The Golden Collar Awards are bestowed upon the best canine actors. The Pigasus Awards are for those who make far-out claims about paranormal activity.
So why not the Burton Award for the best law firm newsletter?
One worthy winner: Morrison Foerster’s Socially Aware: The Social Media Law Update.
Let’s tour a recent issue for tips on how to snag the true prize: a loyal, and perhaps lucrative, reader base. Here are four things to do the next time you write about the law:
1. Reel ‘Em In
So many lawyers start articles by serving a lukewarm casserole of obscure lingo, compulsively defined terms, and excruciating detail.
Instead, seduce the reader with a practical takeaway:
Virginia’s highest court recently held that Yelp could not be forced to turn over the identities of anonymous online reviewers that a Virginia carpet-cleaning owner claimed tarnished his business.1
Or tease the reader with a provocative statement, perhaps in the form of a question:
It’s often said that, when it comes to regulating technology, U.S. laws aren’t up to speed. That includes U.S. trusts and estates laws, which, in many cases, do not say much about what happens to your digital assets after you die.2
Is it stealing to take data without permission from a public website, or is it simply making use of resources that are made available to you? 3
2. Keep Headings Alive
I have long noticed that many of the best advocates pepper their fact sections with sentence-length headings, often in the present tense. Headings in articles should be at least as compelling. Consider these three headings in the article starting on page ten:
DISH INTRODUCES PRIMETIME ANYTIME AND AUTOHOP
DISH WINS THE EARLY ROUNDS IN CALIFORNIA
FOX EXPANDS LITIGATION SCOPE 4
3. Looks Matter
MoFo’s newsletter also just frankly looks good. You don’t need a fancy graphic designer. Just use some of these tools:
- A stark color scheme (black, white, and red, in this case)
- A front-page teaser in large font
- A two- or three-column format
- Bullet points for helpful lists and takeaways
- Lots of pull quotes
- Cases and statutes hyperlinked rather than cited
4. Lighten Up
Want one easy style suggestion for your articles and even your day-to-day client communications? Cool it on the defined terms.
On the first page of its newsletter, for example, MoFo trusts its readers’ intelligence enough to refer to “the FTC” as, well, “the FTC.” Not as “the Federal Trade Commission (hereinafter referred to as the ‘FTC’).” The chances that a reader of a social media newsletter won’t know what “FTC” refers to are about as high as the chances that Donald Trump will win SoHo and Chelsea.
The same goes for defining people—or not. In the first main article, the firm introduces a plaintiff named Joseph Hadeed by calling him, lo and behold, Joseph Hadeed. But don’t you have to define him as “(herein, ‘Plaintiff’ or ‘Hadeed’)” for the sake of later references? No you don’t! How about just calling him “Hadeed,” as the firm does, and as nearly all good writers would do?
After all, a client communication is not a stock purchase agreement.
Other style choices here are equally lean and mean. Take these lucky thirteen, all in just the first article:
- Not “filed a lawsuit against” but “sued”
- Not “subsequently” subpoenaed but “then” subpoenaed
- Not “in the absence of” any proof but “without” any proof
- Not “Due to the fact that” the legislature but “Because” the legislature
- Not “However, in April 2015,” but “But in April 2015”
- Not “Despite the fact that” the decision but “Although” the decision
- Not “Subsequent to” the ruling but “After” the ruling
- Not “Nevertheless, Yelp” but “Still, Yelp”
- Not “in the event” Hadeed but “if” Hadeed
- Not “protections with respect to anonymous speech” but “protections for anonymous speech”
- Not “Subsequent to the Washington court’s ruling” but “After the Washington court ruled”
- Not “a higher standard should apply where” but “a higher standard should apply “when”
- Not “these cases demonstrate” but “these cases show”
As I often say in my workshops on writing for publication (shameless plug time), if you should ever be having fun as a legal writer, it’s when you’re writing articles or even emails about developments in your practice. Lighten up and show your creative side. You’ll have happier clients as a result, even if you’re a bit more subdued than Mofo.
3. Susan McLean & Mercedes Samavi, Data for the Taking, Socially Aware, May 2015, at 7.
4. Daniel A. Zlatnik & Aaron P. Rubin, First-Ever Award of “Any Damages” for Fraudulent DMCA Takedowns Under Section 512(f), Socially Aware, May 2015, at 10, 11, 12. (I’m generally not a fan of all-cap headings, but according to typography guru Matt Butterick, they are “suitable” for headings shorter than one line.)