How to Avoid Lawyer Edit-itis

When I am called by a firm to write web or brochure copy, it’s usually because the first run through with an internal team yielded a disastrous amalgamation of colorless repetition. Don’t feel badly; this happens even in the best-run law firms, and even with the smartest people.

A writer will produce sparkling copy, and then the committee editing begins. By the time the eighth person who has a stake in the product whacks it about, every shred of personality has been mercilessly wrung from it.

Faux Pas.jpg

Always "Track Changes."

If firms want staid marketing copy, it’s easy to produce, and you don’t need me. Just look at three or four other law firm sites or brochures, and do a rough cut-and-paste of their work. It’s not exactly plagiarizing, because most contain virtually nothing unique.

But good copy sets the firm apart, gives potential clients a feel for your attorneys and their expertise, imparts the value of working with your team, and generates leads.

How to avoid the inevitable edit dull down? These tips should help:

1. Dissect what went wrong in your first effort. Likely, it includes too little consensus on content, too many editors, or a project manager with a weak hand.

2. Be brutally honest about your intent. Some firms say they want creative copy, but when they see it in black and white, they realize they want a more conservative approach.

3. Decide on a client persona. Who is this copy speaking to? Remember, we are writing it for them, not for ourselves.

4. Listen to your writer. When he or she tells you the formula for good web copy, let her use it. I have my own, based on the Rule of Three.

5. Set strict deadlines for the project. This is a sly technique to prevent too many hands from touching the copy. Plus, it minimizes the pain, and forces everyone to be decisive.

6. Agree in advance who will have editing privileges. A practice group, for example, must agree to let the practice group leaders have the final say.

7. Laundry lists aren’t productive. Web copy is not a contract of what you can and cannot deliver. If your practice group provides 18 services, you don’t need to name them all. Just hit the main matters. No general counsel is going to scour your website looking for arcane experience in maritime law in your products liability copy. She or he will simply shoot you an email or pick up the phone. That being said, if your firm does have a limited availability specialization, by all means include it for SEO.

8. Take the time to listen to your writer on why she or he chose a particular approach. With a good writer, much thought will have gone into the process. This will also help the internal editors understand why choices were made.

Best of luck!

Susan Kostal is a legal marketing and media coach specializing in the Bay Area legal industry. Find more great content on Twitter @skostal.

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