Yes, Storytelling Is Everything, But How Can Lawyers Actually Incorporate 'Story' Into Legal Analysis?

by JD Supra Perspectives

"It's all about storytelling! Connect with your target audience by telling stories..."

I get it. We all get it. Storytelling is everything in content marketing


When I hear a mainstream marketing mantra make its way into the legal marketplace, I often find myself wondering: how, exactly, will that happen? What will it look like, on the ground?

In this case, how will lawyers, their practice groups, and law firms incorporate storytelling into a very particular marketing discipline characterized by risk aversion, a written code of conduct, and other limits that make the business of selling legal service very different from selling tents, or toothpaste, or shoes, or yogurt, or airline tickets?

As one who has spent a lifetime believing in the enormous power of storytelling to connect humans to each other, my question is even more specific: How will lawyers and their firms incorporate storytelling into content marketing efforts where making sense of the law on behalf of a very specific target audience (C-suite executives, in-house attorneys, business leaders, and others with particular, need-to-know corporate concerns) has shown itself to be a powerful way to gain visibility for expertise, build relationships, and support activities that drive business growth?

In other words:

How can law firm thought leaders incorporate storytelling into their legal analysis and commentary?

I have some ideas.

The great American novelist Henry James in his Art of Fiction said that a successful story is one in which the reader either identifies with or recognizes the characters therein. This fundamental point is key to all storytelling: You either see yourself in the story, or you recognize the person in the story - not you, but plausibly human. Translated:

1. Know Your Audience

I was reminded of James' point recently while reading Jay Harrington's excellent post about storytelling as the great equalizer in law firm marketing. In his piece, Jay says:

No story, nor piece of law firm content, is universally appealing. This means that you must start with an understanding of who your audience is, what members of the audience want, and what pain points they're struggling with.

How? Research. In this age of mass technology it has never been easier to confirm what you know about a target audience through research.

Elsewhere I've written about the folly of marketing/broadcasting what you hope interests people, versus the process of determining what it is, exactly, people want and then giving them that. As Jay says, "Start with empathy and understanding, then demonstrate expertise and authority." 

Research should be a key first part of any law firm content strategy. The goal: to use all evidence at your disposal (attorney insights, client feedback and questions, industry news, and robust data) to build a profile of your target audience's most pressing needs.

Your reader should be saying: "That's me. This is my problem."

This is an essential first step to "telling a story" in which the readers you care to engage the most can find themselves. Your reader should be saying: "That's me. This is my problem."

2. Make People Your Subject, Not the Law

I've said this elsewhere, many times in many ways: Don't write about the law; write about how the law impacts people you serve.

The most compelling stories are about people (again: That process of identification or recognition is what draws us in).

...don't write about the law; write about how the law impacts people you serve.

Alas, in a large amount of law firm thought leadership, the main focus of the story appears to be the law, not the people impacted by the law. I suggest changing that. In fact, I'd argue that this is one of the easiest and most effective changes you can make in law firm thought leadership.

Obviously, you should continue to make sense of complex legal and regulatory developments in your writing, but frame it entirely within the context of who it impacts and how - and what they can or should do next as a consequence. Some of the best (and most successful) legal alerts and blog posts I have seen over the last decade follow a fairly simple formula. Addressing a specific audience, they state:

  1. Here's what happened
  2. Here's why it matters.
  3. Here's what you should do next.

The third part is essential, and frequently not included or so deeply buried it might as well not be included.

Members of the media (reporters and editors) know this truth. When next your team makes sense of the legal implications of industry or national news, compare how the firm wrote about the story versus how media covered it. The latter's focus is most often: people. The former: again, just the law.

One is being more widely read than the other.

3. Incorporate People Into Your Titles

This is a continuation of the shift in focus mentioned above (make it about people) and is, again, quite simple to enact.

Last month, the fifth most popular article on JD Supra had this for a title: Insurers of Directors and Officers of Delaware Corporations Must Take Heed of The Superior Court’s Recent Murdock Decision.

Many factors determine the popularity of content at any given moment in time. One you can control, and easily, to increase your chances at greater exposure: your titles. The "characters" in the above popular update? Insurers of directors and officers of Delaware corporations...

I suspect that if I went looking, I might find posts on this legal matter with titles like Superior Court Releases Murdock Decision (if not this issue, certainly others) - in which the title of the post vaguely hinted at what, but not who and why it matters.

Identify your characters - your readers - in your title. Make the connection real by making it human. (It's no accident that in studies of viral content, posts with "you" in the headline frequently do best. Often, one can do better than "you" - identify your readers directly whenever you can.)



- consider this case study in which an attorney grew her practice through writing. One key finding in the story: Posts in which she identified specific industries directly were always her most popular.

-  watch this short video presentation in which I discuss how to craft compelling titles based on findings from our ongoing study of what makes some content more popular than others. 

Both of the above underscore this notion of shifting your framing focus (not the substance of your analysis). Make it about people; make it clear who those people are and why they should pay attention to you. Informed by empathy that comes from research and insight that comes from your particular expertise, tell their story.


[Adrian Lurssen is co-founder and VP of strategic development at JD Supra. Connect with him on LinkedIn.]

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