Using a Downloadable to Build Reputation

Do you have a flier that you hand to your clients? Are there certain questions potential clients always ask? Using a convenient downloadable on your website and social media outlets can give your readers something to take away and build your reputation. Continue reading

Draw Me A Picture: Who Is Your Ideal Client?

I recently had a conversation with a real estate agent where I asked him, “Who is your ideal client?” His response “I don’t know, anyone looking to buy or sell a house.” Here’s why that just won’t work. Continue reading

Michigan Supreme Court Releases New Citation Rules

This month the Michigan Supreme Court issued a new set of citation rules called the Michigan Appellate Opinion Manual. These standards apply to judges opinions and to lawyers’ briefs alike. While there aren’t too many changes from the previous standard of legal citation, the manual does have some useful suggestions:

Short-Form Citations

You only have to provide the full citation to a case once (such as Hays v Lutheran Social Servs of Mich, 300 Mich App 54, 56-59; 832 NW2d 433 (2013)). After that you can use a short-form citation (Hays, 300 Mich App at 59). If you haven’t referred to any cases in between, or if the sentence makes clear which case you are referring to, you can also use Id. (Id. at 60), but only for cases, not statutes.

String Citations

If you are tempted to string together multiple sources to prove your point, the Court says don’t. String citations “disrupt the flow of the text and burden readers.” Cooney, Stringing Readers Along, 85 Mich B J 44 (Dec 2006).

Long Case Names

If you are citing a case which has a name that goes on for days you can abbreviate it as long as what you end up with still allows the reader to identify the case. For example:

Original: Trout Unlimited Muskegon – White River Chapter v City of White
Cloud, 195 Mich App 343; 489 NW2d 188 (1992).
Shortened: Trout Unlimited v White Cloud, 195 Mich App 343; 489 NW2d 188 (1992).

Unavailable Citations

The Court provided a format to use if you are quoting a case so new it hasn’t been published yet: Bev Smith, Inc v Atwell, ___ Mich App ___, ___; ___ NW2d ___ (2013) (Docket No. 308761); slip op at 3.

Statutory Ranges

If you are citing a range of statutes, repeat the “MCL” before the end of the range: MCL 769.1 through MCL 769.36.

Capitalizing Statutes

If the act contains a short title, capitalize the first letter of each substantive word, and do not include the year of enactment. Sponsors should be eliminated (i.e. the Civil Rights Act rather than the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act). The word “Michigan” should be used when part of the short title or when distinguishing a Michigan law from another jurisdiction’s statute with the same title. If an act does not have an official title, the short title should not be capitalized (i.e. the no fault act).

Legal Teatises

If a legal treatise has more than 3 authors, keep the first name and then add “et al.” Once you cite the treatise in full once, you can refer to it by the author’s name in a short-form citation.

Internet Materials

Because the Reporter’s Office creates an archive of Internet materials cited in published opinions, judges will avoid quoting any website that requires a subscription or with video. The inability to view these materials later can undermine their precedential value, so use alternative sources when you can.

Legal citation may seem very boring to the average practitioner. But being up to date on the latest formatting and citation rules will help your briefs look professional and persuasive to clients and judges alike.

Lisa Schmidt is a ghostwriter for Legal Linguist in Southfield, Michigan. She can provide thoroughly researched motion and brief writing services using up to date citation methods. For help meeting your filing deadlines, contact Legal Linguist today.

 

Writing Simply: Avoid Legalese

Lawyers and other highly trained professionals are in danger. They don’t know how talk to their clients, and so in the world of social media they risk losing followers by talking over their heads. So how can you fight the disease of legalese? Here are some tips:

Drop the Dictionary

Every lawyer has developed an elaborate vocabulary of legal terms, in both latin and English. But using those terms in your blog doesn’t make you sound smart. Instead it confuses your readers and makes your blog hard to read. Drop the dictionary and cut out anything you might have to define if that same client walked into your office. If you’re not sure, ask a non-lawyer friend what they think a word means. You may be surprised what counts as legalese.

Shorten Your Sentences

One of the symptoms of legalese is long, wandering sentences with lots of commas. Particularly when viewed on a mobile device, these sentences can seem to go on forever. Your readers will get lost in the maze of clauses and eventually just give up. Befriend the period. Break up your sentences into easily digestible pieces. Your readers will thank you for it.

Check Your Tone

One sure way to avoid a legalese infection is to read your blog posts aloud. Blogs should be conversational, so if your article sounds more like a lecture you know you have a problem. Take your formality down a notch and change up your style. You’re not teaching a class, you’re writing to a friend. Tone can be tough to manage, but with some practice you can develop a style that is compelling and conversational.

The last thing your followers are looking for on your blog is a legal brief. So if you find yourself at risk of spouting legalese, stop, look, and listen. Walk away from your blog post for at least an hour. Come back and read it anew. And if you aren’t sure about your tone read it aloud to a non-lawyer. If you still need help managing your tone, contact blogging coach Lisa Schmidt for a meeting.

How To Recycle Your Blog

Is your blog disposable? Are you using each post once and then throwing it on the garbage file? What if there was a way to recycle your content and make it work harder for you?

“Reduce” Your Effort

You’ve put hard work into crafting a quality blog post about an interesting topic. Share it with the world! Or at least your social media network. Rather than spinning your wheels rewriting the same information over and over, set up your blog to automatically post messages on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Those sites will attract more traffic to your blog and get you more followers.

“Reuse” Your Old Posts

Unless your blog is focused on the bleeding edge of technology law, some of your articles probably have some staying power. When a topic you have written about before becomes popular again – like when a celebrity couple files for divorce – pull out your greatest hits and share them on social media all over again. Just make sure to keep them updated with any changes to the law.

“Recycle” Your Content

If your blog is focused on your topic, it is likely you will find yourself coming back to the same issues over time. Save time, energy, and word count by linking to old blog articles rather than reinventing the wheel. You’ll be able to get more in-depth and provide more quality content to your readers. Plus, search engines will love the back-links to your site so you’ll improve your SEO.

Writing a high-quality blog can take effort, but there’s no reason throw your energy in the trash. Recycle your blog through social media and cross-links to make the most of your work. If you need help writing or publicizing your blog, contact blogging coach Lisa Schmidt for more information.

Don’t Waste Your Introduction Paragraph

Take time to write a good introductionIt can be tough to make enough time to write your motions and briefs in the midst of a busy trial schedule. But that is no excuse for ignoring your introductory paragraph. Instead, busyness should be reason number 1 to carefully craft the introduction – the busyness of your judge.

Far too many lawyers throw away an important opportunity to get judges on their side while writing motions and briefs. Uniformly, the opening of motions are something like:

NOW COMES the Defendant, John Doe, and in support of his motion states:

But far too few take advantage of their introduction to tell the judge what it is they want. Consider this alternative:

NOW COMES the Defendant, John Doe, and asks this court to stay the income withholding order until an accounting on the satisfaction of the judgment can be provided. In support of his motion, Defendant states:

With one quick, carefully crafted sentence, you can tell your judge what you are asking for and why. This will give the judge a starting point from which to consider all the facts and circumstances you include in your motion. Rather than making your judge gradually deduce what you need him or her to do, you put the request out there and then back it up with why.

The same principle applies to your legal briefs too. Rather than skipping straight to the Statement of Facts, create a separate Introduction section. By putting a summary of your legal arguments right up front it will help your busy judge understand what to expect. It also allows you to frame the question and lead the judge to the conclusions you want him or her to make.

The introduction to your motion or brief is very important, especially once the pleading makes its way into the hands of a busy judge. Take the time to craft a careful introduction – whether a sentence or a summary paragraph – so the judge can clearly understand what you’re asking for and will be more likely to agree with you.

If you need help crafting well-written motions and briefs, contact ghost-writer Lisa Schmidt.

Blogging For Your Niche Practice

How can you make ripples in your pond?There are countless niche specialties out there. And because they are so specialized, you can quickly become an expert in that small subset of your field. Whether your passion is for medical marijuana defense or equine law, you can quickly become the go-to person in your niche by blogging.

There are 33,692 attorneys in Michigan. Most of them fall into certain highly competitive categories like family law (3,080 on Avvo.com). So how do you make waves in such a big pond?

The key is to distinguish yourself from the competition. By carving out a niche from your large practice area, you cut down the number of attorneys vying for your cases. Of the over 3000 Michigan family lawyers only 62 are listed as Collaborative Divorce professionals. By taking the time to focus on that niche you decrease your competition by 98%!

But once you’ve got the expertise you have to let people know about it. Blogging is a great way to do that. Even while you are still learning you can explain the unique quirks of your niche market and begin to make a name for yourself in the field.

Keep up with changes in your niche market. Read every opinion (or article) you can find, and share your knowledge. Whenever you can, get ahead of the curve by writing about upcoming changes or challenges to the law.

By taking these proactive steps, you’ll cultivate an appearance of expertise. Your blog will become a source of news for potential clients, referral sources, and even other attorneys in your broader field. Then when your would-be competitor runs into a case that falls within your niche, you will be the one that pops to mind.

Marketing as an attorney is about creating an image of expertise. Rather than fighting upstream against the thousands of other lawyers who do what you do, target your practice and your marketing on a niche market and turn competitors into referral sources.

If you need help launching your niche blog, contact blogging coach Lisa J. Schmidt for one-on-one assistance.

Become An Expert By Blogging

Become an Expert by BloggingIf you are a new attorney, or just reaching out into an area of law, there will certainly be a lot you don’t know. This can make you feel like you shouldn’t be blogging. After all, you’re no expert. But by putting a little extra research behind your posts, you can become an expert and better serve your clients while also creating solid web content.

No one starts out with all the answers. Even the most seasoned lawyers have to refresh their knowledge from time to time. But it can be intimidating to set out to provide information when you don’t feel like you have it in the first place. Here are some tips to improving your knowledge while creating credible content:

1. Use What You Learn

If you have to research an issue for a client, whether that be international child custody disputes or a contractor’s trust, use what you learn for your next blog. Research is part of a lawyer’s job. While confidentiality will prevent you from sharing your client’s particular situation, there is nothing stopping you from talking about the topic. Speak from your point of strength. Your readers will appreciate your new-found knowledge.

2. Remember, Your Readers Know Less Than You Do

Unless your blog is designed to appeal to your direct competition – which would not be an ideal target market – your readers are going to be less educated about your practice area than you are. Even if you are trying to sort out a basic legal question, your answer is going to be better than what your readers had before. So don’t be afraid to blog on something as simple as the elements of a contract or habitual offender laws. Your articles will still make you seem like an expert.

3. Find a Niche

There are very few areas of the law that don’t have niche markets within them. Find one that fascinates you and read everything you can on it. You will be surprised how quickly you will become an expert. Then focus a series of blogs on that niche and share them with other attorneys looking to refer clients. Suddenly, you will become the go-to person for that sub-specialty, all because you chose to learn about it for your blog.

Researching your blog articles may sometimes feel a bit like writing a book report. But if you think of it as building your expertise, suddenly blogging becomes even more valuable by simultaneously serving as continuing legal education. Learn from what you blog and blog from what you learn and soon you will find that you really are an expert in your field.

If you need help identifying your niche or building your blog, contact blogging coach Lisa Schmidt to help you on your way.

Authenticity and Credibility

Photo by by Stuart Miles on freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by by Stuart Miles on freedigitalphotos.net

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about bringing in readers from search results and from building your reputation with referral partners. But the problem with reputation is it is a double edged sword. More than quantity, the quality of your content is what will push people to pick up the phone, or not.

Initially, this gets back to choosing your topic. You need to choose a content area that is broad enough to give you lots of ideas to write about, but narrow enough to keep subscribers’ attention. More importantly, you need to write from what you know. If you have never handled a class action lawsuit, then a post on the intricacies of class certification may not be the best idea.

Instead, try to focus your blog on the types of law you are familiar with, or at least the areas you’ve read the most about. Your practice history and the research you have done over the years will give you an air of authenticity. You will be able to draw connections between topics that a layperson or newer lawyer might have missed. This will help your readers to trust you as an authority on the topic.

Second, always check your sources. Whenever possible, go back to the statute or court opinion itself. If you can’t do that, rely on reputable news sources rather than opinion articles. Avoid writing articles based on articles that are based on articles. Instead, dig down to the source. By linking directly to primary sources you give your blog credibility. Your readers will know they can rely on what you’ve said, and that your blog is free from unnecessary layers of bias and interpretation.

Your blog is one way you can educate potential clients and referral partners about your expertise in the field. By writing about what you know and relying on primary sources, you can give yourself and your posts more authenticity and credibility in the eyes of your readers.

Isn’t Content Marketing Legal Advice?

MP900178584One of the reasons lawyers are slow to adopt web marketing is they are afraid of running afoul of state ethics committees by providing legal advice. Different people have different perspectives on this, and every state’s rules are different. But if writing articles for magazines or books is not legal advice, then it is hard to see why an online blog would be any different.

The key is that blog posts (like books) do not apply the law to any reader’s particular situation. As an author you have no way to know your reader’s circumstances. Your blogs simply offer an opinion on “the way it is.”

Where you could get in to trouble is in the comments. If you find your readers asking you specific questions in the comments it is probably better to invite them to schedule a consultation than to respond where the world can see. This protects confidentiality and your ethical obligations as an attorney. If you still feel uncomfortable, or if your state ethics rules are more stringent, you can always disable comments and simply suggest that readers call for more information.

Some lawyers also choose to build in disclaimers on their blogs. Writing a footer that says the information provided is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, can give you further security about ethical questions.

But just because local ethics standards exist doesn’t mean you should avoid content marketing altogether. Your potential clients are looking for a reason to like you. An informational blog shows that you are knowledgeable, generous, and can communicate with your audience.