Ask any parent of a small child, and they’ll tell you: Caillou is a whiny little puke. On the scale of fears for parents, seeing that a “Caillou” episode is coming on the television, and knowing that you won’t have the dexterity to swiftly change the channel, lies somewhere between being eaten by a hippopotamus and feeling the Earth approach the Sun. If you’re not familiar with Caillou, imagine your worst nightmare — then imagine something much, much worse.
But, the thing is, little kids love Caillou. I cannot overstate this. It’s because he represents a megaphone for the kinds of problems little kids have — Gilbert stole Mars, Leo won’t share the spaceship, Clementine is a copycat — these are all Earth-shattering dilemmas for toddlers. So, from the perspective of the creators of the Caillou universe, they don’t care whether kids’ parents like it, because the parents aren’t the target audience.
There is, of course, a lesson to be learned here.
An Audience of One
Lawyers have a long-standing problem when it comes to developing marketing content, which should be their bread and butter. Even if you can’t directly say so, in some cases, you’re selling your expertise. The problem is that lawyers write for themselves, not for an audience.
From time immemorial, a typical lawyer’s bio has been a list of glowing accolades about which other lawyers care greatly and clients generally don’t — if they can even translate it. (This is not to say that there is not significant benefit to gaining referrals from other lawyers, but a lot of that work is done via in-person networking, with the web presence existing merely as a check on authenticity.)
When you realize that lawyers are relatively new to advertising, and that there are certain restrictions in place respecting ethical uses of advertising, it begins to make some sense. Even so, there are a number of ways lawyers can improve their writing for specific audiences.
E Pluribus Unum, In Reverse
Biodome. At least in the solo and small firm world, attorney bios are coming back up for air. Lawyers are personalizing their biographies, peppering within information highlighting facets of their lives that might indicate they are not, after all, alien life forms. You know, things that indicate interests outside of the law. Photos, including, beyond headshots, body-length shots, can help complete the picture, and engender a more visceral connection with the viewer. Of course, you might be thinking, don’t clients want robot lawyers? (Let’s hope not, right?) The advantage an average 2015 human has over an average 2015 machine is that of common interests outside of work. So, it does make some sense that the more humanity you can impart, the more likely it is for a potential client to like you, and hire you.
Certainly, your likeability factor is wrapped up in a whole series of considerations, but your bio is bundled up in it. Rather than writing an expository piece about your undeniable greatness, focus on answering the questions about you that potential clients may have. Lee Rosen has recently written a piece on a new technique.
Nichelin Man. Until you can place a target on what you want to sell, you have little actual hope of selling anything. Niche marketing does not necessarily mean that you have to whittle your practice areas down to the nub. If you’re a rural lawyer, for example, you may successfully develop a general law practice fitted to a community’s needs. Content marketing is, unsurprisingly, an exceedingly popular tactic for solo and small firm lawyers to highlight their expertise, even if they’re not calling it that. And, if you write and speak frequently in the areas in which you practice, pinpointing your services can become a subconscious habit, which will define where interest lies in your work — at a baseline, among those whose needs align with the basic solutions that you provide.
Imagine All the People. Most lawyers don’t consciously choose to write with a general audience in mind. Fewer still conceive of a specific audience. Think about the attributes your target clients share. Can you construct a series of traits that add up to what you envision your ideal client being like? If you can, write to that amalgam — you’ll be more likely to see some high percentage of him strolling through your door, retainer in hand. Your law firm marketing should be a public love letter to your best potential client. Do the same thing for your perfect referral source. Compose sonnets to her; she will arise, and many like her. If you can conjure your perfect client base, and referral pipelines, you’re halfway to building them for real.
I’ll take “Potpourri” for $600, Alex. Law firms often make a game out of marketing. That game is “Jeopardy.” They try to position themselves as the answer, without first addressing the question. But all of marketing boils down to one basic question: Do you provide a service your potential client needs or desires? The trick is to not skip right to the answer. Anticipate the question first. Think about the first questions your clients have about your services, ask those questions yourself, and then answer them. If your potential client already has your name, she’s going to Google you. Otherwise, she’s likely going to search using the following formula:
[TYPE OF] LAW + [BASIC QUESTION] + [GEOGRAPHIC DELIMITER]
If you’ve developed your website appropriately, you’re going to be relevant for law and location. Only if you draft for an audience — and the specific questions that audience has — will you be relevant for the most important segment of that query.
One of the best examples I’ve seen of a client-centric blog answering this need is Massachusetts attorney Leanna Hamill’s.
Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto. As I alluded to earlier, if you’re looking for lay clients or referrals from laypersons, the worst thing you can do as a lawyer is to write like one in your advertising. There is a reason judges include cartoons in their opinions, and quote Billy Madison in orders: It’s because legal writing is intensely boring. I’ve heard people say you should write for the web at a fifth-grade level. I think that’s probably pushing it — or, at least, overstating the position. Instead, you should write your marketing pieces like you’re drafting an email to a friend, and not a colleague. Use plain, direct language, leaving aside flourish and Germanic words with equally reckless abandon. Draft for short attention spans — if not small brains — especially when you’re writing for the Internet. Be pithy and to-the-point. You’re in, you’re out. Hopefully, then, they’re in: your office door.
There is no one settled formula for drafting marketing copy in the legal field, in large part because every law firm is different. But every law firm that writes directly to an audience is more likely to gain resonance with that audience.
Jared Correia is Assistant Director and Senior Law Practice Advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. Prior to joining LOMAP, he was the Publications Attorney for the Massachusetts Bar Association. Before that, he worked as a private practice lawyer. Jared is the author of “Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers.” He writes on practice management topics for Attorney at Work here, and for the LOMAP blog here. Follow him @jaredcorreia.