Person writing to symbolize a ghost writer

Four ways lawyers and law firms can vet a ghostwriter before they hire one

Determine whether a prospective ghostwriter is right for your law firm using these four steps.

Congratulations!

You have decided that it’s time to hire a ghostwriter at your law firm to help you and/or your colleagues create thought-leadership marketing content like blog posts, bylined articles, and client alerts.

That’s fantastic! The lawyers at your law firm are going to be thrilled to learn that they will be able to, with the ghostwriter’s help, market themselves while they stay billable, take care of other work-related tasks, or simply live their lives outside of the office.

Now it’s time for you to vet potential ghostwriters. But how, exactly, do you plan on doing so?

Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. Here are four ways to vet ghostwriters before you hire them.

Background

First, check out their background.

Do they have a writing background? Do they have a legal background?

Do they have both? Do they have neither?

Obviously, the kind of background you will be looking for will be dictated by the actual work you envision this ghostwriter doing.

If you plan on a ghostwriter crafting blog posts, client alerts, bylined articles, and similar pieces of content on behalf of your firm’s lawyers that address court decisions, administrative agency actions, and proposed legislation, you are going to want a ghostwriter who has a legal background, and probably, a ghostwriter who is a licensed attorney. After all, if the ghostwriter is going to be crafting content that your firm’s lawyers would normally write themselves, the ghostwriter will need to be able to analyze legal issues (even when the ghostwriter has spoken to the lawyer they are writing for and knows in what direction that lawyer wants the piece of content to go).

On the flip side, if you’re looking for help with content for your firm’s website and, generally speaking, content marketing pieces that talk about the firm overall, the firm’s pro bono program, the good work the firm does
for its clients, and similar topics, you might not need your ghostwriter to analyze legal issues. Thus, a legal background might not be necessary. Instead, you will need someone whose background shows they have a fundamental grasp of writing.

When vetting a ghostwriter, look at their background to make sure it syncs with the kinds of content you and your law firm will be asking the ghostwriter to craft.

Writing samples

Speaking of a ghostwriter showing you that they have a fundamental grasp of writing, after you have evaluated their background, it is time to take a look at the ghostwriter’s writing samples. Reviewing a ghostwriter’s writing samples can help you vet them in three ways.

First, obviously, you see the quality of their writing. Is their writing clear? Is it concise? Is it enjoyable to read? Do they discuss complex legal issues in a way that makes it clear what the takeaways are for the reader? Do they write in a style that conforms with your firm’s style? All in all, would your colleagues be happy to have the ghostwriter collaborate with them and write content for them that is published under their names?

The second way that reviewing a ghostwriter’s writing samples can help you vet them is by giving you a sense of the areas of law the ghostwriter has written about previously. A good ghostwriter, especially one who is a licensed attorney, should be able to write about any area of law your firm practices. But it wouldn’t hurt to see if the ghostwriter has experience writing for particular legal practices that your firm will likely need the ghostwriter to write content for.

This could be particularly important if your law firm has a niche practice. For example, if your firm is an intellectual property boutique, a ghostwriter with experience writing for IP lawyers could not only distinguish themselves from other ghostwriters you are vetting who lack that experience, but could also make your lawyers’ strategy and planning conversations with the ghostwriter go more smoothly because they will be familiar with foundational IP law concepts.

The third way that reviewing a ghostwriter’s writing samples can help you vet them is by giving you a sense of the kinds of content they’ve written before. Are they adept at distilling complex issues into a 750-word client alert? Can they write a 2000-word bylined article without leading the reader down a rabbit hole or two? Can they write punchy 1000-word blog posts?

Although this skill is related to the overall quality of their writing, some ghostwriters excel in particular formats that your law firm may (or may not) want a ghostwriter to focus on during their time working with your firm. For that reason, it is important for you and your colleagues to know if the ghostwriters you are vetting can tackle the content formats your firm needs assistance crafting.

Satisfaction guaranteed?

After evaluating a ghostwriter’s experience and writing samples, you should next determine if the ghostwriter offers some kind of satisfaction guarantee. If for some reason a client is not happy with the work product the ghostwriter provides them, will the ghostwriter make the situation right, and maybe even not charge the client for that particular piece of content?

While not every ghostwriter will do this, and a ghostwriter could be great for your firm without offering a satisfaction guarantee, the ghostwriters who do this believe their work is high enough in quality to offer the guarantee.

But equally as important, they also likely have a “client comes first” mentality. In other words, they recognize that happy clients become long-term clients. Thus, they put an emphasis on keeping their clients happy and making sure all interactions with their clients reinforce to the clients that they chose the right ghostwriter.

Try before you buy

The last step in vetting a ghostwriter before you officially retain their services is to give them a one-off assignment. What better way to find out if a ghostwriter is right for your firm than to audition them?

Give the ghostwriter a one-time project along the lines of the work you expect they would do frequently for your law firm. If you expect a particular practice group to need assistance with their blog posts, give the ghostwriter a blog post to draft for that practice group.

If they do a great job, you will know you have found a winner. If they do not, the fee you will pay them is a small investment in avoiding a bad decision.

Most ghostwriters would be happy to work on this kind of audition assignment. After all, they have an opportunity to impress you and your colleagues by showing you exactly what they can do for you and your firm.

What about references?

You will notice that I did not mention checking references as a way to vet ghostwriters. That was intentional.

With ghostwriting, most clients will not be willing to volunteer that yes,
they or their colleagues use a ghostwriter. Clients of ghostwriters, especially lawyers, will be loathe to admit that they had some (ethical) help crafting thought-leadership marketing content that was published under their names for all the world to see.

Therefore, you are frequently going to have a difficult time finding references willing to go on the record and share with you that they used a particular ghostwriter and that they did a fantastic job.

Maybe the ghostwriter could give you a testimonial or two from clients (either on the record or provided anonymously). But do not be surprised if the ghostwriter cannot. That should not be considered a strike against the ghostwriter. Rather, it is just the nature of the work ghostwriters do for their clients.

* * *

Congratulations on deciding to use a ghostwriter to help your law firm craft and publish thought-leadership marketing content. I’m sure you will find the return on your investment to be fantastic. Use the four methods I describe above to easily vet potential ghostwriters and find the one that is a perfect fit for your law firm.

Bottom line: Determine whether a prospective ghostwriter is right for your law firm using these four steps.

Wayne Pollock is the founder of Copo Strategies, a legal services and communications firm, and the Law Firm Editorial Service, a ghostwriting service for lawyers and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service collaborates with lawyers to ethically craft BigLaw-quality thought-leadership marketing content on their behalf so that those lawyers can market themselves while they stay billable, take care of other work-related tasks, or simply live their lives outside of the office.

Interested in hiring a ghostwriter to ethically collaborate with your firm’s lawyers to write and publish blog posts, bylined articles, client alerts, and the like? Click here to schedule a 30-minute Content Strategy Audit to learn if collaborating with an outside writer is the right move for you and your law firm.

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