If you are not abiding by the “first pass rule” every time you write, start doing so this very second.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on when it comes to business-to-business thought-leadership and content marketing, it’s that most of that content is not particularly engaging. Many forms of that content, including blog posts, bylined articles, and client alerts, rarely compel the consumers of that content to continue consuming it.
This is particularly true for most law firms’ thought-leadership marketing and content marketing.
The reason why law firms’ marketing content is rarely engaging is because so much of that content is built on complex ideas and topics that are presented in a way that is difficult for even the most sophisticated readers to digest. For example:
- Lawyers do not always “show their work” when they analyze developments in the law. (In other words, they don’t always explain how they drew a particular inference.)
- Lawyers almost always speak in legalese.
- Lawyers typically write large paragraphs of uninterrupted text.
- Lawyers tend to write sentences within these paragraphs that are long and difficult to follow for their duration.
- Lawyers rarely use white space effectively.
All in all, it is a difficult pill to swallow. The issue, of course, is that the whole point of law firm thought-leadership marketing and content marketing is for lawyers to connect with key audiences such as past, present, and future clients and referral sources by demonstrating knowledge and mastery of the topics they cover in their content.
That content exists to show people that down the road, if they have a problem that is similar to the one being addressed in a particular piece of content, the creator of the content is the lawyer to contact because they obviously know what they’re talking about when it comes to that area of the law.
Law firm marketing content *should* be easily digested by its intended audiences. It rarely is. After reading a few sentences, many consumers of law firm marketing content are often ready to call it quits.
It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve previously explained six ways lawyers can craft effective marketing content. These six ways are focused on bigger picture principles such as writing for a particular audience, crafting compelling headlines, and adding abundant value.
But in this blog post, I’d like to focus on the small picture. In this case, the particular sentences you use to build your marketing content.
I use a stupidly obvious five-second test to help ensure that my writing is crisp. If you use this test, it will instantly do the same for your writing.
It is stupidly obvious because you would think the test would come naturally to most lawyers and law firms who publish content. But based on the content I’ve been reading lately, it clearly doesn’t.
When you reread a sentence or paragraph you’ve written, if you can’t make it through that sentence or paragraph on your first pass without having to slow down, pause, or reread it, you need to rewrite it.
Did you pause halfway through a long sentence to take a breath? Time to rewrite it.
Did you have to reread a paragraph because the flow of the logical argument in it was out of whack? Time to rewrite it.
Did you have to reread two consecutive sentences because their use of pronouns was confusing? Time to rewrite them.
The reason why this test — which I call the first pass rule — is so effective is because if you, the person who created a particular piece of content, can’t make your way through portions of it on your first pass without having to stop, then what chance does your audience have of being able to do the same?
I was not kidding when I said this was a stupidly obvious test. The best part about this test is that it applies to every piece of writing you will ever create as a lawyer.
Internal memoranda to colleagues? Check.
Letters to opposing counsel? Check.
Emails to clients? Check.
Court filings? Check.
Thought-leadership content and marketing content generally? Double check.
In order to effectively communicate through your written words, the readers of your writing must understand what you are saying. When it comes to your marketing content, the stakes are even higher.
Unlike internal memos to colleagues, letters to opposing counsel, emails to clients, and court filings, when prospective clients and referral sources come across your written content, they will be determining—solely on the strength of your communication skills—whether they like you, trust you, and want to further engage with you. If you lose them while they are reading your written marketing content, there is a good chance you will lose them as a prospective client or referral source.
Put the first pass rule to work for you today. You will quickly see an improvement in your writing, and in turn, your ability to communicate.
This will help you in all facets of your legal career, but perhaps none as important as your ability to bring in new business through your marketing content.
Bottom line: If you are not abiding by the “first pass rule” every time you write, start doing so this very second.
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 crafts BigLaw-quality lawyer-written thought-leadership marketing content for lawyers so that they can market themselves while staying billable.
Do you have any idea how much revenue your law firm is missing out on by its lawyers writing their own blog posts, bylined articles, and client alerts? Visit WriteLessBillMore.com for instant access to a free Law Firm Thought-Leadership Cost Calculator.