Ever heard the term “storytelling approach” in regards to legal writing and marketing? Digital marketers like us use it in reference to how we let folks know about law firms and legal practices like yours. It helps us get the word out in a 100% organic nature, and it’s employable by anyone—not just marketers.
The theory behind storytelling marketing is pretty simple. If you have a good story, people want to know about it. If you share a story about your law firm and its history instead of trying to shove a bunch of marketing and legal speak down people’s throats, clients will naturally come to you. The trick is to stay personable, stay relatable, and share your story instead of your sales pitch.
No one likes to be told what to do, you see. Law firms that come across as too forceful with those awful late night commercials struggle to gain new clients because forceful marketing strategies don’t work anymore. We, as a human race, have wised up. In 2016, we know what we want and we know we have the power to get what we want. We have no use for TV commercials that try and tell us differently.
That’s the beauty behind the storytelling approach. While you’re sharing your firm’s story and how you came to be, potential clients aren’t learning about your sales pitch. They’re learning about you. Your attorneys, your paralegals. What sets your firm apart from the next. That’s prime marketing material right there.
The best part? You got there by showing those clients your story and not telling it. Ever heard the classic fiction writing adage, “Show, don’t tell”? It rings true with all types of writing—not just fiction. When you tell a person to do something via writing, it comes across as forceful. When you show them what you have to offer instead, they can see it for themselves and judge it for themselves.
This places the power directly within the hands of your potential clients—right where it needs to be. You wouldn’t have a law firm without clients, would you? Nor would any business. The same thing applies to more than just businesses, too. Without readers, writing itself becomes obsolete.
Learning to Show and Not Tell in Legal Writing
With all that in mind, that leaves us with an interesting question. What else can we learn from fiction writers? When our favorite author crafts a story that makes us imagine the tale as if it were happening right before us—snarling dragons, dusty gun fights, lightsaber bzzssth ksschh noises and all (yep, now you know my favorite fiction genres)—we believe the story and believe in the power of storytelling. We’re transformed—teleported to the world we’re engrossed in.
How can we provide a similar type of transformation to legal writing, law firm content writing, and legal marketing? Believe it or not, it’s certainly possible! And, before you ask, yes, these strategies work just as well for law firm blog posts and website content as they do for most types of legal writing. With one disclaimer:
Important Note: Remember that all types of writing require a certain tone and level of professionalism. You certainly wouldn’t want to write about lightsaber noises in a court document, but for your firm’s blog or over social media? Well, why not? I may have just gotten away with it.
Some of the below points may work better for blog or social media content over other types of legal written content, but other points may be viable in any type of writing your firm does. We provide pointers for where the given methods are most effective, but in general, use your best discretion. When in doubt, ask a coworker for a second opinion (and a quick proofread!).
With that out of the way, let’s dig in. Here are 5 storytelling traits fiction authors employ that you can use to empower and transform the way your law firm crafts legal writing of all types:
A great fiction novel oozes with well-rounded characters—both main and secondary—that we can relate to and have unique backstories, personalities, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Our favorite fiction heroes are those who aren’t perfect necessarily, but those we remember and who are distinct. We tend to empathize with characters who we can say “Hey, they’re just like me!” about because the best characters are believable, yet unique enough to stand on their own.
When you think about it, your legal practice isn’t all that different. Whether your practice has been in business for 30+ years or just getting started, you’ll find it has a unique history, unique goals, unique strengths/weaknesses, and a unique personality of sorts. In the marketing world, we refer to these unique characterization aspects as your law firm’s “brand”. To help spread the word about your firm, you should take advantage of that unique brand as often as possible (where it makes sense, of course).
Uniqueness is incredibly important in a world that contains billions of people like you and I, billions of novels and short stories, billions of blog posts, and billions of pages of law firm site content waiting to be discovered. To be discovered, we must stand out from the pack and be memorable while remaining entirely professional.
But, how? It’s example time. Let’s say, for instance, that your firm consists of attorneys, associates, and team members who all happen to love baseball. Your office is even situated fairly close to Fenway Park. You decide to take advantage of the local home run-loving atmosphere and employ a little smart baseball branding.
You might ask your friendly law firm web designer to re-brand your firm logo and site using colors and angles similar to those seen at baseball stadiums (don’t go crazy, however—your site still needs to be seen as an obvious law firm site and not a baseball site). You may use a little baseball speak in your content. You might blog about games your firm attends. You may even decide to run a firm-wide competition that cleverly rewards staff members for pitching baseball-oriented advertising ideas.
All of these ideas extend from your firm’s unique brand. A brand helps clients tell your firm apart from that other firm you’re competing with two blocks away. It also helps clients better relate to your firm and its attorneys. The baseball talk in the above example? That helps clients relate. Without that unique characterization, your law firm website is just another site with suits in the crowd of sites with suits.
Just as our favorite fictional characters are full of personality, character, and even minor “quirks”, don’t be afraid to include a bit of personality and character within your firm’s blog and content writing. Figure out what makes your firm stand out and find ways to incorporate those strengths in your writing and marketing methods. Just, you know, don’t insert too many baseball puns figuratively speaking (like I almost did).
Gorgeous fiction breathes, radiates, and embodies emotion. When a passage is particularly well-written and includes just the right amount of emotion, it reaches out to us, grabs hold, and lets us become completely immersed. Emotion can be overdone, however. There always needs to be that perfect balance.
The exact same thing can be said for emotion when used in writing law firm page content, blog posts, and social media posts. Emotion can be a powerful tool in this type of legal writing, but it must be used intelligently. When writing about wrongful death lawsuits, for example, you’ll want to attempt to reach out to your readers and relate to them, touching on emotions they might be feeling like grief and anger—but only in a brief, professional manner that attempts to make a connection, encouraging them to reach out to your firm.
Talk about how your firm understands what the client is going through and how emotionally, it may seem natural to be angry, confused, or upset. Avoid using too much legal or academic speak, as both can seem entirely unapproachable—even on a website for a law firm. It’s all about finding that ideal balance. Touch on emotions, but don’t go overboard—otherwise you’ll come across as harsh, forceful, or even patronizing.
Here are some suggested phrase/sentence starters you can try using to connect with the emotions your potential clients might be feeling:
- Grief or sadness: “As human beings, it’s only natural to feel hopeless in these types of situations…”
- Confusion: “If you’re questioning whether or not filing a lawsuit is a good option in your situation, ask yourself the following questions…”
- Confusion or sadness: “Filing a lawsuit may seem like an impossible task in your circumstances, but with the help of a caring, compassionate lawyer…”
- Sadness or anger: “Given the circumstances, taking legal action allows us to speak up against…”
- Anger: “The drug was thought to be safe at the time, but given the evidence, we now know this isn’t the case at all.”
- Anger: “A drug shouldn’t cause lifelong pain and complications—not when there are safer alternatives on the market.”
- Sadness, grief, or confusion: “If the above symptoms have impacted your life, you should know you aren’t alone. Dozens of similar cases have already been…”
The above statements are geared toward personal injury law as you can tell, but similar sentences can easily be constructed for other legal areas. Essentially, the goal is to seem human. Your attorneys are required to adhere to strict language when completing court forms and other legal documents, but that doesn’t mean your clients understand legal lingo and terminology.
Rise above the rabble, use language that humanizes your clients and helps make it approachable, and don’t be afraid to touch on emotions from time to time.
Any good story has to be written with purpose and intention. An author asks themselves what type of message they want to send and what type of audience they want to send that message to. When a novel isn’t written with clear purpose, any reader can tell right off the bat because the plot tends to wander right off the page. Books are more than money makers—they’re devices of wisdom and education—and the best books don’t even make readers aware of that fact.
The same is true for legal writing of any kind—including technical documents and court materials. Identify your intentions and your audience early on in anything you write, be confident about those intentions, and remain true to them throughout. This helps guide readers to the end of your article/document as well as helps make your purpose 100% clear.
Let’s say, for example, you’re writing a blog post about the dangers of a new drug that was placed on the market and is under heavy legal fire. Your purpose is to educate potential clients about those dangers and let them know you’re there for them, right? Don’t waste too much time talking about the inner workings of the drug. Skip the pharmaceutical lingo.
Jump right in and talk about why the drug is dangerous, its most dangerous side effects, and the implications of those side effects. Don’t get overly technical here, either. Speak in language any client would understand. Talk about the lawsuits that are ongoing and how your readers can become involved or get more information.
Before you’re done, ask yourself “Is there anything else potential clients might want to know?” If so, go back and revisit those areas. When you know what you’re talking about ahead of time, you can organize an article or document more clearly and get your point across early on, drawing in readers ASAP. This makes it incredibly easy to go back and proofread/correct any mistakes.
Some writers live by outlines. Others detest them. Both types of writers, whatever their organizational methods are, must craft a story or novel with forward momentum in mind. Even the “slowest” of novels have action. Action drives the plot forward, makes the reader invested, and lets the writer stick in all those juicy plot twists and whatnot that keep us on the edges of our seats.
Any type of legal writing needs forward momentum for similar reasons. Sure, getting to your point early on is important in order to draw in readers, but don’t forget to keep the pace action-based while you’re writing. Non-fiction that incites action encourages its readers to take action. When you write using a voice that encourages forward momentum, you also create content that’s inherently more interesting to read and more approachable.
To do this successfully, here are some specific tips:
- Avoid writing in passive voice. Active voice tends to be quicker to write, read, and keeps the momentum flowing. Example: “All lawsuits are handled by our firm’s attorneys,” vs. “Our attorneys will handle your lawsuit.” The second is the one you want.
- As mentioned earlier, avoid the legal/academic speak whenever possible. The language we use every day gets to the point clearly and quickly.
- Don’t be afraid to use contractions in law firm blog posts/site content/social media. “Don’t” is much faster to read than “do not”, and helps speed the reading process.
- Spread out the most vital bits of info folks will want to know. This will keep readers reading until the end (consequently, this is when outlines do come in handy, so by all means, if you’re the outlining type, give it a try).
- Abuse sub-headers, bullet point lists, and images/graphics whenever possible. All of this breaks up giant walls of text and helps readers keep interest by giving them different things to look at.
- Use shorter sentences and paragraphs. Some marketers will suggest this tip to the extreme, but frankly, sometimes longer sentences are needed in legal writing. Use this tip to your discretion. Don’t simplify what you say too much, but employ a bit of variety with your sentence/paragraph structure.
- Vary your word usage. Don’t repeat the same verbs and nouns over and over again.
- When in doubt, be creative. As legal writers, we tend to “stick with what works” quite often. This is a solid strategy, but when it comes to writing, sometimes it pays to be creative and mix things up a bit. Want to try creating a snazzy infographic instead of a boring graph? Give it a try—you’ll likely gain a fan or two.
Attention to Detail
As a fiction writer, one of my favorite things to write is a meaty, in-depth description. I love sensory details. Give me a scene—let’s say a sunrise on a lake shoreline—and I’ll describe it (if it makes sense within the story’s context, of course) down to every last detail—the color of the sky as it changes, the murmuring of birds awakening, the scent of dew dissipating, and the feeling of soft dirt underfoot as two campers make their way barefoot towards a fire in search of coffee.
If details like this enhance a particular scene, the scene can come to life in a powerful way, enabling readers to feel as though they’re really there, sharing a cup of coffee with that camper duo. The same applies for legal writing. Except, you know, you probably don’t want to talk about campers and pretty skies in a court document.
After we’ve written what seems like countless legal documents and blog posts, the process of writing can flip over to autopilot. We’re used to using certain terms and abbreviations without explaining ourselves. We’re used to talking to other legal professionals all day. We’re used to prioritizing law firm SEO instead of client ease-of-access. It’s easy to neglect the smaller details and explanations that may be of use to clients who may not understand what a statute of limitations means or how state laws differ from one another.
Before you start your next article, shut off the autopilot button and place yourself in the shoes of your audience. What details would they need to know? What questions may they think of as they read? What might seem unclear? See what you can do to alleviate some of those issues. When a potential client learns a great deal by reading a page of content on your site, they’re not only encouraged to contact your firm, they’re encouraged to feel confident about the case they’re bringing you.
Information—and details—are powerful, helping us understand the full scope of what we’re seeing. This type of understanding builds confidence, and when your clients are confident, they naturally place more confidence in you and your law firm. It’s win-win all around—and can even include a client meetup for coffee.
Placing the Puzzle Pieces Together
If any of the above information seems complicated, don’t fret—take each aspect separately, digest the suggestions and examples—and try and use one new approach the next time you sit down to write a legal document or new blog post. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try a creative risk or two. The next time, try another approach. Eventually, with enough trial and error, the approach will become second nature.
Learning how to write well and with our audience fully in mind is a learning process, and it definitely takes time. Even the most experienced content marketers will admit to learning something new every day. I know I do, and frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Half the fun of writing is trying new things, seeing what works, and improving upon that new thing to make it even better.
Even the greatest of fiction authors didn’t become awesome overnight. Great writing takes time, and a lot of practice. With steady practice and a bit of an adventurous spirit, you’ll become awesome too.
For more content writing tips, SEO tips, and web design tips tailored especially to law firms and lawyers, stay tuned to our blog. For even more help, feel free to get in touch with us anytime. The team at Legal InSites is more than happy to help make your law firm’s website, SEO efforts, and content writing as exceptional as you dream it could be.
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