Case summaries from recently published court decisions (yes, even the unpublished ones), are a rich source of content for your law blog. But they can all-to-easily turn into dry treatises that alienate your readers, or go over their heads. Here are three tips to make the most of case summaries on your law blog.
This the second post in a 2-part series. Last week, we looked at what makes case summaries the best and worst way to show off your legal expertise online. Today, we’ll look at some tips for how to push those case summaries toward “best.”
Tell the Story of the Case
As lawyers, we are often way to eager to get to the legal analysis of recent court opinions. We skim – or maybe even skip – the facts, assuming that any important factors will be included in the opinion’s more meaty sections. This tendency to skip ahead is a product of our training and our expertise. When you have read 100s of personal injury lawsuits, it can often seem like the stories are all the same. But our readers haven’t done that reading.
The story of the case is what signals to potential clients that this case is similar to their legal problem. Even if it is a run-of-the-mill auto accident, take the time to lay out the fact pattern in a relatable way. Use the parties’ names (you may have to look at the full title or a footnote to find them) to humanize them and make potential clients empathize with their plight. Even when a court opinion is light on facts, you can usually find enough to tell a story where readers can see themselves in the plight of the parties.
Translate Legalese to Lay-Person
I’m going to let my inner geek show a little here. Stan Lee, one of the grandfathers of comics, and frequent cameo actor in the current Marvel films, has a saying, “Every issue is someone’s first.” It stands for the idea that each comic book needs to give enough context so a first-time reader could understand what was going on. It got a little carried away sometimes, with heroes explaining their superpowers in over-the-top monologues every issue, but the general principle is sound. You never know how much – or how little – your reader already knows about your topic.
When you are writing case summaries for your blog, you need to assume that this blog post could be the first thing a person has read on the issue. That means you need to lay a baseline, so first-time readers aren’t lost. Sometimes you can do this with links to relevant content elsewhere on your blog, but don’t rely on that.
Define any legal terms that are essential to the case summary in the post, even if they seem obvious to you. By taking the time to translate legalese to lay-person you can bring even first-time readers along on with you in your legal analysis. They may still walk away with questions, but at least they won’t feel like you are talking over their heads.
Make the Case Matter to Your Clients
If you want your readers to come along with you for a deep dive on a complicated legal issue, you need to make sure they care first. This means you need to make the case matter to readers and potential clients by relating it back to their legal problems.
Don’t hide the ball on this, either. It can be tempting to go through your case summary analysis and then connect it to a broader range of cases. But if you don’t lay out the connection early on – or at least hint at it – much of your audience will tune out before you get to the big reveal.
This is where your intro paragraph can be of great use. You can use the first paragraph of your blog as a “teaser” of what is to come. Give readers enough information to know what the key issue is or how the post will relate to their problem. Then you can go deep and trust that they’ll be reading along with you to find out the answer to the question you placed in their mind at the outset.
Make sure to tie it all back to your clients at the end too. Write a concluding paragraph (or more) that tell clients why all that legalese should matter to them and how the newly published case relates to their problem. It’s not redundant. Instead it puts your clients at the heart of your writing. Make your clients the focus at the beginning and end of every post – even the in-depth case summaries.
Case summaries can be an excellent way to showcase your legal expertise and build a reputation within your industry. But to make the most of those case summaries you must always keep your reader in mind. Don’t give in to the bad habits you learned in law school. Put your reader’s needs at the center of your blog posts to keep them reading until the very end.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes blogs and web content for lawyers and small businesses. If your law firm needs help translating legalese to lay-person, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.