Writing Blogs for
Lawyers are taught to write a certain way. We spend three years and over $100,000 learning how to speak the secret language of legalese. But then, when it’s time to write for the general public, we forget that they don’t know the language. That makes us seem elite, aloof, and let’s face it, down right rude. Here are 5 ways to banish legalese from your blog.
1. Define Your Terms
You’re a lawyer. You know that what words mean is important. Millions of dollars are won and lost every year because of what a particular word means in a particular statute.
The same is true on your blog. If you don’t take the time to explain what the words you are using mean to your readers, you will loose out on thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars in attorney fees. That’s because people don’t want to be talked over. They want to be talked to.
So the next time you sit down to write about “premises liability” (or any other complex legal idea), take your time and define your terms. Explain the situation the same way you would if the reader were already a client sitting across the conference room table. By translating legalese to lay person you’ll help them feel important and make yourself seem more relatable.
2. Shorten Your Sentences
Many lawyers don’t realize that they use long sentences. It can be one of the hardest habits to break and it’s what keeps this legal writer from a high readability score most of the time. In law school we are taught to use explanatory phrases and lists of synonyms to convey our message. But our long sentences can sometimes guarantee that no one is reading.
Admit it, you do it too. When you see a long list of terms in a contract or statute, you start skimming, looking for the part that is important to you. If we, as lawyers, aren’t reading the legalese, what makes us think our readers will? Cut the fat and use short sentences. Your readers will thank you for it.
3. Latin is Almost Never Necessary
Lawyers are taught a smattering of Latin. Some of us like to show off our command of the language. We think it makes us seem educated. But unlike legal terms, which have a place on your blog, Latin is almost never necessary to make your point. It doesn’t make you seem smart. It just distances you from your readers and makes it harder for them to follow what you are saying.
4. Use a Reader-Friendly Tone
The words you choose can also make your blog sound like legalese. Often, lawyers get stuck in the authoritative tone we use for our motions and briefs. That level of formality is perfectly fine in court. But blog readers are probably looking for something a little lighter.
You can write about serious topics (even wrongful death or tax law) without being so formal. Try to write more like you speak. By using a conversational tone, you invite readers to relate with you and make yourself seem more approachable.
5. Write About their Needs
Legalese isn’t just about word choice. Some lawyers are fascinated by conflicts between different courts. They find meaning in the technicalities and nuances of different court opinions. But most of the time, readers don’t care.
Sure, a new court opinion, even a highly technical one, can make a great blog topic. But be sure to bring it back to why a reader would care.
If an opinion redefines a legal term of art, explain what that means for your reader’s potential cases. How will it affect their rights or make their cases easier or harder going forward? Bring it back to them, and their needs. Otherwise it will seem like nothing but legalese.
Legalese has no place in your blog. Even the biggest law firms are still trying to connect with readers who are regular people. Their expertise is elsewhere, that’s why they need you. Take the time to write your blogs in a way that focuses on your reader as a person, and banish that legalese back to the briefs where it belongs.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes blogs and websites for lawyers and small businesses. If you need help translating legalese to lay-person, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.