New Case Could Change the Way You Write Briefs

Warning Against Unpublished CasesWe all remember our law school days, spending hours reading unpublished cases in the law library trying to find that one case that mirrored our professor’s fact pattern. He (or she) had to get it from somewhere, right? Many of us still use that practice today, relying on unpublished opinions when they are closer to our facts that the published case law. But a recent, ironically unpublished, case from the Michigan Court of Appeals could change all that.

The case is Duck Lake Riparian Owners Association v. Fruitland Township. In the midst of a discussion of everyone’s favorite topic, Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel (note the sarcasm), the court dropped this bomb:

Plaintiff relies extensively on an unpublished case from this Court. Unpublished cases are not binding. MCR 7.215(C)(1). Furthermore, this Court disfavors reliance on unpublished opinions even as persuasive precedent and strongly discourages the bench and bar from relying on them in any way. Id. at *4

In any way? With one swift stroke of the pen, this Court of Appeals panel has eliminated a huge part of the litigator’s arsenal. It undercuts the careful work of its fellow judges who write carefully crafted unpublished opinions in order to be persuasive on the trial courts below. And it leaves some lawyers in the lurch where there is little published case law with which to prove their arguments.

The real logistical irony of this statement is that it is made in the middle of an unpublished opinion. Thus if attorneys were to take the court’s advice and not rely on unpublished opinions in any way, they would have to simultaneously not rely on that very advice. The logical paradox is dizzying.

But there is a nugget of truth to be taken from the court’s paradoxical opinion. We need to remember that we are not in law school anymore and that our clients’ cases do not come out of an obscure unpublished legal decision. Whenever possible, attorneys should rely on published opinions and statutes. Unpublished opinions should be the icing on the cake, not the main course.

If you need help with legal writing or overflow drafting, contact ghostwriter Lisa Schmidt for assistance.

Hootsuite Creates Seussian Twitter Tips

Hootsuite, a web application that allows users to coordinate posts to all of their social media accounts, is a leader in providing social media assistance and information. Always willing to assist its users, the company has recently been ranked top for customer service by Brandwatch.

Earlier this month, the site did something so clever it warrants retweeting – I mean repeating. It created a Dr. Seuss-Inspired Guide to Twitter. The infographic gets a 10 in content, form, and creativity. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

Hootsuite’s infographic is a great example of the innovative ways that you can get noticed on social media. As you are creating your web content for next week, consider what you can do to stand out from the pack.

Is It Ok To Use “You”?

Is it ok to use you?I know you may still have nightmares about your legal writing professors and their devotion to formal language. Maybe you even have a Pavlovian response anytime you read 1st or 2nd person (I or you). But in the blogging world the difference between “you” and “one” makes all the difference in relating to your client.

Most perspective clients come to your website for selfish reasons. They want to know what you can do for them (or at least their loved ones), and they are looking for answers. Don’t beat around the bush with qualifiers and distancing language. Be direct. Tell them you can help them and make it easy for them to contact you.

Take these sentences for example:

  • When a person has suffered from an automobile accident, he or she needs the assistance of a highly skilled, experienced attorney.
  • If you are the victim of a car crash, you need a lawyer who knows what he is doing and has a history of doing it for others.

They both say the same thing, but the second engages its readers. It uses language that they would use themselves, like “car crash” instead of “automobile accident” and “lawyer” instead of “attorney,” and it makes it personal by calling them by name (you).

Of course, for SEO purposes you probably want to include the formal name of your practice area and the various synonyms for lawyer and lawsuit somewhere on your website. But that language is not your hook. Craft your opening paragraph to catch your readers’ attention and answer their question: “Can this lawyer help me?”

If you need help de-formalizing your web content and relating to your readers, contact copy writer Lisa Schmidt for help.

Twitter as an Engagement Platform

twitter-bird-white-on-blueA lot has changed on Twitter since I last wrote about how to use it. The platform has gone from a sounding board to an engagement platform. And while you can still use Twitter as a low-investment way to engage with followers, there is so much more that Twitter has to offer.

Today’s Twitter is much more like a conversation than ever before. By tagging your followers in your posts you can engage with them directly. As you share relevant content posted by other industry leaders, you gain reputation. Your followers will see you as a source for good content and your contacts within the industry will see you as a partner in promoting each other’s businesses. In return, they will be much more willing to re-tweet your latest blog post (which of course is pushed to Twitter).

Twitter also functions as massive content index through the use of hashtags. By labeling your posts with #law or #Michigan you signal those readers in the broad Twitter-verse that you write about what they’re reading. This is a great way to engage niche markets that may not realize they should be talking to a lawyer.

For example, a professional jockey probably isn’t following #law, but they might be interested in your post on ownership succession of horses. If you tag the tweet #horse, it will come up in their search and you will have a reader you may never have thought of before.

Like any social media platform, Twitter still has its strengths and weaknesses. But by utilizing the reputation-boosting qualities of hashtags and retweets, you can grow your audience and cultivate great referral partners. If you are ready to take your tweeting to the next level, contact blogging coach Lisa Schmidt for help getting started.

A special thanks to Heather Coleman Voss of the Ferndale Michigan Works for helping me with the content of this post.