5 Ways to Fail at Writing Legal Ad Copy


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If you’re a lawyer, you know a thing or two about direct marketing, even if you don’t call it that. Direct marketing is the business of persuading someone (a potential client) to do something (contact you). And if you’re a sole practitioner or work in a small firm, odds are you’ve tried your hand at writing a bit of advertising copy.

If your ad copy was any good, you’ve been reaping the benefits: you’ve persuaded someone to call or send an email. In other words, you’ve given yourself the opportunity to turn more non-clients into clients, which is the primary function of your law firm website.

If clients haven’t been beating down your door, don’t lose heart. You, too, can write good copy, if you understand what copy is and what it isn’t. Part of writing good copy is knowing what not to do.

How not to write legal ad copy: 5 DIY tips

  • Do not copy and paste entire sections of statutes
  • Do not write and write and write
  • Do not capitalize everything
  • Do not believe that you are the message
  • Do not write in legalese

Why follow these DIY tips on how not to write copy?

Because poor copy doesn’t convert!

Your copy is like Campbells Soup: chunky, dense, full of statutes

Many would-be direct marketing copywriters recall much they loved reading statutes in law school, especially out of context, to get a “feel” for the area of law. You loved it, too, and so will unsuspecting non-clients looking for a lawyer.


If the primary function of your law firm website is to turn non-clients into clients, your chunky, dense, statute-addled copy isn’t going to do that. If you must include statutes or similar material on your website, whether for search engine keyword value or just plain informational value for your readers, limit yourself to the relevant portions and link to a separate page from your ad copy. Just don’t confuse statutes with ad copy itself.

Your copy rivals the great Russian novel in length

Most non-clients today are savvy enough to scroll down “below the fold” for content, but they won’t scroll down forever, wringing every last nuance from your ad copy. Ad copy isn’t a long-form essay or article. And it’s not like fiction or legal writing, both of which have similar goals.

Ad copy has one purpose: converting non-clients to clients. Keep your ad copy in the 250 to 400 word range or so, longer if necessary, but not longer because you feel compelled to get every last idea on the page. Non-clients won’t read it.

Since your copy is so important, everything is Capitalized and italicized

Choose common sense over capitalization; cardiovascular surgeon Mary Smith is not Cardiovascular Surgeon Mary Smith simply because she’s a surgeon. If it makes sense from a grammatical standpoint to capitalize it, do so; otherwise, side with readability, especially when it comes to writing copy. Do not write this: “We are preeminent Personal Injury Law Attorneys, dedicated to helping seriously injured clients in Catastrophic Injury Claims.”

There is no exception here. Sure, you should capitalize cities, states, proper names, etc. But over-capitalization is like excessive highlighting or bold emphasis. It doesn’t call attention to anything. It just calls attention to itself. Writing “Attorney” with a big letter A doesn’t mean your copy reads better or sounds more important.

Your copy is all about you and those 50 bar associations

Non-clients do care about you. They care about your credentials, your experience, your reputation. But they don’t need to know every single bar association you belong to. Pick and choose! And, while we’re at it, pick and choose the highlights. The highlights are the only thing non-clients will remember anyway.

(You can always have a longer curriculum vitae-style profile. On a non-ad copy page.)

But once you’ve identified the highlights, be sure your ad copy shows how those highlights help them, the non-clients. That’s the only way to turn non-clients into clients when it comes to direct marketing on the Web. It’s what your preeminent Martindale-Hubbell rating means to their case. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are the message, not how you can help the potential client with his or her legal problem. After all, it only takes a fraction of a second to click the BACK button.

The highbrow diction of your ad copy befits a counselor of your caliber

Keep it simple. Use good sturdy Anglo-Saxon words, the one and two-syllable ones. In other words, write to be understood, not to impress. Non-clients are not impressed with legalese. Formal writing for the sake of formal writing does nothing for your ad copy.

Non-clients are impressed with smart lawyers. “Smart” comes across through good ad copy. Good ad copy articulates and defines legal problems and shows how you’re the lawyer to help solve them.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27629847@N03/4208076125/)


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  • Bravo!

    I would add a writing rule that a journalist tried to pound into my brain years ago:
    Clarity. Clarity. Clarity.

    • Chris Bradley

      Thank you, Susan. Clarity is definitely important. On a list of top writing rules, it would have to be at or near the top.

  • Jenny

    Thank you! As an attorney who writes web copy for lawyers, this is everything that I have ever wanted to say to my attorney-clients when they provide their own copy.

    It is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that web copy should read like a legal brief. Most clients wouldn’t want to read your briefs, so why would prospective clients want to read web copy that is just as awkward?

    • Chris Bradley

      Thanks, Jenny. Exactly. Direct marketing copy is so much different than a legal brief (even though they’re both meant to persuade).

  • Guest

    A good place to start is the ad copy of successful competitors.

    • Chris Bradley

      I’ll paraphrase jazz musician Clark Terry, who apparently said something like this: There’s nothing wrong with a copycat, as long as you copy the right Cat. And short-story writer and novelist Michael Chabon, I believe said that he started out copying the style of authors he really responded to. By “copy,” I don’t mean plagiarize, but you get my drift. Chabon and Terry were inspired by the work of others that they admired and that seemed to work.

  • These are well-said Chris, thanks. It’s like that saying, ‘I didn’t have time to write a short brief, so I wrote a long one’. Definitely hard work to write short, concise ad copy, at least for me it is.

  • It’s been over two years since you wrote the post, Chris, but I’m interested in how you’d modify your guidelines if you were writing an ad addressed to clients who actually are lawyers. This is my bracket right now.

    • I’m not sure I would modify these guidelines at all. The generally principle remains the same: Write to be understood. Use plain English. But, if you’re marketing directly to lawyers, I would also add that lawyers hate B.S. and puffery. If you’re straight and direct and acknowledge any shortcomings (and overcome them in your copy) then you’re good to go.