When you are writing a blog or webpage, it can be easy to fall into your normal, authoritative voice. But when authority turns into legalese, you will lose your readers. Do your webpages reach out to potential clients, or are do you ignore your audience?
Legal Websites Only Lawyers Can Read Aren’t Reaching Customers
I have recently visited several attorney websites that seemed to forget their audience when discussing their practice areas. Rather than connecting with the audience and its needs, these web pages recited the law, sometimes quoting lengthy passages from the Michigan Legal Code. The dense language of many of these statutes need careful unpacking, even in legal briefs. Expecting potential clients to follow along with complicated legal analysis is insensitive at best and arrogant at worst.
Lawyers who write their web pages like legal briefs often believe that doing so demonstrates their authority and credibility. They’re wrong. To effectively demonstrate your expertise, your website needs to effectively translate legalese to layperson. They should down those difficult legal concepts you went to law school to master into bite-size chunks manageable for your average client.
Writing to Your Audience Depends on Their Knowledge Base
That means that consumer-facing attorneys, like personal injury firms, consumer protection attorneys, and divorce lawyers have more work to do than those serving more sophisticated clientele. An attorney focusing on intellectual property litigation or business mergers and acquisitions has the luxury of writing to readers who have a higher average understanding of legal issues. They can sometimes properly assume a base level of understanding and use terms that among the general public may seem like terms of art or legalese.
When law firms earn their money from the general public, they have to work harder to establish that baseline. This is especially challenging in areas where the law is complex, such as consumer protection, product defects, or no-fault auto accidents. It can be tempting to fall back on the statutes, since they represent the law in its purest form. But they are also almost impossible for the average person to read.
Law schools dedicate entire courses to teaching future lawyers to read the Universal Commercial Code and other densely packed statutes. Expecting everyday people, some of whom did not graduate high school, to understand the importance of the language in the Code is arrogant and ignores your audience’s needs.
Connecting With Your Audience’s Needs
Readers using a lawyer’s website are looking for two things:
- Answers to their legal questions
- Lawyers to solve their legal problems
Legalese does neither.
Lawyers relying on legalese on their websites likely believe they are providing answers to potential. But unless the language is clear and understandable, potential clients may not understand the answer provided. Instead they could feel like there is no good answer to their legal questions. If even the lawyers can’t explain it to them, maybe there’s no one who can help.
Lawyers know all too well that the real answer to most legal questions is, “It depends.” The challenge for consumer-serving attorneys is to clearly convey that uncertainty while at the same time assuring potential clients that they can help swing the calculation in their favor. Doing so converts answer-seekers into potential clients and increases the return on a law firm’s marketing investment.
Tips for Writing to Your Audience
If your website is full of legalese and is turning potential clients away, it is time for a rewrite. Even if all you change is the words on the page, you can improve readability and your return on the investment by:
- Identifying the sophistication level of your ideal clients, and writing with that level in mind
- Emphasizing client needs over technicalities in the law
- Replacing legalese with clear explanations
- Using Yoast or a similar web content analysis program to rate the readability of your content
- Provide assurances that your lawyers understand the complicated areas of the law
Above all, your web content should demonstrate your firm’s sensitivity to your clients’ interests and their needs. That could mean including industry-specific keywords that show you know how your clients’ business works. It could also mean demonstrating compassion to beneficiaries in estate administration cases, acknowledging their loss, as well as their legal arguments.
Writing a highly effective legal webpage is not the same as a convincing legal brief. Lawyers who choose to write your own content need to keep one eye on their potential clients, and make sure you don’t ignore your audience.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps law firms and small business translate legalese to lay-person in blogs and web content. If you need help connecting with potential clients online, contact Legal Linguist today for a consultation.