel structure. Always.
- Speak to your audience. Just because someone can read challenging text doesn't mean they want to. A primary consumer recommendation for attorneys is that they need to do a better job of communicating information to their clients. Think of your ideal reader--most likely, a non-lawyer person who is interested in learning more about your area of the law--and write in a way that will both interest them and explain the question thoroughly but understandably.
- Build your toolbox. If you’re too wordy, use a text summarizer to cut your text or at least see an example of how to get to the point quicker if you’re getting too wordy. Use an online lexile analyzer to make sure you’re keeping your writing at about a 1000–1100 lexile, and don’t be afraid to invest in a premium grammar checker to improve clarity, word choice, and tone.
- Get caught in an ethics trap. We’ll have more about this later, but sometimes getting caught up in the act of writing means forgetting the basics. Avoid writing yourself into an ethics violation by staying away from words and phrases that might communicate the wrong idea: expert, specialist (except where allowable according to the bar), expertise, promise, “when you win,” “we will help you get..” guarantee, results, most/best/top, deserve.
- Hype yourself up too much. Writing to communicate authority implicitly can be tricky and sort of feels like the opposite advice of most of the rest of this guide, which advises you to say what you mean clearly and directly.
Some words to avoid or use sparingly because they can have the opposite effect than what you intended are aggressive, experienced, compassionate, focused, dedicated, and trust.
- Think like a bot. Just because you want your blog to do some SEO work for you doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write like a human. Besides, as more people implement voice searches into their daily lives, it’s especially important that your content reaches people at the human level. That goes for headings and metadata, too.
- Use legalese or other legal jargon. Write for everyday people. Even if other attorneys are your audience for a particular piece or it’s a primary goal of yours to be a source of authority and inspiration in your field, your content is available to anyone, and your future clients won’t know or won’t care if you’re writing for other lawyers.
- Forget this isn’t SCOTUS. You don’t need to go into the technicalities of the case law and history of every relevant precedent to write a blog post. If you find yourself writing all around a topic, don’t despair — you probably have found yourself some future related blog posts to create internal links to.
Don’t make your audience follow you down a rabbit hole and through a rollercoaster of ideas, especially just to hit a word count.
- Forget to have a voice. Who are you as a lawyer? As a firm? The actual information you communicate through your blog is not more important than its voice, but it is part of developing it. Consider the role you want to play in your community and stand strong in it.
Anyone can have a generic blog post, but the content you create should be enough that the first time you meet with a new client, they’re happy to find that you’re exactly who they thought you would be.
Why Aren’t Lawyers Always in the Best Position to Write for a General Audience About Legal Issues?
Now that you have an idea of what you’re going to write about and you have an ambitious plan for how often you’re going to write it, you need to structure the act of blogging as a serious undertaking, rather than just something you do in your spare time.
No matter how much you enjoy getting to share your thoughts with your colleagues and client base, your firm’s official blog isn’t a diary; it’s part of your marketing strategy. So let’s get down to basics:
- Decide on your content’s purpose.
- Identify your firm’s brand and voice.
- Learn how to do legal copywriting.
- Make creating content a priority.
While our writing tips for content marketing apply to whomever is writing the copy, even if you decided to take it on in-house, this is a good time to stop and think about why you might not want to do the actual copywriting yourself.
- You want professional content marketing. You know yourself and your firm best, but we know what questions people are asking online. Just like you know the questions to ask to get information from clients or witnesses they may not have even known they had, professional account managers and writers know what questions to ask — and answer — to connect with the clients you want to attract.
- You don’t want to have to learn new rules. Some guidelines are easy to memorize and don’t require much following up with the style guide. No space after an em dash? Got it. But writing copy, much like practicing law, brings new contexts to the table all the time, and consulting the various style guides — from the AP Stylebook to an in-house content guide — means navigating multiple sets of rules at the same time.
- You’d rather do actual lawyering. Writing content is time-consuming, but it’s worth the investment. If you don’t have the time to invest in producing the strongest copy for your firm, you can join the ranks of law firms who hire professionals to handle it for you.
- You need someone to translate legalese. Speaking of lawyering, the only thing more complicated than the system of statutes and legal precedents you rely on might be how to communicate all that to people who don’t usually spend their time thinking about them.
This is especially important when you consider that if people are seeking your services because they have already experienced a traumatic situation, what they need is accurate, reliable information they can understand easily and quickly.
Practicing law usually means a lot of writing, but copywriting often isn't like writing a legal brief. The content you post, even the briefest of taglines, is as powerful a connection as any other you can make. People will come to your firm because they begin to suspect they can count on you, and your content can go a long way there.
How Does Content Marketing Build Confidence in a Law Firm?
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. As a general rule, lawyers occupy a complicated space when it comes to public perception.
A 2002 ABA study reported that only 19% of Americans surveyed in 2002 trusted lawyers, and a 2014 study conducted by Princeton† found that members of this profession are overwhelmingly seen as highly competent but lacking warmth, with the most frequently reported feelings toward lawyers from the general public being “admiration” and “resentment.” Ouch!
Because so many people associate attorneys with the very worst times of their lives, it can be difficult for attorneys to establish a bond with potential clients. That doesn’t mean the public doesn’t want to hear from the legal profession. In fact:
- 81% of consumers would like to see attorneys educate the public about handling common legal problems
- 45% of consumers would like to see attorneys change the way they advertise their services
So, consumers want lawyers to reach out to build relationships with them, but they’re also savvy enough to recognize brand inauthenticity. Across all types of businesses and services, 82% of consumers reported feeling more positively toward a company after they engaged with the company’s blog.
This is where attorneys have the upper hand! Remember that only 19% of Americans surveyed for the ABA study trusted lawyers? Well, the same folks admitted they knew their negative feelings about lawyers were largely based on stereotypes.
Of the same group, 59% admitted to believing that lawyers are generally knowledgeable and interested in serving their clients. Clients are already open to believing that you know your stuff, and your blog is the opportunity to show it.
So how do you defy a stereotype? Instead of just being an encyclopedia of faceless legal jargon, grab this opportunity to humanize your law firm and craft a blog that makes an authentic connection.
How Should Lawyers Choose a Content Strategy?
So, when your entire profession is hinged on confidentiality, how do you choose topics to write about? Trust us, there’s plenty to write about, and there are a few ways to go about choosing your content.
- Keyword research is key. Blogging is just one part of content marketing for law firms, but we aren’t going to pretend that that’s not our jam. Anyone who tells you just to blog from the heart without paying attention to what’s going to drive leads for your firm might not be considering just how valuable your time is.
Thorough Keyword Research using Google's Keyword tool will tell you how many times a month people in your area are searching for specific Keyword phrases and questions regarding your services. You can also use a tool like SemRush to see what pages are driving the most traffic on your competitor’s sites. Doing both is going to point you in the direction of what your ideal client is looking for and allow you to answer those queries to connect with them.
The bottom line is that you’re in the business of gaining new clients, and creating content that is going to drive traffic to your site as well as present the right image when people land there is exactly what you need to be doing.
- Pay attention to what’s happening outside. In addition to leveraging research, consider what’s going to position you as an authority in your market, in the eyes of both future clients and your peers.
Chances are you’re already staying up-to-date on what’s happening in the legal sphere — from law reviews, ongoing legislation and judicial news, seminars and professional organizations, and professional social media.
Write about these timely topics as a way of engaging in the conversation, especially when it’s a deep, complex issue that you can double-up on for a foundational, evergreen piece of copy.
- Mine the happy hour conversations. The same goes for your day-to-day interactions. When something interesting, challenging, or surprising happens to you, take a moment to jot down a note or record a voice memo so you can expand it into a blog post later.
This could be having to reach deep down into your memorized case law to recall a precedent. Your audience might appreciate the blast from the past too! In that same vein, remember that hardly anyone gets together with friends without talking about work. What stories are you swapping? If they were interesting enough to talk about over a cocktail, they’re interesting enough for a blog post.
If you’re having a hard time thinking up topics to write about for blogs, ebooks or white papers, consider all the different sides of a “day-in-the-life” of an attorney, and then start brainstorming topics related to those.
- Consulting with or advising current and future clients
- Reviewing laws and applying them to specific cases
- Gathering evidence for a case by interviewing witnesses or consulting with expert witnesses
- Researching public and other legal records
- Representing clients in court or attending hearings
- Determining advisability of defending or prosecuting a client
- Presenting evidence to defend clients or prosecute defendants in criminal or civil litigation proceeding
- Preparing and drafting legal documents, such as legal briefs, wills, deeds, mortgages, patent or copyright contracts, leases, etc.
- Negotiating settlements with insurance companies or other defendants
- Supervising associates, paralegals, legal assistants, etc.
- Serving as an agent, trustee, guardian, or executor for businesses or individuals
- Participating in the business and marketing operations aspect of the law firm
Some topics you can write about can be pretty obvious. If you’re a personal injury attorney and your state changes the laws relating to wrongful death suits, that’s huge. Write about it. More often than not, especially to create frequent content, think about how to break down the big picture into the different types of copy that really get at how the topics you can write about affect people’s lives.
Ask yourself, “What do the people whom I want to hire me want to know about my area of practice?”
Does a Law Firm Have to Keep a Blog?
HubSpot’s 2018 State of Inbound Report found that 82% of companies that blog see a positive return on investment when it comes to their marketing strategy. But blogging is a big commitment, and most people want to know two things before deciding to take the leap:
- How long does it take to write a blog post?
- How many blog posts should a lawyer write?
There’s really no right way to answer this question, but we can give you some good data. According to our partner HubSpot, it takes the average blogger about between one and two hours to write a 500-word blog post.
If you’ve stayed up-to-date on our other guides to content marketing for law firms , you know that the most successful blog posts are upwards of 1,000 words and even double that. So, that means you’re looking at four to eight hours per long-form blog post.
Fair warning: Looking at blog posts as individual pieces rather than as part of a strategic and ongoing SEO plan or content marketing program is doing yourself a disservice. You will want to create a forward-thinking strategy for blogging while staying engaged with evolving SEO data so you can:
- Expand existing short-form blogs to capture readers with optimal total reading time
- Optimize older posts for new SEO data to attract your ideal client
- Update outdated content pieces with current statistics or changes to the law
Your potential clients will never know if your blog is optimized or not, but they will notice if your posts are outdated or just wrong. The internet can be unforgiving in its immediacy, and readers may not care if it's an “old post” they’re reading when they stumble over a mistake related to something you should definitely know.
How often you want to blog depends on what you want to accomplish with it. So, the first thing is to set out your goals. Do you want to focus on driving traffic to your site, or do you want to create brand awareness?
HubSpot recommends that businesses looking to drive organic traffic publish as much optimized content as possible. That means:
- Small, new blog posts three to four times per week
- Large blogs, new or updated, four to five times per week
Businesses looking to create brand awareness should focus on diversifying their content and providing useful information. That means:
- Small, new blog posts one to two times per week
- Large blogs, new or updated, three to four times per week
You’ll notice that regardless which approach you choose, you’re ideally looking at 10,000–15,000 words per week. That’s not to say you can’t be successful with a lower blog frequency, and it’s rare that a business is looking only at either driving traffic or creating brand awareness — more likely, it’s a combination of the two.
However, companies that post 16 or more blog posts per month see four and a half times the amount of traffic as those who post four or fewer blog posts per month.
Remember, your copy is not your soapbox. While you’re hopefully creating content that interests you, you should be creating content with your audience, task and purpose in mind. Regardless of how specific your legal niche may be, best practice is to create content for multiple target audiences, usually three.
Your blog should provide different types of content aimed at connecting with different audiences, even if that’s just the same client personna at various stages of the buyer’s journey.
The most successful law firm marketing strategies create a variety of high-quality content on a consistent basis, but planning, creating and distributing high-quality content is time-consuming.
Neon Ambition is a legal marketing leader with a proven track record of creating compelling, relevant and educational content that translates to increased traffic, new leads, and more clients. You don’t have to take our word for it; we will connect you with our existing clients and let them tell you what our legal copywriting team has done for them. If you think your practice could use the support of a dedicated law firm copywriting team, contact us today.