Why Lawyers Shouldn’t Write Their Own Website Copy

website-design-guide-cover-2

Free: 10 Things the Best Law-Firm Website Designs Have in Common

For seven years, Lawyerist has published an annual list of the best law firm websites. Now, you can find out what they have in common.

So you want to write your own website copy? I highly recommend you don’t, for these two key reasons:

1. You Have More Important Things To Do

Your time is precious, which means you should focus it on performing tasks that only you can handle. Like writing a brief. Or appearing in court. Or meeting with a prospective client. The list goes on.

Your business needs you to do what you are good at, as much as possible. It does not need you to spend countless hours figuring out what pages to have on your website, what copy should go where, or which words to use. DIY marketing is not the best way for you to spend your time.

2. Someone Else Can Write It Better

This is the crux of it, of course. You went to law school to learn about law, not writing marketing copy. Even if you studied marketing in undergrad, you have not spent the past few years keeping up with online marketing trends and best practices. A copywriter, on the other hand, does just that. Such a writer also knows how to write for online users, including how to structure and format copy for greater engagement. By working with an experienced writer, especially one well versed in the law, you increase your odds of having effective website copy without sacrificing your time.

If You Insist on Writing Your Own Website Copy

Writing and publishing website copy is important when it comes to online marketing. A professional writer can capture your voice and your message. If you decide that writing for your website is best left in your own hands, however, then I suggest you embrace the following five tips:

1. Forget Everything You Learned In Law School

When it comes to writing, that is. Legal writing and website copywriting are two distinct skills. For instance, if you want to connect with your audience, you need to write at an 8th-grade level, not a 16th-grade level. You need to stop writing long sentences and paragraphs and you need to avoid footnotes and sub-clauses. And you should absolutely stop throwing around legal phrases or terms of art that people outside the legal field don’t understand. This business law firm gets it right (and may be one of the reasons it was one of this year’s best law firm websites).

2. Let Go of Your Ego

Your website is not about you. It is about your prospective clients. What has meaning in the legal community may have little to no value to people outside of it (Martindale-Hubbell ratings, anyone?). Focus instead on the fact that people are looking for your services for a reason. They need help, and they want to know whether you can help them. They are looking to see if you can answer a few simple questions before they contact you. If you deliver the basics, they will reward you with phone calls and email inquiries.

3. Put Yourself In the Shoes of a Prospective Client

What is your prospective client looking for? What are his or her concerns? What common problems may arise? How are they feeling at the exact moment they find your website? Write content that speaks to your client’s fears and future, and you will find that you have created content that truly connects.

4. Sprinkle In Some Personality

The more you can be yourself, and the more you can show your audience who you are, the greater likelihood you will make a connection with your readers. Or have fun with your site, as humor is a great ice breaker. By adding personality to your site, your have a higher likelihood of further engaging with your prospective clients, which helps bring those prospects farther down the sales funnel. One great example of personality that I’ve seen is on the lawyer profiles of this website.

5. Do Not Assume You Know How to “Do SEO”

Optimizing your website for search engines does not mean stuffing as many keywords into a page as possible. And please, for the love of all things holy, stop thinking that all you need to do is use the following combination everywhere: City + Practice Area + Lawyer.  It takes time, research and experience to figure out what works right on your website from a search standpoint. So even if you write your own content, you should still hire an SEO specialist to help with your search engine optimization efforts.

Start following these tips and you will find that your content will at least begin to outperform your competition. But if you really want to make an impression on your prospects, you are better off reaching out to a trained copywriter who understands your industry and the Web.

Subscribe

Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • Drew

    No conflict of interest in this article at all. Author makes a living writing marketing materials for lawyers and advises them not to write their own copy.

    It is embarrassing that Lawyerist would post this article as it is not only terrible advice, but also could lead to ethics complaints for any attorney who followed it.

    • How could it lead to ethics complaints, then? Nobody is saying it makes sense to let a third party put whatever they want on your website. You are responsible for it, after all. But that doesn’t mean you have to draft it.

      For the record, I do not make my living from copywriting for lawyers’ websites, and I think Cari is totally right. Most lawyers are terrible at writing website copy.

      • Drew

        I think most of the ethics complaints come from people that outsource blog entries, but I see the same risk as most websites have some sort of “news” that essentially serves as a blog. If your name is listed anywhere as the author, you aren’t saying that you “reviewed” it, you are saying you wrote it – which is false and would be considered an ethics violation.

        I agree with you about most lawyers being terrible at writing website copy and is another source of a possible ethics violation. The ghost writer written content may be better written, funnier, or overall in an entirely different style. Any client who visits the website and likes what they read may very well be deciding based on the quality of the copy. The problem is, it isn’t the lawyers product. Essentially, a lawyer is misleading the reader into thinking that they write that way, when in fact they may not. Even worse, they may not be capable of even mimicking the style of the true author. I would say that this is potentially misleading and possible moves into the ethical grey area.

        Last point – If I am going to pay some to write the copy and then I have to review it anyway, why not just do it myself?

        I understand that you don’t make a living from copywriting for lawyers’ websites, but Cari does. She is correct that most lawyers are not good at creating their own copy, but this doens’t mean they should outsource it.

        There was a good discussion about the implications of ghost blogging on Ohio Ethics Blog here: http://ohiolegalethics.keglerbrown.com/?p=1289

        • Hold on, you are talking about blogging. This is an article about copy — the marketing text on a law firm website. You know, “Joe & Jane, LLC, is a Philadelphia personal injury powerhouse. Call now!”

          Hiring a ghostwriter to blog for you is lame, even if it isn’t necessarily an ethics violation.

          • Drew

            The distinction in ghost written blogs and website copy is definitely important, but becoming increasingly blurred. Good copy is more than one liners and as I said, more and more websites have actual content that would be more akin to a blog article. The more substantive copy is where I would begin to raise an eyebrow.

            Plus, I just think it is lazy.

        • qning

          “…most ethics complaints come from people that outsource blog entries…”

          Are you saying that lawyers using blog ghost writers is a thing? And that this thing is leading to ethics complaints?

          And… if I follow Drew’s logic, lawyers should design their own office decor, paint their own walls, write their own computer programs, take their own pictures for their website. You wouldn’t want a client coming to your office and thinking that YOU, the lawyer, knit that beautiful rug; that would be misleading. I mean, what if the client is duped into thinking that YOU, the lawyer, have good taste when you are, in fact, not even capable of mimicking the style of the true designer.

          • Drew

            I was saying that most ethical concerns and complaints involving the use of ghost writers revolves around blog content. Yes, there are attorneys who contract out the content of their blogs to ghost writers. To what extent complaints have been officially made, I do not know. However, the ethical vs. unethical discussion has been around for some time now.

            You have not followed my logic. What you have done is drawn a false equivalency. A more appropriate comparison would be if you visited a photographers website and the photographer displayed pictures that did not take, but claimed he did. The consumer hires the photographer because they liked what they saw. The consumer gets back the pictures and they look like they were taken by a middle school student. Misleading?.

            But if you know of people that come to a law office looking to hire the firm to design the interiors of their houses then I guess you comparison works.

    • qning

      Conflict of interest. As much as a lawyer telling someone, “You should talk to a lawyer.”

      • Drew

        If Cari premised her article with “THIS IS A ADVERTISEMENT,” as lawyers are required to when they decide to directly market to consumers then I would not have an issue. Just because there is an inherent self-serving interest doesn’t make advice wrong. I only take issue when an article is written without any disclosure. The suggestion by Alex is a good one.

        I would also say that a lawyer saying “you should talk to a lawyer” to someone with a legal problem is significantly different than a copywriter/marketer saying “lawyers shouldn’t write their own copy.” Comparing writing your own copy to handling your own legal case – another false equivalency.

        • We’re all about disclosure, which is why it’s right there in her bio:

          Cari Twitchell has been helping lawyers create compelling marketing copy for their websites and other materials since 2007.

          You can quibble about the form of the disclosure, but we didn’t omit it. It’s also not an advertisement. Cari is a regular writer who is a lawyer and copywriter. I can’t think of anyone better qualified to write this post. Which is why we paid her for this article, not the other way around.

          When we do publish sponsored content, we make it very clear. Here are a bunch of examples.

          • Drew

            Fair enough – keep up the good work.

  • Copywriting is a skill that every business person ought to learn. Writing convincing copy is just the end product of learning how to research your customers, how to identify needs, how to squash objections, how to position your firm in the marketplace, how to write a compelling offer, etc. I can’t think of many things that are more deserving of a business owner’s time.

    If after they’ve spent some time doing it, they want to optimize by hiring someone, that’s great, but it’s definitely one of the things you need to learn to do yourself first.

    • I don’t disagree with you, Bryan. Where would you suggest folks start their copywriting journey? I often recommend copyblogger.com to anyone who is interested. I would also love to hear what resource or resources have helped you.

  • Alex

    I wished Cari defined her target/title a little better: like “Why baby-boomers who resent email and already have a fat stack of clients generating beaucoup bucks in a mid-tier, but not particularly competitive markets or practice areas should hire someone else to write copy and think about Internet Marketing.” Or “Solos with established practices and more money than time should hire specialists in the Adam Smith tradition of the division of labor”

    If you’re starting out, and plan to practice in a consumer-facing area (criminal defense, bankruptcy, divorce, traffic tickets, whatever), you should invest time in understanding internet marketing and SEO. You should be able to recognize good copy from bad copy; understand your competitors and whether they’re making good or bad choices; make some educated guesses about google ad campaigns in your market; and have an intelligent conversation about SEO.

    Many of the people in the Internet Marketing space are scammers and you ought to be able to recognize them. If you’re hiring the good ones, they will be spending your money to educate you as to their decisions, anyway, so you might as well learn the vocab and area on your own dime. Several of the attorneys in my area have google adwords campaigns that are wasting their money and black hat SEO blogs that should damage them at some point.

    My opinion is that if you’re just starting your own consumer facing law firm, you can’t afford not to learn this stuff.

    • Alex, I agree with you on this to some extent. I think all business owners, new and old, should take the time to do what you suggest — learn about what it means to market yourself online.

      But the thing is, for those just starting out, there is a lot to learn, not just about marketing, but running your own practice and finding clients and managing files and so much more. I’ve been there myself – and I quickly learned I couldn’t handle it all on my own. Not at the outset. So why not rely on others experts in their own fields to help you get your feet wet? I often work with new business owners, helping them get a basic presence up and providing them with as much information and foundation as possible so they can take it from there.

  • I both agree and disagree with the article. Sure, if you want to outsource, outsource, but there is no better way to truly get a handle on who your ideal client is then to sit down and try to craft a message that resonates with them.

    Here’s what I did – go to your local library (I went to amazon) and buy these books and read them (in this order): My Life in Advertising by Claude Hopkins; Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins; The Robert Collier Letter Book by Robert Collier; and The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy.

    I think you can get all of those book for under $50 total and when you’re done you won’t just be able to write amazing website copy, you’ll be a better writer overall.

    • Christopher, this is a great point. And your book suggestions are spot on. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kelly

    Some lawyers can write and some can’t. Some lawyers can write good briefs, but that’s an entirely different kettle of fish from marketing copy. As a full-time legal assistant and part-time freelance writer/editor (although not in the legal area), I’ve been in the weird position of handling the word processing end when my lawyers were writing content for the firm website. Did anyone ever even ask for my feedback when handing me their stodgy draft pages with the markups that made the text even more convoluted and stiff than it already was? Nope!

    • Thanks for your comment, Kelly. Stiff content is a common content issue when it comes to marketing copywriting. It’s hard to get out of your head and put yourself in the shoes of your potential client. A gentle reminder of that along the way may be helpful should you run into that same situation again in the future. Good luck!

  • I couldn’t agree more. Many lawyers, unfortunately, won’t even realize these things are potential problems/issues and will still try to write their own content in violation of pretty much every point in this article. Many of those same lawyers will then wonder why they’re not doing better in search.

    I have to disagree with you Drew. Most attorneys really struggle with writing website copy which a) provides useful information in a way lay people can easily digest and b) will do well with search engines. Agreed with Sam, as long as one is reviewing anything before it goes on their website then there’s no potential ethics issue.

    • Luke, thank you!

      And to the point about ethics: I absolutely emphasize that my clients thoroughly review anything I create for them. What’s more, I make very clear that what we’re undertaking is a collaborative venture that needs to sound like them at the end. So if that means making revisions, adding extra points, etc., we do it. It’s their content after all, not mine.

  • Great article.

    Wow, the comments are so full of ego and bluster! No, every professional should not and does not learn copywriting. Nor does every professional learn how to navigate the court system. Writers are writers, lawyers are lawyers. The writing skill that wins a judge’s favor is not the same as the skill that will generate a click or a phone call. Everyone cannot be everything, and those that are the best are the ones who specialize. I find the idea preposterous that by definition, any lawyer worth his/her salt should also be a great web writer and marketer. True, you need to understand how to run a business if you’re going into solo practice, but the most brilliant business leaders surround themselves with the right team. How is it possible that I even have to point this out?

    On the question of ethics, no, it is not a conflict of interest to write in your area of expertise. That’s what people do on blogs. It is a conflict of interest to imply that there is no bias, which wasn’t done here. Welcome to the Internet.

    • Thank you, Kimberly. Your comment “The writing skill that wins a judge’s favor is not the same as the skill that will generate a click or a phone call” is spot on.

  • Eva Hibnick

    This is a great article and wonderful advice for lawyers! I think people in the comments section are missing one main point. The reason why it is best to hire someone to write the marketing copy for your site is because they are trained to write for the CUSTOMER. In fact, your whole website should be consumer facing. Many law firm websites use copy that would only appeal to other lawyers and miss the whole point of a website.

  • Mark W. Bennett

    If you pay someone to write copy for your website, odds are excellent that you’ll either spend more time reviewing and editing than you would have taken writing it in the first place (even Ms. Twichell needs a more-competent editor than lawyerist can provide), or you’ll wind up with poorly written, ignorant, and unethical copy. Then I’ll make fun of you publicly and you’ll cry.