“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
One of the most famous movie lines in the history of cinema. Likely few people in our professional world today do not recognize that quote as the last line of the movie Casablanca. But I could be wrong—and I could be dating myself—as the movie premiered four generations ago. But the line is iconic and sums up what transpires on the screen both succinctly and emotively, i.e., it gets the point across. But what if, instead of those ten words, Humphrey Bogart turns to Claude Rains and says, “What do you say you and I head back to Rick’s Place, pound back a few, flirt with some dames and plot to overthrow the Nazis?” Those 26 alternate words might have been what Bogie implied, but together have nary the same impact or eloquence. The latter offering may be well-suited for an Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn comedy (art in its own right) but not for Bogie, not after he just made the ultimate sacrifice letting the love of his life fly away. So what’s the point for us legal marketing professionals? The point is one of the many innumerable lessons we can learn from watching Bogie—content is king. Select your words thoughtfully to convey the intended meaning, but also to make people interested in what you have to say. You do not have to say a lot to say a lot.
"...most lawyers make their living based on the written (and spoken) word—in briefs, contracts, deal papers, letters to clients and opposing counsel. If a lawyer is an ineffective, or just plain bad writer, why would any client want to hire that lawyer to stand up in court and speak on their behalf or for their company?"
The significance and value of good content is not a novel concept in 2013—or ever for that matter. But four generations post-Casablanca, grabbing the attention span of purchasers of legal services belonging to the X, and now Y and even uber-busy Baby Boomers strung out as it were on information overload, has become an even greater challenge. “Big data” in all of its various iterations and implications has elevated the concept of good content to the critical stage. Obviously I am not the first person—nor will be the last—to make such a pronouncement, but it bears repeating. In fact, in this particular case perhaps redundancy and, therefore, a little hypocrisy is warranted. Why? Because most lawyers make their living based on the written (and spoken) word—in briefs, contracts, deal papers, letters to clients and opposing counsel. If a lawyer is an ineffective, or just plain bad writer, why would any client want to hire that lawyer to stand up in court and speak on their behalf or for their company? Being able to effectively communicate ideas often wins the day and the client’s loyalty, or the prospective client’s attention. And really for those of us in the legal marketing profession, that’s the name of the game. Get the clients in the door. Demonstrate why your lawyers are who they need.
Now admittedly, not all of our lawyers will be writers. And today, there are all kinds of effective ways to skirt the issue given time and resources. Social media has provided the great opportunity for some to become content aggregators, evaluators and sharers, but even then those 140 characters in a RT really need to concisely get your point across. Ghost writers can be used for those with little time and big budgets but such is the legal marketing equivalent of Cyrano de Bergerac.
So I say we need to encourage lawyers to write, and to be good writers, by keeping the following concisely worded tips in mind:
Pick a topic that people want to read about or need to know about. Lawyers are notorious for wanting to say what they want to hear or believe is important. I can say that because I am lawyer. Encourage lawyers to be courageous and break the cycle. Provide value, do not take up digital space.
Get to the point. Tell the reader—up front—why the topic selected is interesting, or exactly what they need to know, succinctly. For example, a client alert intended to discuss a major judicial opinion in a particular area of law that begins with a recitation of the jurisdictional analysis will lose the reader faster than you can say Southern District of New York. Instead say, for example, “Judge Scheindlin’s latest sanctions award is upheld/overturned by the Second Circuit” (you never know how these things will turn out). If the reader wanted to pour though the full legal opinion they could do it themselves without having it repeated for them by another lawyer. Provide value, do not take up digital space.
Get out while the getting’s good. We all hate those movies that draw to a natural conclusion—and just when you are ready for the credits to roll, then drone on for another half hour or an hour. Feel free to stop—really it’s OK. Don’t make the reader want to get up out of his figurative and literal seat and walk out on you. Provide value, not volume.
Speaking of value, not volume, there are so many reasons why the Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous and significant speeches in American history. But one of those reasons is the power that it packed in 268 words (give or take) and delivered in approximately two minutes. That President Lincoln (a lawyer) was a master wordsmith is uncontroverted and gives us each something to aspire to, and a means by which to inspire our lawyers. But the more important lesson is this: choose wisely as we all may be, not all words are created equal.
[Alitia Faccone is the Director of Marketing at McCarter & English, LLP and works to develop and implement the firm’s marketing and business development initiatives. Prior to becoming Director, she was a partner in McCarter’s Business and Financial Services Litigation Group, focusing her complex commercial litigation practice in the area of e-Discovery. Connect with her on LinkedIn.]