Blogging Makes New Lawyers Rich and Famous

headlines

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Sam’s manifesto on why your blog sucks is worth the read. I thought I’d take the micro-approach and tackle one comparatively tiny thing: headlines.

What is a headline?

A headline is the title of your post. The best headlines, generally speaking, are short and descriptive. The worst are cute or clever and objectively fail to match the post’s content, like a bait-and-switch. I’ve written good headlines. I’ve written bad ones. Just like anything else, writing a “good” headline depends on your overall level of skill and what you want to accomplish.

But one thing’s for sure: the best headlines provoke an emotional response from the reader. Do new lawyers really get rich and famous by blogging, as the headline of this post says? No, generally not. But I bet you’re curious.

Examples of Emotional Response: Outrage, Curiosity, Fear

Don’t lie. You seek fame and fortune, just like everyone else. It’s up there with other powerful motivators, like love and fear. Like it or not, these things drive humans. Here are three headlines I’ve written with emotional response in mind:

How to Defend a Deposition: Just Show Up

This “how-to” headline trolls for outrage.

Is showing up really all it takes to defend a deposition? No. To be fair, I know that blog posts are not closely read—people scan headlines, headers, bullet points, etc. To be even fairer, vocal critics of the “just show up” message knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote their retorts. It’s not like they aren’t capable of close reading. They were capitalizing on the outrageous suggestion of the headline. See Jordan’s (justified) outrage for yourself.

Start a Law Firm in Law School

This headline sparks curiosity.

Of course you can’t actually start a law firm while still in law school, but you can take a number of substantive preparatory steps. My post could have done a better job fleshing out those steps, but the gist of the message is clear: Some law students, rather than stressing out about OCI, could do better for themselves by planning to hang a shingle. If you’re curious about that, like a lot of law students undoubtedly are—sorry for the presumption, but I’m going to presume—you clicked through and read the post.

Being a Lawyer Doesn’t Mean Long Hours

This headline addresses fear. It also suggests a solution to getting rid of it.

Will practicing law mean long hours with no end in sight, week after week of brutal 90-hour servitude? For most lawyers the answer is no. Many law students fear that to be the case—at least I did—so this headline addresses an underlying fear: the loss of friendships neglected, divorce, doom.

Why Care About Headlines?

Building a readership—and, by extension, your reputation—is a worthy goal for a blog (as opposed to using your blog as a direct marketing tool). But that doesn’t mean you can’t use direct marketing principles—crafting great headlines—when writing your posts.

Jon Morrow’s headline hacks, a cheat sheet for writing blog posts that go viral, gives you everything you need to start writing great headlines. Warning: if you’re a lawyer-blogger purist, you might break out in hives. Morrow says: “[S]kip the countless hours honing your writing skills …” That’s not good advice for most lawyers, who write for a living. But Morrow also says: “Just go straight to what works, and forget everything else.” When it comes to headlines, take his advice.

If I didn’t write for Lawyerist, a great headline probably wouldn’t make that much difference. But great headlines (just like great book titles, blog posts, content, etc.) still matter. It’s not like every Lawyerist post gets shared on Facebook more than 1,000 times just because it’s a Lawyerist post. Andy’s headline made a difference, along with the content itself. But if you flop, you flop. It doesn’t matter what platform you’re writing for. I flop all the time. Sometimes I don’t. And it’s the “don’ts” that matter.

Just as not every lawyer needs a blog, not every lawyer-blogger needs to care much about headlines. These lawyers say, “Who cares if my blog gets read?” If you don’t care about readership, you’re writing a journal. You’re journaling, with your legs scrunched up in bed, musing to yourself about your latest crush. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the public nature of blogging itself suggests an expectation that the blog—even if you don’t care if no one reads it—will still get read, at least by someone. And the conceit here is of course you care.

If you want to build readership for your blog, make sure the titles of your posts—the headlines—are just as good as the content.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/noodle/2426856582/)

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  • http://fpbankruptcylaw.com/ Frank Pipitone

    Wait, so I actually do have to prepare for this deposition I have coming up?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      Yeah, I suppose so.

  • http://jdblogger.com John Skiba

    Great post. Couldn’t agree more. My favorite part: “If you don’t care about readership, you’re writing a journal. You’re journaling, with your legs scrunched up in bed, musing to yourself about your latest crush.”

    • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Jordan Rushie

      Or maybe, just maybe, you’re contributing to the conversation, and you don’t care about how many page views you get compared to the quality of the content and what it adds to the discussion.

      I don’t know about you, but I don’t write for page views. I don’t consider my “readership”, and whether my post will make them happy or sad, either. I write to, you know, express my thoughts and opinions.

      What I took away from this post is this- write a catchy headline to trick people into reading something stupid. Page views are more important than quality and contribute.

      AMIRITE?

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

        You’re absolutely right. Quality of content matters more than pageviews. But this is coming from the copywriting perspective. If you look into headlines, you’ll find (in the advertising world, at least) that they’re pretty important. And given that lawyers advertise…

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          I have a visceral negative reaction to the suggestion that blogs posts are or should be advertisements.

          • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

            Poor word choice on my part. I simply mean that headlines are important—no matter what you’re writing, be it an advertising piece or a blog post about the law. My hope was this post helped folks think about headlines, which are a super big deal in the advertising world, for a good reason. They help click-through. You can write a greatest piece of something-or-other in the world, but if the headlines sucks, no one will read it.

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

        I don’t know about you, but I don’t write for page views. I don’t consider my “readership”, and whether my post will make them happy or sad, either. I write to, you know, express my thoughts and opinions.

        Okay, but why are you doing it on a public blog, then? If you have something to say, and you are doing it in public, you obviously want people to hear what you have to say. On the Internet, that roughly — but not precisely — translates into pageviews and similar metrics, but there are other ways of measuring who is reading your blog, if you prefer them.

        What I took away from this post is this- write a catchy headline to trick people into reading something stupid. Page views are more important than quality and contribute.

        Gimmicky headlines are ultimately harmful. They teach readers not to trust you. I don’t use them (at least I don’t think I do), and I don’t think anyone else should, either. That said, good posts should have good headlines. In general, I tend to think headlines should be descriptive first, so that readers know what the post will be about. Second, they should be interesting, and draw the reader in.

        There are times for obtuse headlines, but too many bloggers do that far too often. As a reader, it annoys me when I can never figure out what a post is about from the headline. Help your reader out. Make your blog a decent experience for them. It’s basically the same reason you should not plaster your blog with social media icons.

        But, I guess if you really don’t care whether people read what you write, then go ahead and write whatever you want.

        • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Jordan Rushie

          This is the difference – quality readers. If two people read my blog, but it happens to be say, Carolyn Elefant and Steph Kimbro, and they suggest what I wrote was helpful, insightful, or interesting then I consider what I’ve written worthwhile.

          I could get a ton of page views very easily by posting links on JD Underground. But, for the most part, I don’t care what the JDU crowd thinks, and I don’t care if they read my blog.

          There are certain people whose opinion I value, and I hope they read my blog. But there are many opinions that I don’t value, and I don’t care if they read what I write.

          • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

            Just because you strive to cater to a certain crowd with big names, doesn’t mean that your goal or strategy is the only one worth pursuing.

            • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Jordan Rushie

              I don’t have a strategy, and I don’t understand why you can’t grasp this.

              Blogging is a hobby. I do it because I like it. I don’t get paid for it, and it adds nothing to my law practice.

              It makes me happy when bloggers whose opinions I value say they appreciate what I write. At the same time, I don’t care about the opinions of morons.

              Legal blogging is as simple as writing about stuff you think is interesting. It’s that easy.

              I don’t understand why anyone would write simply for page views. Page views don’t pay the mortgage.

              • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

                For some people, pageviews actually do pay the mortgage.

                I’m not really having trouble “grasping” anything. Now that you’ve made your point about why you blog, why are we even arguing?

                To my mind, headlines SHOULD be pretty bipartisan.

                Let me point out that, if you’re riled up about the “outrage” bit in my post, where I linked to your piece, I did say what you wrote was justified.

                • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Jordan Rushie

                  I’m not riled up about anything.

                  I just think people, lawyers in particular, are confused about what legal blogging is, and what type of benefits you’ll receive.

                  If you are a practicing lawyer, spending your time chasing after page views is a complete and total waste. It will do nothing for your practice.

                  If you are a professional blogger aspiring for more page views, yeah, you’re right – cater to the lowest common denominator.

                  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

                    As a professional blogger who wants more pageviews, I still don’t think catering to the lowest common denominator is a good idea.

                    If people don’t respect you for what you write, they won’t come back. You can’t do that if you’re only chasing pageviews, professional or not.

                    • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Jordan Rushie

                      In my opinion, this article caters to the lowest common denominator.

                      It adds nothing of value. Maybe it would be good if it were on a website that was about blogging for profit.

                      But in terms of legal blogging? Lowest common denominator.

          • http://associatesmind.com/ Keith Lee

            Jordan, quit hitting yourself.

            Lawyers who come to Lawyerist likely come to it for articles like this. That’s fine – it’s what they want, so Sam & Co. give it to them. It’s not exactly a high standard for legal blogging, but I’m resigned to the fact that they have to start somewhere. I’ll be the first to admit that my blog sucked at first. I did silly things like follow people randomly on FB/Twitter, make numbered list posts, etc. But, rather quickly, I realized that it was dumb and completely shifted how and what I blogged about – partially through self-introspection and partially through exploring the “blawgosphere” (ugh) and determining what I thought to be note-worthy blogs and bloggers.

            Other lawyers who decide to start blogging have to come to this realization on their own. It can’t be forced on them. They are going to have to put on their blogging training wheels and figure out how to get going. That’s the audience that seems to be the focus on of these types of articles.

            I’m not saying that you shouldn’t call out vapidity, but once you’ve pointed it out, continuing to engage in a debate over it is akin to smacking yourself. Lawyerist isn’t going to suddenly change the dynamics of their articles (Though Sam occasionally steps out with posts like his recent one on why blogs suck) . Likely the best thing to be done is point out posts that are light on substance and contribute to ignorance-reduction on your blog and social media.

            • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

              Thanks for your thoughts, Keith. Your comment is completely in line with your speech about beginner’s mind, especially the part about having a lack of preconceptions. I apologize if I haven’t followed the traditional lawyer track, and in fact earn the bulk of my living as a copywriter, and therefore felt the urge to write about headlines. Perhaps it’s too vapid a topic for you, but I’m sure there are others (with lesser names, of course), who found at least some value in the post. And if they didn’t, well, they’re free to stop reading what I write.

  • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Jordan Rushie

    To put it a different way, do you want your blog to cater to idiots?

    I don’t.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      I guess you’d have to define “idiots.”

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewsalzwedel Matthew Salzwedel

    A good headline is a topic sentence. It doesn’t have to boring, but it shouldn’t be too cute, either.

    For example, I’ll never write boring headlines such as these:

    (1) Understanding How to Properly Use Punctuation Marks
    (2) Why You Should Avoid Sentence Adverbs in Legal Writing
    (3) Hyphenating Phrasal Adjectives Will Improve Your Writing.

    These headlines would turn off a substantial number of readers.

    Instead, I write headlines that tell readers what I’ll be discussing, but with some snap:

    (1) Don’t Miss These Marks in Your Legal Writing
    (2) The Pitfalls of Sentence Adverbs in Legal Writing
    (3) Persnickety Lawyers Hyphenate Phrasal Adjectives

  • http://consumerlawyer.mn/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi Randall Ryder

    I think headlines are important. I think good content is more important. I think credibility is extremely important.

    Do catchy headlines destroy credibility? Not necessarily—but I think that deserves some additional discussion—maybe in a follow up post.

    To be fair, I’ve written headlines with the sole purpose of encouraging emotional responses. And on a regular basis, I question what, if any, credibility I have developed (or eradicated) from 3.5 years of writing for Lawyerist.

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewsalzwedel Matthew Salzwedel

      Content and credibility are paramount.

      I want readers to finish reading my columns and say “I trust what this guy said” because he backed up his advice with something more than generalizations and individual anecdotes.

      For example, if I read a post that begins 20 sentences with “I”, I’ll discount it. “I did this,” “I did that,” “Last summer I worked at [x]“. I, I, I. Enough already. You’re not that special.

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

        True enough, although, depending on the topic, the first-person narrative or essay is more effective than the dispassionate and objective approach.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewsalzwedel Matthew Salzwedel

    It’s a rare topic (at least for a legal-practice blog such as Lawyerist) that calls for first-person narrative.

    To paraphrase GNR, first-person narratives are one in a million, baby.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      When you consider yourself to be a writer first, lawyer second, like I do, you see a million first-person narratives.

  • http://blog.simplejustice.us shg

    I like this post. It made me smile. You are very funny guys. I will bookmark it for future reference.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      Gosh, I thought I’d never hear from you again! But I’ll take it, parody-spam and all.