Episode Notes

Are your writings being read?  

Stephanie and Harvard’s Todd Rogers discuss effective writing.

Links from the episode:

Schedule a free 30 minute strategy session with iLawyer!  

Book with Todd 

Writing for Busy People Checklist 

AI Email Editing Tool 

If today's podcast resonates with you and you haven't read The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited yet, get the first chapter right now for free! Looking for help beyond the book? Check out our coaching community to see if it's right for you.

  • 1:26. iLawyer Marketing
  • 6:24. Less is More
  • 14:11. Making Reading Easier



Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts 



Stephanie Everett (00:35): 

Hi, I’m Stephanie Everett. 


Jennifer Whigham (00:36): 

And I’m Jennifer Whigham. And this is episode 495 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Stephanie talks with Todd Rogers about his book Writing for Busy Readers. 


Stephanie Everett (00:48): 

Today’s podcast is brought to you by iLawyer Marketing, and you’ll hear Zack’s conversation with them in just a minute. 


Jennifer Whigham (00:54): 

So Stephanie, in our last couple intros, we’ve just been addressing some common misconceptions about coaching because there seems to be more than I thought, and I think we still have a couple more to go over. So I wanted to see what you thought of how we can finish off this series on what you think is a misconception about coaching. 


Stephanie Everett (01:13): 

Yeah, I mean, super curious to hear what you’ve been hearing, but something that I’ve heard is that people perceive maybe, I don’t know, the coach takes over or our job is to tell you what to do and then you somehow lose autonomy over your business. And I only struggle with that because I’m like, no, that’s not the case at all. But maybe that is a misconception people are having. So I mean think, and I know our coaches agree, we’re there to partner, we’re there to support you, we’re there to help you. At the end of the day, it’s your business and you make the decisions. I can’t tell you, I mean, I can give you suggestions, I can help you brainstorm options. We can think through what would it look like if I decide this or how might a different path look, I can share examples of what I’ve seen other businesses do, what’s worked for them, maybe what’s not, so that you can take all that information in At the end of the day, ask my husband. I’ve learned I can’t make anyone do anything, right, especially spouses. So at the end of the day, I can help you and give you information you need, and I hope that in that work together I can give you the confidence so that when you do make a decision, you feel really great about it. I think that’s what as a business owner can be really tough is you’re second guessing yourself or wondering which way I should go. What should I do? I want to give you the tool so when you do make that decision, you could be like, yes, this is the right decision 


Jennifer Whigham (02:45): 

And it’s actually something we encourage. We are not doing it for you. We’re not just holding your hand and dragging you through the whole thing. We’re meeting you halfway, you’re doing the work and we’re doing the work alongside you. So there is no loss of autonomy. In fact, we actually expect you to show up and participate just as much as we are. So there is no chance that you’ll lose autonomy. We will make sure that you’re also doing the work because it’s your business and you need to leave confident that you’re ready to run your business as well. 


Stephanie Everett (03:15): 

Yeah, I think that said, sometimes people wonder, am I just going to show up and have to talk about my feelings or whatever’s happening? And sometimes because that’s where maybe your feeling stuck is around your feelings, but we’re not showing up to the meetings necessarily with that mindset. We’re there to ask you about KPIs. And if you don’t have KPIs yet, by the way, we have tools and resources we’re going to help you. We’re going to do the work on the front end to help you kind of figure out what’s your business priorities, what are those KPIs we can measure success, what is the action plan? And then we’re going to be checking in on that. Now, as a result of that, what may come up is you’re feeling stressed about something completely unrelated. We may or may not explore that because it’s the next best thing for you, but we’re not therapists. We are not going to dive deep into your family history, whatever your mom, your dad, your whatever else is going on. In fact, a lot of people that we work with do go to therapy. I mean we always encourage it because it’s a completely different dynamic. It different work is happening with these different relationships, partnerships help. 


Jennifer Whigham (04:26): 

And I think that what we try to find is obstacles that are getting in your way of getting your business to how you want. And sometimes that obstacle is a feeling you’re anxious about, you’re stressed about, but it’s different in that we’re not starting with that. We’re just trying to figure out what the obstacle is. There is different types of coaching that you might consider new age or it’s a little more spiritual, and that’s just not what this is. It’s business coaching and it’s figuring out how to move your business forward, what the obstacles are and how we can get you what you want out of not just your business but your life. 


Stephanie Everett (05:01): 

Yeah, absolutely. And I guess the other thing I would say is we follow our client’s lead. So to be fair, I hear you and apparently someone showed up to a sales call recently and was worried that there’d be like, I don’t know, crystals ands. 


Jennifer Whigham (05:15): 



Stephanie Everett (05:17): 

There might be some people in the program Lawyerist who might be into that kind of stuff. I mean, I have no idea. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head, but as our coach, we’re not going to impose any of that on you. So I think you can feel comfortable in knowing that we follow your lead. So if you’re thinking to yourself, but I like meditating and doing things that feel maybe a little on the more spiritual side, we’re not also not going to block that. We’re going to lean in to whatever skills and mechanisms work best for you. If I had to describe our community, maybe people are curious what kind of lawyers are joining lab? To me, the defining factors are really a couple things. One is they’re able to make decisions and so they’re able to move and make changes. 



We’re all about implementing. And so we like to think of the firms we work with as little speed boats, not big barges. And so they have the ability to come in, absorb some new ideas and make changes, and that’s really fun for us and for our clients obviously. Then the second thing, if I had to put a characteristic on it, is around this idea of law firm of the future means that we’re embracing technology, we’re embracing some ideas. Does it mean you have to know how to code to be in lab? Absolutely not. That’s not it either. But most of the people in the program are at least open to exploring and asking questions about is there a way to do this differently, better? Maybe the way we’ve been running on law firms for the last 200 years, it’s time for a revisit. If you think about the structure of law firms, not a lot has changed in the last 200 years until recently. 



And so if you’re kind of frustrated because you go to bar meetings, you hang out with lawyers and it just feels like everyone’s like, that’ll never work. You can’t do it that way. That’s crazy. I would say this is your community of people who are like, huh, maybe, or let’s explore that more or could it work? And that’s what we really are excited about. So even if you’re not sure where you fall on that spectrum, you should at least be open to the idea that people are going to think about things and challenge each other on how we could practice law better and run law firms better. 


Jennifer Whigham (07:31): 

And if you’re interested in lab, which we hope that you are, we’ll have something in the show notes where you can learn a little bit more about it and apply if you’d like. And now here’s our conversation with our sponsored guest, and then we’ll head into Stephanie’s conversation with Todd. 


Zack Glaser (07:50): 

Hey y’all. Zack here and I’ve got Mike from iLawyer Marketing with me. Now, iLawyer Marketing is a full service law firm marketing agency that handles everything from content creation and web design to pay-per-click. And so-called over the top or streaming advertising. Mike, thanks for being with me today. 


Mike Perez (08:05): 

Thanks for having me, Zack. Good to be here. 


Zack Glaser (08:06): 

So last time, or one of the previous times you were with us, we talked about the six elements of a successful law firm marketing campaign, and the time before this we talked about why it’s important to have a very good website for your law firm. But today I’d like to dig into visibility website or internet visibility, Google visibility. Can you talk a little bit about that for us? 


Mike Perez (08:29): 

Absolutely. Yeah, I mean that is by far the most important part of this process is having that high visibility online. I mean, if you are a law firm owner, people need to be able to find you. And usually the way that people are going to find a law firm is through Google. So number one, having that high visibility on Google is an absolutely crucial part of the process. 


Zack Glaser (08:54): 

So I know that hear SEO and Google ranking and everything, and it feels a little magical to some people I think. Can you talk to us a little bit about how people go about increasing their visibility or what they can do to make this a little bit better for themselves? 


Mike Perez (09:11): 

Definitely. I mean, I have a little bit, I’ll say just a little tiny bit of experience here because I’ve only been doing this for the past 20 years. So yeah, just a little bit of time there. But yeah, no joke, probably every single day, nearly every single day of the last 20 years, I’ve been obsessed with Google’s algorithm and I’ve been studying it. And we have even created software that monitors Google algorithm shifts because we’re tracking nearly 30,000 keywords on an every single day basis of those Google rankings and how the Google algorithm updates on such a frequent basis. In fact, I think in the last year they updated their algorithm almost 4,000 times. So you can imagine how that changes the volatility of the search results that we see, and that’s why we see rankings that you may have one day, maybe they disappear the next day or they go up, they go down. But there’s a lot of factors that go into Google rankings. One of the most important factors is content, and content is becoming to become a more important factor when it comes to Google. You may have heard the saying content is king. Well, that certainly holds true today when it comes to Google rankings, 


Zack Glaser (10:21): 

Right? Because Google is what is Google trying to figure out when they’re adjusting these algorithms. Although they may seem pretty random, I assume that that’s not the goal of Google is to play hide the ball here. 


Mike Perez (10:34): 

No, I mean ultimately the goal for Google is to serve the absolute best results for whoever the person is that is running a query on their search engine. They want to have the very best results because what that means for them, more people are using their engine, which means more people are clicking on the ads that appear in those search results. And so that’s how Google makes the majority of their revenue billions and billions of dollars just from the ads that they serve. And so that is the ultimate goal to not kind of trick people. It is to really to try to serve the best results as possible. So when it comes to law firm marketing, ideally you have visibility not just with the organic results, but you also have some visibility with paid in 2024. The smartest way to market your law firm is by having a multi-channel approach. 



By multichannel, I mean Google Organics, Google paid. If you can rank in the local pack of Google, that’s important. But then on top of that, you also want visibility on Facebook and Instagram, YouTube, potentially LinkedIn or TikTok depending on who your target audience is. But in a perfect world, if you’re a law firm, you want to have that visibility in as many places as possible. Ideally, if people come to your website, you want to bring them back with retargeting ads, and that’s why you sometimes see those ads that follow you around. Well, that’s a smart way. If you’re a law firm, that’s a smart way to get people to remember that you exist and to bring them back to your site because ultimately that is going to be the absolute best way to drive leads for your firm and ultimately help you generate more new cases. 


Zack Glaser (12:08): 

Okay. This makes a lot more sense to me. We’re not just talking about ranking specifically on search, we’re talking about just broad visibility on the internet for your law firm, and that is something much more than just packing keywords into your SEO title area. 


Mike Perez (12:26): 

A hundred percent. Yeah. I mean, we’ve done a lot of studies over the years and really trying to get inside the mind of the consumer, how they go about searching to find a lawyer. And most people, they will do a search online or maybe they do a few searches online, but then they don’t always instantly call that law firm. Life gets in the way, they’re going to pick up their kids or they’re going to work or whatever it is, and they come back eventually you want to remind them that you’re still out there. And so if they visit your website and then they’re off going to work or to handle groceries or whatever it is they’re doing when they go back and then they’re on Facebook, for example, you want them to see ads of your firm to remind them that you still exist. And that having that multichannel approach is going to be the way that you drive more leads and more business for your law firm. And if you’re like most of the firms that come to us, what they care about is driving leads, signing up more new cases so they can increase revenues for their firm. So that is an important part of the process is having that multi-channel approach. 


Zack Glaser (13:28): 

Okay. Sounds like it’s a lot more to think about than just handing this off to some marketing company and forgetting about it, people can get a 30 minute strategy session with you or somebody from your firm if they go to ilaw your marketing.com. 


Mike Perez (13:47): 

Yeah, I’ll send a link to you so you have that in your show notes. But we do offer a 30 minute strategy session, and it’s one of our senior law firm marketing specialists. We have three senior specialists. They’ve all been doing law firm marketing for a minimum of six years. Our most senior one has been doing it for 15 years. As I said before, I’ve been doing it for 20 years. So I’ve trained all these consultants and the way that we create these strategies for law firms that we believe is a little bit smarter than the rest. And I think just having that experience been doing this for so long helps gives us an idea of what exactly we need to do to make law firm marketing successful for any firm we work with. 


Zack Glaser (14:25): 

Well, the price is certainly right there. And again, it’s at i lawyery marketing.com. We will drop the link into the show notes. Mike, once again, thanks for being with me and talking about SEO and visibility on Google and throughout the internet. 


Mike Perez (14:39): 

Happy to be here. Thanks for having me again. Zack. 


Todd Rogers (14:45): 

Hi, I’m Todd Rogers. I’m a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School government. 


Stephanie Everett (14:51): 

Hey Todd, welcome to the show. We are excited to have you today because we’re going to talk about something that we do every day and probably don’t think about nearly as much, which is writing and how to write effectively. 


Todd Rogers (15:06): 

Great. I love talking about writing. 


Stephanie Everett (15:10): 

Not many people do. 


Todd Rogers (15:12): 

Yeah, I mean I find writing hard and reading hard, and I think that it’s kind of one of the ways people talk about research is it’s me search. So I have spent a lot of time thinking about how do we write effectively for busy people? 


Stephanie Everett (15:28): 

And you actually have a book out on just that subject, and we’ll put obviously links in the show notes, but writing for busy readers communicate more effectively in the real world. I say that I look confused because I’m like, actually the title has a whole bunch of other words scratch through. So that’s even in the title you’re trying to convey like, wait, should I read the ones that aren’t part of the title? It’ll make sense when you see the visual. 


Todd Rogers (15:55): 

Yeah, so it’s a long sentence. We write more and more in this busy world and everyone is skimming and we cross out all the words. It eventually says writing for busy readers. I like it. It seems clever, but it also seems super cluttered, so I dunno. 


Stephanie Everett (16:11): 

Well, so we were just chatting about lawyers in the legal industry and a lot of people over the years have come to me and said, I love to argue I want to be a lawyer. And I always say, well, lawyers are actually professional writers. We don’t think of ourselves. The image you get on TV is we go to court and we have to give these amazing oral arguments, but a lot of what we actually do day to day is 


Todd Rogers (16:36): 

lawyers and everyone else really, I mean whether it’s text messages or emails or professional reports and evaluations and proposals, there’s just writing. More words are being written now than ever, which also means readers are on the other side receiving just this flood of written words. And so that’s the challenge we have to navigate. 


Stephanie Everett (16:58): 

You start off the book and some of the stats you give are quite scary professionals admitted that they delete about half the emails they receive before they even without reading them at all. 


Todd Rogers (17:08): 

Yeah, I was surprised to see that, but also surprised to see people acknowledge that. 


Stephanie Everett (17:15): 

So we know we’re fighting for people’s attention, so we’re putting all this content out there and the reality is people probably aren’t reading it or maybe they’re skimming or scanning it as you discuss, but we need to do better. It’s our job to convey information to people. So the onus is on us to actually write more effectively. 


Todd Rogers (17:37): 

And Jessica Lasky Fink is my co-author on this book, and we have this perspective where we say, what if it’s always our, if the reader doesn’t actually read what we send them, what if we just take accept the reality as everyone is busy and everyone is skimming. And so if we write a long thing that is dense and hard to make sense of and they don’t read it, it’s on us, not on them. And if we take that kind of ownership of it, then it shifts to like, oh, okay, not only do I need to effectively capture everything I need to say, but I also need to structure it and make hard decisions about how to make it easiest for them to read. 


Stephanie Everett (18:22): 

And so how do we even approach the process when we’re starting to think about this? I mean obviously the book lays out these really nice principles to help us get going. And so maybe where do you tell people to start? What’s the first step? 


Todd Rogers (18:37): 

I really think that the way to start is starting with if it’s our responsibility as writers to make sure that the reader reads it, knowing that going to be skimming, then how do we do it? And I guess then we started like, okay, well let’s write. One of the things that has been most surprising with all the organizations we work with, a lot of governments and lawyers across different organizations and other communicators is you can’t write effectively if you don’t know exactly what your goals are. And it is surprising that we often write with lots of goals, intermingled crossing without a lot of clarity on if I had to rank order, there’s really only one important thing I need to convey. Everything else is bonus. And in that case it becomes a lot easier to write effectively. 


Stephanie Everett (19:23): 

I expect that most of us are just banging through the day trying to get as many tasks done as possible. So it’s like, oh, I need to respond to this client, I need to update this person, or I need to send out a offer to opposing counsel. And you’re just cranking out content without really stopping and thinking about what is actually the goal of this communication. 


Todd Rogers (19:45): 

Right, exactly. And once it becomes clear with goals, then we start to apply. Well, okay, so how do we use these principles to write to make it more effective? And I should just at the start, here’s the TL dr version of this work, the Too Long didn’t read version, which I get the irony, the TLDR version is we should make it as easy as possible for our reader because when we make it easier for them, they’re more likely to help us achieve our goal, which is to have them read, understand, and respond, respond. And it’s also kinder to them. It just saves them time. If they are motivated and they commit the effort and cognitive attention, they’re more likely to do it and they save time and effort when they do, it 


Stephanie Everett (20:31): 

Totally makes sense. And I think it’s easy just to forget, I think. So it is something that we would definitely need to keep top of mind probably every day. And so then once you understand your goals, the very first thing you say is less is more. And it immediately took me back to law school. So the very first semester of law school, we have to take a writing class and we are given page limits. It’s the hardest part about that class is you can only write whatever it is you need to do and five pages or however many pages it was. And I just remember constantly editing every word matters. And so we were trained. And now even with courts, you often have page limits and that is always the hardest thing is how can I fit all this in such a confined space? 


Todd Rogers (21:22): 

I hope that we don’t treat page limits as the expectation. It is the cap, the max. It’s not the target. The first is 


Stephanie Everett (21:35): 

Not for lawyers. They’re like, okay, I got it in every little thing matters 


Todd Rogers (21:40): 

In advance of this. I was looking around, I remember reading and I wasn’t able to find the research, but I remember reading that Supreme Court amicus briefs were more likely to be cited if they were shorter. I couldn’t find that. So basically I’m fake news because I can’t cite it, but the idea is think about the lived experience of the judge or the clerks having to definitely read more than they have time for have some of your audience has probably been clerks or judges, but the first is less is more. And I recently came across really recently, and I love it. I came across a memo written by Winston Churchill during the Battle of Britain. So we’re summer of 1940, the Blitzkrieg bombing London, and he’s in a bunker and he writes a memo called brevity and he says, we need to write more concisely because winning the war effort is going to require that we communicate better. 



And he’s trying to win a war and he’s saying we need to be more brief, but that’s the motivating one. The idea is we’ve done lots of randomized control trials, I should say. This is the approach that Jessica and I take on everything as we run randomized experiments where we’ll have message one and then another one. And so my favorite of these was I was working with one of the two US federal political parties and they have 700,000 donors and they were writing a fundraising email and they called and asked what experiment we think they should do. And I was like, well, what if you delete every other paragraph arbitrarily, so it’s incoherent. It was eight paragraphs and I was like, just delete every other paragraph so it makes no sense anymore. We had people read both and they agreed that the shorter one was incoherent and it still raised almost 20% more money. 



We ran an experiment where we scraped the email addresses of 7,000 school board members, many are elected or they’re all elected or appointed. And I sent them an email asking ’em to fill out a survey. And in one I was like, you do important work. Thank you. You balance competing interests. Lots of lives are affected by what you do. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please fill out my survey and the other, I just said I’m a professor, same thing, except I deleted all the gratuitous thank yous, cut the words in half. People read it both. When we hire people to read both, they massively disproportionately think the longer, more gratuitously grateful version is going to be more effective. But we double response rates by cutting it in half. And we have lots of examples of this across every kind of modality. Basically more words, more ideas, decreases people’s likelihood of reading, understanding and responding. 


Stephanie Everett (24:35): 

And yet as lawyers, I read in the book a lot of times when you asked people to edit, they want to add ideas, they want to add words. And I think that’s what we think is, oh, if I just give one more reason or one more fact to support this thing, it’s going to trump up my argument more and make it more effective. 


Todd Rogers (24:55): 

Yeah, I’m so glad that you pulled that out of it. It’s not my research, but I absolutely love it. It’s by a woman named Gabriela Adams and her team where across basically every category, if you ask people to quote, improve this, you have an itinerary for a trip, you have a short story, you have a Lego building, anything you ask them to improve it, they add to it. They just don’t think that the way to improve it is to remove from it. And so what she and her team established is that we have this, we tend to neglect thinking that improvement can come from removal, subtraction. And so what we’re saying is it turns out not only a subtraction under appreciated and underdone, but actually when it comes to writing, it makes it more effective when you make it less. Less is more. 


Stephanie Everett (25:48): 

So fewer words, fewer ideas, fewer requests. 


Todd Rogers (25:52): 

Yeah. The request one we didn’t talk about, which is I’m sure this we all live in. Stephanie, you and I are emailing, I have three follow-up questions for you after this. One of them is really important, the other two are extra. If I add all three of them in my message, I will decrease the likelihood that you read or excuse me, that you respond at all and you respond to the important one. And so the more we ask of people, the less likely they are to do any one of the things. And so again, we have to really prioritize what is the most important, what’s our goal because, and know that there’s a trade off. It doesn’t mean we can’t ask for multiple things, but just the more we add, we have to know that there’s a trade. The trade is they will be slower and less likely to do it, any of them. 


Stephanie Everett (26:35): 

Yeah, I mean it makes sense. I know I do that all the time. Oh, that response is going to require thought or whatever. It’s going to require extra work. I’ll just get to it later. And then days, sometimes weeks go by and then I start feeling guilty because I haven’t responded, which then that’s a whole nother issue. It just feeds into my lack of response. 


Todd Rogers (26:55): 

Oh, I love that one. So one of the ways that gets me motivated to respond to people is I haven’t seen research on this. I actually should do this. I’m going to write this down, we’ll talk about it afterwards. But the longer the delay between when you received it, when you responded, the more I presume the reader is going to think I put into it. And so I can’t give a one sentence response three weeks later, but I can give a one sentence response the minute I receive it. And so I’m particularly motivated to be quick only because I don’t want to have to put more effort in. And I think I’m licensed to be quick if I do it quickly, but that’s not one of the principles. The principle we were just talking about is less is more, 


Stephanie Everett (27:35): 

Less. Next. You talk about making reading easier. 


Todd Rogers (27:39): 

Yes. This is where we’re going to talk about legalese. The idea is the way to make it easier for readers is to reduce the amount of effort required to make sense of what they’re reading. So easier for readers in this case means common words, shorter words, shorter sentences. And the coolest thing that I learned, Jessica would say something, she had other parts that she loved from writing the book, but for me was learning about eye tracking research where they’re like strap you in, you watch and then they watch your eyes as you read sentences and you go word, word, word, period. And there’s a thing called the period pause effect, which is you just sit on the period and sit there and just wait. Because what seems to be happening is your sense-making the sentence is over, what was it about? And often you have to go backwards and reread the sentence. 



We do it automatically. You probably don’t even notice. I didn’t notice until I saw this resurge. But the longer the sentence and the more complicated the sentence, the longer the pause and the more likely they have to go backwards. That means more cognitive effort. It also means more likely to quit, which is what we’re always fighting. We want them to engage in the first place and we want them to get the key info before they give up and they’re going to give up. And so the idea here is write in a way that makes it easy to read common words, short sentences. Short words. That’s the big gist of that principle. 


Stephanie Everett (29:02): 

You give this example in the book that I love, so I marked it because it was a sign I think in a Canadian park. And the sign first version is Persons shall remove all excrement from pets pursuant then underneath by law number blah, blah, blah, max penalty $200. Thank you. And it’s like what? You have to sit and say, wait, why know what all those words mean? There’s big words in there, it just doesn’t make sense. And then I guess the team rewrote it to scoop your pet’s poop 


Todd Rogers (29:36): 

Done. And so I love that. And we were on the fence about whether it was inappropriate for a book or a podcast for lawyers, but the idea is that that is legalese, that it seems clear to the writer, it is inaccessible to most readers. So the median US adult 50th percentile rank order all adults in their ability to read the 50th percentile is ninth grade reading level. So that sentence totally inaccessible to the majority of Americans or Canadians. I let’s assume Canadians read at the same level as Americans do inaccessible to the majority of people. And then for those who it is accessible to, I know what those words mean. I’m going to just skip it because it’s just painful. 


Stephanie Everett (30:22): 

Right? Yeah, I agree. And I think we as lawyers, we get ourselves sometimes, even though we all know we have to stop writing in legalese, this has been beat in our heads. We still think it makes us sound smart or important or that we have to use the legal words because it’s in the statute. So why wouldn’t I quote what the law says to explain to someone what the law is and it’s like, but that’s not effective. 


Todd Rogers (30:51): 

I love it. I pulled up in advance while we were chatting earlier. There’s a paper that came out in one of the top journals in the world called The Proceedings of the National Academy Science, and it was just the title is written in pretty plain language. It is even lawyers do not like legalese. And it’s a study where they have lawyers read plain language or legalese language, and they find that lawyers understand it less well when it’s written in legalese and they dislike it. And so even I’m going to tell you on behalf of laypeople, laypeople don’t like legalese and it turns out that your colleagues don’t either. 


Stephanie Everett (31:28): 

Exactly. I love the third principle, so I want to jump there because it’s all about designing for easy navigation. I think this is where it’s kind of fun opportunities, but I think this is where we get into italics and spacing and visuals and things that actually really matter when we’re writing because nobody wants to read a wall of text and we sometimes forget that 


Todd Rogers (31:52): 

The idea is design for navigation. And in a sense it’s thinking of writing as not just the words but the way it’s presented. And so we’ve done these experiments where when you add headings, you double the people’s likelihood of getting past the second paragraph, which is like if it’s just a wall of paragraphs that you have to read it and engage with it to understand it. Whereas when there’s headings, people will do what you mentioned earlier, which is called scanning. They’ll just jump around and see the headings before they deeply engage in any one section. And so adding structure makes it easier for people to navigate. You talked about formatting, which I guess is one of the other principles, but it’s very similar, which is people interpret bold, underline, and highlight as meaning. The writer is telling the reader this is the most important content. 



And that’s incredibly powerful for us as writers, bold, underline and highlight. But it also has these trade-offs that are kind of subtle where we’ve done these experiments where you bold or underline or highlight some text and then you have secret text that is not bolded, underline or highlighted and it decreases people’s likelihood of reading anything else. So actually they jump to the format of text that you’re saying this is the most important thing. And then because they’re busy, the rest of us, they’re like, good, I’m done. Now I can move on. And then they skip everything else. So there’s these trade-offs, but the high level of it is we want to think about the way we lay out and structure things as helping to make it easier for the reader. And some is formatting, some is bullets and headings, some is even just what information is next to each other. So if you’re organizing a meeting, we’re trying to find a time that works for the six of us, the easier we make it for everybody by putting key information next to each other. For example, the dates and whether it’s in person and the address all next to all in the same spot makes it easier for people to respond and do it than having to search through the whole chain. 


Stephanie Everett (33:57): 

Yeah, it all makes sense when we break it down, but it’s all driving to that point of are you making it easy, easy for people to capture the ideas? What am I trying to say? Actually embrace and understand the ideas. So that’s why I think all these things, it makes sense to me. They all work together and we have to be intentional about how we’re using all these principles at the same time. 


Todd Rogers (34:20): 

Yeah, I assume there are a bunch of veterans who are listeners and I would ask if we were all together, I would say tell the rest of the group what does bluff mean? And some people would jump up and say that this is the favorite thing they learned about writing while in the military, which is the US army started this policy that now everyone else has adopted called bottom line, upfront bluff, bottom line upfront, and basically it sets the norm When I am writing as an enlisted person to a general first line is the bottom line, and if I’m a general writing to an enlisted person, first line is the bottom line and it makes it easier for writers to know where to put the bottom line. It also makes it easier for readers to know where to jump to, but the thing that I think is a hidden benefit of that is it especially helps lower status readers, or excuse me, lower status writers. 



An enlisted person writing to a general might spend a paragraph or two throat clearing about how I respect the work you did. We ran across each other in Kandahar and the Mess, you wouldn’t remember me, but I’ve really followed your work and then whatever the bottom line is, and it’s especially hard for lower status writers when writing up the hierarchy to be direct. And so having a rule like this, which doesn’t work everywhere and may not work well, I guess you guys have executive summaries and you have different spaces for these kinds of things, but the idea is you want to make it easy for your reader to know where to pull the key information. 


Stephanie Everett (35:53): 

Yeah. It’s interesting because I’m also thinking, I have a virtual assistant who actually English is, I don’t know if English is her second language. She lives outside Mexico City and to her credit, she speaks like five languages. She’s amazing, but she’s working for us and she often writes emails on my behalf and in a recent review I was like, listen, everything you say is grammatically correct. Your English makes sense. It’s just not the right way we write. She would start an email on my behalf, dear Todd, it’s so lovely to be corresponding with you today. I am Stephanie’s personal assistant and I’m going to reach out today to talk to you about scheduling this podcast, whatever it was. And I was like, it was interesting to have to give her feedback. I said to her, I said, you’re not wrong. It’s just not how we write. It’s not how we talk to each other. And so you’re losing readers because I don’t need all that fluff. Just, Hey, how’s it going? Whatever. Or maybe I don’t even always say, how’s it going anymore? I’m just like, whatever. Let’s get in and get to the point. 


Todd Rogers (37:04): 

It’s especially hard for English a second or for someone writing in a second language. These are true, the principles are true across all languages because the idea is everyone everywhere is busy and skimming. And so how that operationalizes into the context in which you’re writing, whether it’s a different language, a different culture, or a different purpose, it’ll vary. So I almost always include a completely a vacuous, I hope you’re well or I’m trying to get creative with it. I think today I did something. I hope you’re having a good day. That was my creative version, but I have something to convey that I’m human because if it’s just all business, I may offend some people who expect those courtesies, but also it sets a norm. But with my co-author like Jessica, we can write directly because we don’t have to. We write enough to each other. So there are different norms. Even on the same purpose of message. It just depends. You have to be able to read the norm, read the group you’re writing with. 


Stephanie Everett (38:07): 

Absolutely. There’s a couple more principles that are in the book. Tell readers why they should care, which I took as right from the reader’s perspective, this is a huge point we make a lot in our marketing when we’re teaching people how to write marketing material, where stop writing about yourselves, write about your clients. So this kind of hit home for me in that way. 


Todd Rogers (38:30): 

And the idea here, the principle is emphasize what the reader might care about. That’s what I want to make. One thing that’s kind of subtle in this that we want to draw, we are not saying write about what the reader cares about because you have your purpose, you have your goal in your writing, and you don’t have to shift what it is you are entitled to your goal for your purpose. That said, there might be seven or eight things that you’re noting and of them something your reader might care particularly about and you may as well emphasize that that’s sort of the way that we have come to think about this, which is sure you can add stuff if you think it’ll like entice the reader, but really among the entire suite of topics you’re going to cover, you may as well emphasize the one they’re going to care about. That’s the summary version of it. But I do think that emphasizing what the reader cares about is helping to get more of their attention. That’s where the way we think about it is some of it is about they’re going to skim, let’s make sure we get through to them. And some of it is about negotiating to try and earn more of their attention and teasing them with something they value will probably allow you to capture a little bit more of it if they’re engaging at all. 


Stephanie Everett (39:48): 

Yeah, I mean obviously the book has all these principles laid out. We’re not going to have time for the sixth one, and there’s a whole bunch of tips and tricks at the end. I do want to make this kind of point that it really struck me in writing it, and I’m sorry, in reading the book, which is lawyers, like we get trained in this. I just opened by telling you that my very first class in law school was a writing class that we took. It was a year long writing class, and so we spend a lot of time learning and thinking about our writing, but these principals apply to our team, the paralegals, the legal assistants, everybody else, our salespeople. I mean, I was just having, before we recorded this, I was on with our sales leader for our team and I was like, Hey, I just read this book for the podcast. 



I was like, I’m actually interviewing the author after this and this is something we need to train the sales team on because if they’re not writing effective, follow-up emails after a sales call, we’re missing people. What’s happening there? I just don’t want to take for granted that writing is such an important part of everyone’s job and we need to remember, I think this would be great training for the rest of the team to also engage in because sometimes we forget that they might not have the same level of training in this way as we do. 


Todd Rogers (41:05): 

I’m glad you extended it. I mean, we have been talking about lawyerly writing, but most of our writing is not to courts. It is practical writing. But even when we are writing to courts, one of the frameworks that we use is like, look, writing has at least two purposes. One, it helps us clarify our own thinking. And the other is that it does the magic of getting an idea from my head into someone else’s without being in person. And they are two totally different functions and as such, how to do them well differs. And so clarifying your own thinking is stage one. Stage two is then writing it so that it’s easy to transfer. The other thing I just sort of as when you think about lawyer, the practical writing that you as a lawyer or your teams might do, there’s argument and clarity. That’s probably the core focus of what you’re writing about is I want to be clear and I want to be persuasive in whatever I’m saying or doing. I want to add another step to it, which is ease. In addition to being clear, in addition to being persuasive. None of that’s going to matter if they don’t engage with it and read it enough to understand it. And so we need to add a round of writing of editing to everything we write where we ask ourselves, how do I make it easier for the reader because that’ll help us be more effective. 


Stephanie Everett (42:25): 

So Todd, before we wrap up, you’ve been doing some cool work around AI and it’s such a hot topic right now. We should probably talk about it because now everybody’s running to copilot and chat GPT to write and seeing what it spits out. So first, I guess, let me just kind of kick us off. How are you approaching AI as a writing tool? 


Todd Rogers (42:45): 

So I think I have two levels of response. The first is what we’re talking about, making it easy for readers, whether human is writing it or human with an AI or just an ai. If we want humans to read it, this is how we should write to make it easy. It doesn’t matter on the production side whether it’s AI or human, and there’s a different discussion about all of that. So it’s still relevant as long as we want humans to read it. The second is we trained GT four, which at the time of recording now is the most sophisticated large language model from OpenAI and we trained it on the principles that you and I just talked through, and then we tuned it for some emails where we had pre and post, like original and then edited, original and edited so that it learned how to apply these principles. 



And it’s so fun. You should check it out. I know that we were talking earlier about it. It’s so fun because you can paste an email in either one you received or one that you drafted, and then it structures it so it’s easy to skim. It’s not about summarizing it, it’s about restructuring it. So the sensor are shorter. There’s formatting to reinforce the purpose. It’s easy for a skimmer to pull out the key info. I’ll give you in the show notes a link to it, but it’s super fun. Even just play around with it. It’s a nice coach, a 24 7 coach. 


Stephanie Everett (44:00): 

Yeah, I love that. And I love the idea of using AI in that way. Sometimes I use it to generate ideas or just to get started. We all know starting with a blank page can be hard, intimidating, frustrating, but then I mean so far it still needs work, whatever it’s spitting out to me. But I love the idea that here’s a different tool you can use in a different way to apply these principles. I think that makes a ton of sense 


Todd Rogers (44:28): 

For practical email. That’s the idea. Yeah. 


Stephanie Everett (44:30): 

Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you for that. We’re going to put that link in the show notes, so I encourage everyone to go and check it out and share it with your team. That could be an easy way to get your emails, at least get your emails on the right track. I feel like we geek out on this all day. I love, this has been so much fun because it kind of did take me back reading the book. I was like, alright, it’s been a minute since I’ve really actually thought about honing my writing craft, and yet I do it every day. This is such an important part of my job, and so I appreciate the book and this conversation as a reminder to everyone. Don’t take this for granted. It’s serious stuff and we need to work on it and prove it. 


Todd Rogers (45:12): 

Thank you. Thanks for having me. And because repetition is central to learning, I just want to drive home. The goal is we should add a round of editing to everything we write where we ask ourselves, how do I make it easier for the reader that helps us be more effective, and it’s also just kinder to the reader. Stephanie, thanks for having me on. 


Stephanie Everett (45:31): 

Thank you for being with me. 



The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, are right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/community/lab to schedule a 10-minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you. 

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Stephanie Everett

Stephanie Everett is the Chief Growth Officer and Lead Business Coach of Lawyerist. She is the co-author of the bestselling book The Small Firm Roadmap Revisited and co-host of the weekly Lawyerist Podcast.

Featured Guests

Todd Rogers

Todd Rogers is Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School of GovernmentHe coauthored Writing for Busy Readers, with Jessica Lasky-FinkHe has taught a wide range of audiences including technology leaders, school district superintendents, military leaders, elected officials, financial services executives, and investment managersTodd co-founded two social enterprisesFirst the Analyst Institute, which improves voter communications, and serves on its board. And second, EveryDay Labs, which partners with school districts to reduce student absenteeism by communicating with families, is an equity holder and serves as Chief Scientist. 

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Last updated March 20th, 2024