We all know that lawyers are taught to think, speak and write logically and analytically. But what if you could use those skills that you learned from law school and perfected in practice to promote your firm, market your skills, and position yourself as an expert in your chosen field? I’m talking about using your writing skills for more than just briefs, memos and interrogatories. It’s time to use those writing skills to build your brand and broaden your reach.
Publishing articles in well-known periodicals or writing a book for laypeople or fellow attorneys can lead to public speaking engagements, conference panel participation and, most importantly, additional clientele. All of which can help elevate your brand and catapult you to a higher level in your field.
Being a published author, even a self-published one, carries a certain amount of prestige. It also can help you reach your target market, promote the collective experience within your firm, and position yourself as a thought leader.
But What Should You Write About?
For most people, even for some attorneys, making the time to write isn’t a problem. It’s figuring out what to write about. If you have no idea where to find your inspiration, ask yourself, “What does my ideal client need to know?” “What does my primary audience need to know?” Below are some approaches to this conundrum:
- The FAQ response. Collect the questions clients routinely ask you; write up your responses, then use those as a starting point for a more in-depth article or a book chapter.
- Personal experience. Write based on firsthand knowledge or research. Provide anecdotes, advice or ideas based on your experiences using actual examples.
- Your own cases. Review the last three to five memoranda of law or legal briefs you drafted. What were the substantive topics you addressed? Are any of those areas ripe for a legal trade or industry publication article, or is there enough to outline a book?
- The “Who Cares” factor. If someone can benefit from your knowledge and experience, then it is worth sharing.
Even an article you have written for your blog or for another publication can be a starting point to build your brand. Consider updating that article or expanding it into a chapter for a book on the subject. Something you’ve already done could be the jumping-off point for something bigger.
Writing a Book to Build Your Brand
Because the practice of law has changed dramatically in the past decade or so, an attorney’s approach to it must change as well. It’s not enough to simply count on referrals from colleagues to get by. You have to be a good attorney, a good marketer and a savvy business owner in this competitive profession. A book is a great marketing piece for you and your firm — a quality lead magnet; it’s the new business card for the 21st century.
A book is your way of standing out in a crowd of attorneys performing the same functions and practicing the same field of law. There are several business-related reasons why attorneys write books, and each of them relates to growth: 1) to move into a new and growing market; 2) to build authority in your niche; 3) to build and expand your practice; 4) to attract new clients for your services; or 5) to diversify your income.
Could you accomplish the same with a brochure or a list of FAQs on your website? Not really. Clearly, a book is nothing like a brochure, which is designed to be a concise description of the content typically found on a firm’s website. A book is more like FAQs on steroids. It allows you to express your legal expertise on a subject, share your opinion, and educate your audience.
Misconceptions About Writing a Book
Many people, including lawyers, harbor misconceptions about book publishing, so let’s dispel a few here:
- Legal books need to be hundreds of pages. No. The length of a book serving the legal community has changed. You do not need to write a 2,000-page tome to be taken seriously. Do you have a niche topic that spans only 50 pages of content? Then that could be a book.
- I’ll make money off my book. Maybe, but likely not. Here’s where your purpose for writing the book becomes important. Think of it this way: Writing a book is an investment in your firm’s future. It’s about the reach your book might have and the opportunities that could present themselves to you and your firm.
- I can’t practice and write a book. Yes, you can. You simply need to commit to the task and start by developing an outline. Alternatives to writing involve recording your thoughts as they occur to you, then having them transcribed, or hiring a writer to pull the information out of you and then massage it into a book.
Less Time? Consider Writing Articles
Writing articles for magazines and websites requires a shorter time commitment than writing a book. Many articles run between 500 and 1,500 words — a more surmountable challenge. The real challenge is getting your article idea in front of the right person at the right periodical so that your article gets read by the right potential client base.
Could you simply post articles to your social media accounts such as LinkedIn and Facebook? Sure, you can, and that is a great way to build a following. But your ultimate goal should be to get in front of your ideal clients. To do that, you need to be published beyond your own outlets. Getting your work published in periodicals that target your ideal client ensures that you’ll have a better chance of reaching that audience with your message.
Embrace Editorial Guidelines
Most, if not all, periodicals offer guidelines for submissions. These instructions are posted to their websites or can be requested by sending an email to the editor. The guidelines commonly address:
- Length of articles — the minimum and maximum word count (an optimum number of words per article might also be listed)
- The publication’s editorial calendars, which include topics, themes, article types, and required submission dates broken down by publication date
- Copyright ownership (temporary or permanent)
- Inclusion of an author’s biography and headshot
- Compensation (if any)
- And much more
Make sure you comply with the editorial guidelines to maximize your chances of having your article accepted. But remember that complying with the posted guidelines doesn’t necessarily mean your article will be published as-is. Changes to articles are made for numerous reasons — in-house style and punctuation are probably the most common reasons. Other more extensive changes can occur — from reorganizing paragraphs to rewriting your intro, to cutting a chunk of text to make the article fit within a given space.
If the thought of having anyone make even minor changes to your writing without your approval makes your skin crawl, now would be the time to rethink this option. This calls for checking your ego at the door. Getting free promotion by publishing your articles in a periodical requires that you give up some control over what finally gets published.
Where to Search
To identify appropriate places for publishing your articles, you’ll find these tips helpful:
- Google the publications you’re interested in and check the website for its circulation and demographics.
- Find five to 10 publications that meet your needs. Many of these periodicals (particularly trade or industry associations) are constantly looking for submissions and fresh content to fill their pages, especially when they publish on a daily or weekly basis.
- Read and review several previous editions to get a feel for the types of articles that are typically included.
- Locate the executive or managing editor’s name and contact information.
- Prepare and submit your article pitch — a summary of the article you’d like to write for the publication. Be sure to explain why the periodical’s audience would benefit from reading your article and why you’re the right person to write such an article.
- If you are seeking a legal industry audience, contact your local bar or specialty bar associations. For a national legal audience, look to national legal associations or specialty bar associations, or associations that service industry professionals such as the ALA, AALL, ILTA and LMA. Also, there are national websites such as Lawyerist, Above the Law, Nolo and, of course, Attorney at Work. For a non-legal audience, try periodicals that are community-based. Take a closer look at the ones delivered for free to your mailbox regularly.
Write to Build Your Brand and Educate Your Audience
No matter how you approach it, writing to build your brand is a long-distance run and not a sprint to the “more clients” finish line. Stay focused. Write clearly and succinctly, write consistently and prolifically and, above all, write to educate your audience. In the interim, be patient.
- “Four Ways to Take Your Thought Leadership Marketing to the Next Level” by Jay Harrington
- “Use Podcasts to Attract Clients” by Dan Steiner
- “Writing and Editing for Empathy in Legal Marketing” by Ivy Grey
- “My Top Writing Tips for the Busy Author” by Susan Kostal
- “Self-Publishing Takes More Than One Self” by Tatia Gordon-Troy
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