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The Right Way to Write Content

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“Content is king,” they say. So you’d better get the words churning, right?

I’ve known many solo and small firm lawyers who are convinced that their website should be built on content. They aren’t quite sure what that means, but they know they need words. So they hire someone who promises more words, because that’s content.

And then the rubber meets the road. The lawyer has to write a job description or hand out an initial assignment and the whole plan comes apart. They begin to ask hard questions: What are the words even for? What words do we need? I’ve been there.

To help you frame your content efforts, let me share with you how I’ve seen it done poorly, how I’ve seen it done well, and what I’ve learned from both. These simple principles will give you the foundation of an effective content machine.

First, What NOT to do

A buddy in a lawyer practice group recently hired an English major to create content for his site. Who better to write words than someone who reads words for a living, right?

He’d established a few rules for his new hire and he wanted advice for getting the word machine started. See if this experience sounds familiar, because it might reflect your misunderstanding of the purpose of content.

He are the rules he shared for the firm’s newbie:

  1. His writer must produce finished assignments within 24 hours;
  2. His writer must write two pages of content per hour;
  3. He must work as an “intern,” not an “employee;” and
  4. He must research and write content relevant to a DWI/criminal practice.

When this lawyer posted his requirements, several other content-happy attorneys gave advice. “Get a journalism major instead,” one lawyer suggested. “Why not pay an SEO company to create generic blogs?” another said. “Maybe you could find an English major who’s also in a fraternity so you can get a line on DWI clients!”

From the practical to the generic, the other lawyers in the practice group reinforced my buddy’s assumptions about content. The common error was seeing words as a commodity, not an art. An English major, the chorus echoed, wouldn’t understand that practical reality.

I pointed out how impractical this list in fact was: two pages of content per hour is a slow reading speed, but a really fast writing speed, especially for an unfamiliar subject; hiring a creator as a contractor reflects the lawyer’s understanding of content as a necessary evil, rather than an important strategic asset; and I’d worry about any lawyer website filled with words about a substantive legal area totally new to the writer.

If you see words as a commodity used to satisfy Google’s tiny robots, you’ll follow in my buddy’s footsteps. Doing so brings significant risk of harm without significant returns. Instead, let me offer an alternative.

A Modest Counterproposal

At the risk of undermining my frequent argument that lawyers should create content, let me propose that you not buy into the word machine logic. Please, either create content that matters, or don’t create any at all.

The content your firm creates is part of a user’s experience with your business. They do not separate the words on your website from your words in court. They are all part of the buyer’s journey with your firm, what we in logistics often called the “value chain.”

Rather than see your communication strategy as a frustrating distraction, then, create a system that will capture your voice and insights in a way that serves your community, while also not demanding so much of your time as to be impractical.

Here’s what I suggested to my lawyer buddy (wisdom you’re free to borrow): don’t have the English major write generic words about an unfamiliar subject at record speed. Instead, have the English major interview you and turn your responses into print-worthy explanations.

The process is simple:

  1. Gather questions your clients often ask;
  2. Have the English major ask you one or two of those questions each morning and record the answer;
  3. Feed the recorded answer into a transcription service like Rev.com or Trint;
  4. Have the English major clean up the transcription, turning the conversational language into a style appropriate for a blog, then use the question as the title and the answer as the post content;
  5. Group relevant question-and-answer posts together around broad subjects that you organize on your site in a way that’s mindful of your buyer’s journey;
  6. Have your content helper promote the new post through automated management systems adapted to each social platform.

We’ll talk more about these steps in coming posts, but note that this process captures your voice without taking too much of your time. It gives you lawyer-generated answers at scale.

Using Casetext in Your Content Process

By design, the process above uses your brain as the source of authoritative content. However, as your clients’ questions become more complex, your content process will require more in-depth analysis. When you get to that point, Casetext can help.

In addition to its intuitive natural language search, Casetext’s artificial intelligence tool, CARA, can lead you to lots of useful materials: briefs filed in court, articles written by attorneys, summaries of cases written by judges, and relevant primary materials like cases and statutes. These resources can be cited with ease as you work with any word processing tool. The same legal research skills that Casetext enables for litigators will serve you as a content creator.

To learn more about how CARA can help you in your writing and case work, schedule a demo with one of our helpful team members (and even test it with a free trial).

Mike Whelan, Jr. is Managing Editor at Casetext. He spends most of his day advocating for and training solo and small firm attorneys in topics as varied as writing, marketing, design, and collaboration. He was a solo attorney himself for several years after graduating from the University of Texas School of Law. He lives in the Kansas City area with his lovely wife and four rambunctious children.

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