Getting Your Firm’s Articles Read by Corporate Counsel
In-house attorneys have always been generalists but now, more than ever, as layoffs have hit in-house law departments hard, they must act like ER doctors conducting triage when the ambulance gets in. They have to quickly identify the problem, establish priorities, determine what they can handle themselves and whether they will require the services of a specialist or outside counsel. So how do articles written by lawyers enter into the mix of helping in-house counsel determine what’s a “Code Blue”?
A Descriptive Headline Helps the Article be Found
From the start, the article’s title sets the tone. Well-read articles have descriptive headlines that also include the relevant industries and jurisdictions involved. Cute headlines may be fun, but in-house counsel aren’t looking for fun in legal articles. If the targeted reader can’t quickly figure out what the article is about, the article won’t get read and the author and his or her law firm won’t reap the benefits.
In search-engine terms, the title of your article is the most interesting element. The search engine assumes that the title contains all the important words that define the topic of the piece, and thus weights words appearing there most heavily. When writing a title, think about search terms readers will use when looking for articles on the same topic as yours.
Descriptive Headlines Part Two– Sometimes Less Is More
Many legal writers have caught wind that the article title is important to search engines and accordingly try to cram every conceivable keyword into the title. This results in a long, unreadable, and often boring title. Titles should include terms such as “healthcare,” “labor,” and “bankruptcy” for articles that address those issues. For federal cases, mentioning the circuit and district is often important, but it’s rarely necessary to include “the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia” in the title. The word on the street is that Google will display approximately 65-70 characters of a title tag in a search result and will index additional characters in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). The lesson is don’t blow the first 65 characters of your article’s title on text that does not tell your reader what the article is about and why it is important.
Also, many firms and article syndication services tweet article headlines to drum up more interest. With Twitter, you have 140 characters max. Newsletter, journal publishers, and article syndication services have strict title character limits. It’s been said that your title is the face of your writing. If you don’t want a stranger to take a scalpel to your face without your input, be forewarned.
Effective Articles Help the Reader Quickly Assess the Situation
Effective articles succinctly identify the key issues early on in the text. If it’s a new healthcare regulation, does it impact all healthcare organizations or just hospices? Is it just in Illinois or nationwide? Let the reader know what the issue is from the start, then explain why it is important, who is impacted, and what jurisdictions are involved.
Many article-publishing services and law firm Web sites only include short teasers of the article’s content in areas highly accessible to search engines, meaning either the full text is in a less searchable format like PDF or the bulk of the text is behind a password- protected section of the Web site. In addition, many legal writers writing about a local issue bury the jurisdiction at the end of the article hoping that they will draw in more readers. Your readers will be unhappy if they have to log on or wait for a PDF to open only to find out the article only addresses one far-flung jurisdiction. If you want to draw in national readers, why not also include a succinct blurb on the regulations in a few large states like Texas, New York, and California? Your single-state article addresses a broader audience and is more likely to be passed on to other interested readers.
Help Your Reader Make the Sale
Most legal writers include government statistics and tales of multimillion verdicts to draw in the reader. Law departments have to adhere to their budgets, so if they want additional resources (e.g., outside counsel) or resources beyond what is typically budgeted, (e.g.. high-priced counsel, panel counsel, and local counsel), the assistant counsel must seek permission from the General Counsel, The General Counsel, in turn, may need authorization from the CEO and/or may need to make his or her case to the Board. Your statistics and case references can be a great start in helping inside counsel make their case. Your articles may also assist CEOs, CFOs, and Board members who do their own research on pertinent legal issues so they can ask informed questions of their General Counsel and form their own opinion of the gravity of particular regulations or litigation issues.
Present Solutions, Not Just Headaches
Whenever possible, don’t just identify problems, try to offer potential solutions or postulate possible outcomes. Establish your credibility by demonstrating your expertise. Simply identifying problems leaves your reader with that “Oh no—now what do I do?” feeling. Offering ideas on how to solve those problems leaves the reader with the “I have a problem and maybe this law firm can help me” feeling.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of In the Loop, the Legal Marketing Association Midwest Chapter newsletter, originally published 5/21/2010.