Lawyers aren’t taught how to write blog posts in law school. Most attorneys have to figure out things like practice management and marketing on their own. But one thing most law schools are good at teaching is how to write a legal brief. And it turns out, blog posts really aren’t all that different.
1. A Solid Introduction Introduces the Case (or Topic)
I don’t know about you, but my legal writing class spent a lot of time on how to write an effective introduction to a legal brief. Lawyers are taught how important it is to summarize an issue, framing it in a way favorable to their clients. The introductory paragraph of a blog, often called the hook, works the same way.
Your hook paragraph should briefly tell the reader what you will be discussing in your blog post, just like in a legal brief. You should frame the issue so that web browsers know the primary issue. But unlike a legal brief, a blog introduction does one more thing: it makes the reader want to learn more. Whether by triggering excitement, curiosity, or even fear, a blog introduction connects with readers and encourages them to “Read more.”
2. Briefs and Blogs Both Need to Stay on Target
Have you ever written a legal brief that meandered its way to the point, only to go back and cut a lot of the extra information out in version 2? Lawyers know not to burden judges with a lot of unnecessary background information or tangentially related legal issues. The best legal briefs get right to the point.
This is even more true for blogs. In a legal brief, you often have 20 pages to make your point. The best blog posts are around 1,500 words. That leaves you little time to waste with asides or unrelated content. Stay on target, answer your readers’ question, and move on to the next post.
3. Headings Are Your Questions Presented
Most of the rules you learned in law school about questions presented work well in a blog post as well. In fact, some blog posts write their headings in the form of questions, which the content below them answer. So go ahead, use the tips you learned about putting your strongest argument first, and using sub-topics to build to logical conclusions. That advice isn’t just about legal briefs. It’s good writing.
You can also use your headings to outline where you are going to go as you are writing. Just like your questions presented often lay the framework for your research and legal writing, by laying out your blog headings in advance you can stay on target and know where you are headed.
4. Citations (Or Links) Are Important
In a legal brief, citations give you credibility. They show that you aren’t just making up what the law should be, you have found precedent that says this is the way it is. The same is true in blog posts. While most lay-readers won’t know what to do with a string citation or statute number, they do care where your information comes from.
Especially today, when “fake news” is a favorite cry of journalists, where your facts and statistics come from matter. So link to your sources! It will allow interested readers to get more information, establish your writing as a credible source, and give your post a little extra bump in SEO.
5. Wrap It Up With a Prayer for Relief (Or Call to Action)
Your brief doesn’t end when you’ve laid out your argument. After the final conclusion you still need to write your prayer for relief. After all, unless you tell the judge what you want to happen, how can you expect your clients to get the relief they need? Lawyers learn early on that nothing happens if it isn’t in the Prayer for Relief (which we often lovingly call the “Wherefore”, because let’s face it we still love our legalese).
In blog writing, the Wherefore is the Call to Action. It’s where you clearly inform your decision-makers (in this case the readers) what you want them to do now that they are done reading. Most calls to action invite potential clients to “contact us” or “schedule a consultation” with the lawyer who is credited with the post. However, if your blog is an introduction to a larger issue you may want viewers to “Read More” before picking up the phone. If instead you are advocating something (possibly a legislative change), you may also want to direct readers to a website where they can sign a petition or look up their representatives. In any case, the Call to Action, just like the Prayer for Relief should make it clear to your reader what comes next.
You don’t have to take a class on blog writing to create effective legal blogs. Much of what you learned in law school about writing a legal brief applies. Some of the names have changed, and the format is slightly unfamiliar, but when it comes down to it, all you need to do is write well.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes blogs and web content for lawyers and small businesses. If you need help generating content for your online marketing, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.