The Write Stuff: Q&A with Top Author & Attorney Thomas Potter III

JD Supra Perspectives

[The latest in our series of Q&A discussions on successful writing in the business realm with recipients of JD Supra's 2016 Readers' Choice award:]

Tom Potter looks at his writing as just an extension of what any good practicing lawyer does: taking notes on interesting developments in the news, court cases, and changes in regulation is just part of his day-to-day work as a securities, corporate and intellectual properties lawyer. But then Potter goes one step further and turns it into blog writing. He says he just dresses up his notes a bit, but when you read his writing it’s clear that Potter values the golden rules of journalism. In turn, the added effort of publishing his “notes” has brought Potter clients and a better understanding of the law along the way.

I try to write for someone who is really busy...

Q: How did you get started writing for Burr’s 'Securities Litigation' blog?

Potter: Before the blog I wrote a newsletter and weekly update sheets which is similar to a blog, so it made for an easy transition.

As I got each indicator of success — rising readership numbers, contacts, people I’d hear from because of reading the blog, positive reinforcement — I started expecting and wanting more. So I kept going.

What inspires you to write?

I do it for myself because it is how I keep up with things. Part of my practice is to stay on top of developments and the changes in laws and regulations in the field. I’m an inveterate note taker. I take notes just for me because the information is more sticky if I take notes rather than just reading it.

If you’re taking notes for yourself you’ve done two-thirds of the work of a blog. So you might as well put in the work of the other one-third. It’s very little extra effort to dress up those notes and post it.

What is your writing process?

It’s an ongoing process for me. I write about the things that strike me as interesting, ridiculous, or noteworthy in some way. When something is significant to me, I think about why it is significant and what’s the takeaway. I ask myself, is there something out of that court case, new regulation, or news story that would be good guidance for a client to keep up with?

I’ve had people call me up and hire me just because of the pieces I’ve written.

How do you benefit from your writing?

It’s part of the routine of writing that helps me stay current, well informed, and ahead of the curve. It also helps me spread information to my clients and has led to a whole host of press interviews. I’ve had people call me up and hire me just because of the pieces I’ve written.

What does success mean for you as a writer?

It’s kind of the gold ring. It’s successful for me at the lowest level if it helps me keep up with new developments and retain information. And then it’s successful when it keeps my clients better informed and if it raises my visibility. And ultimately, my blogging is successful if it generates more business.

What specific takeaways can you give readers who are learning blog writing?

I’m always amazed at the number of titles and two lines of tease on pieces and I still have no idea what the thing is about. Think journalistically: who, what, where, when, and why.

I try to write for someone who is really busy. Be short, active and descriptive. Your heading should have some useful information and your lead should tell what happened and why. And, provide links to source documents. If you embed links then it causes people to interact with your work better.


[A partner in Burr & Forman's Nashville office, Tom Potter was recognized as a top writer in the Dodd-Frank category of JD Supra's 2016 Readers Choice awards. Follow and read his latest writings here.]

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