Position Yourself as the Expert
BY Barbara Atkinson STAFF CONTRIBUTOR
With the heightened news cycle and the constant need by online and print media for content, the call for expert opinion, commentary and editorializing is at an all-time high. A media-savvy attorney can quickly get into the position of being the “go to” person on a number of legal issues, elevating his or her profile and garnering the attention of potential clients by supplying high-quality, useful content to the media.
Write As An Expert
As part of your self-positioning efforts, your main focus should be on your communication skills. Of course, effective communication skills are essential to the success of every attorney. But communication skills are far more than just the ability to converse coherently with a client or colleagues. For a lawyer to be truly effective, the ability to craft effective, concise written communication wiht a deep understanding of how to alter that communication for the intended audience (e.g., prospective clients v. clients v. colleagues) is key.
The ability to write well and effectively is not an innate skill and can be learned; more than one law student has had to start from scratch when learning how to approach the drafting of legal documents like briefs and contracts. Many attorneys assume the need to write well stops there; it doesn’t. Good communication includes everything from creating compelling marketing copy which explains what you offer to prospective clients, to crafting concise documentation and correspondence meant for current clients, to developing the feature articles, white papers and opinions you direct to colleagues – and even writing effective, appealing blog entries.
Many attorneys find it difficult to switch from writing contracts and briefs to feature articles and blog entries – with good reason. The “voice” used for each kind of writing is distinctive – third-person vs. first-person, fact-based vs. anecdotal, businesslike vs. interpersonal. How can you make your article writing stand out, to catch the attention of those in need of expert opinion?
Find the hook. Your first sentence needs to catch the reader’s attention and set the tone for what follows. Solid hooks for legal articles include:
- An emerging business or cultural trend which will likely affect the law
- Recent changes in the law the reader should know about
- Unanticipated developments that may likely occur due to recent changes
- A potentially dire thing that will happen if the law is not addressed
In all of these examples, the focus is on real-world concerns that are or should be of importance to your audience.
Keep it concise. There is no need to go into a detailed history; give the reader a very brief overview of why the law was first drafted, or why it has not yet been drafted. By brief, we’re talking one sentence, maybe two. Set the scene without drilling down into details the reader does not need. The article is not about the past; the article is about what happens now.
Write for your audience. While you are writing to be understood, you needn’t worry about being a content absolutist. When your reader is a prospective client, write as if speaking to someone who has a general overview of law, but no in-depth knowledge. The content for clients needn’t be – and shouldn’t be –technical. When writing for colleagues, assume they know the law backwards and forwards, but perhaps have not considered your angle. The content for colleagues can include terms of art the lay person would not know or use. When writing for a media outlet, providing expert opinion or informed commentary on a pressing legal issue, write as if for a potential client, but be sure to provide enough context around the specific issue to demonstrate your expertise.
And, speaking of writing for your audience: if you are writing content for an online outlet, such as informational articles for your firm’s website or blog entries on your own landing page, make sure you are current on SEO best practices. The days of keyword stuffing are long gone. Your goal is quality writing which meets the needs of your audience by giving them information they will find useful, interesting, entertaining or thought-provoking. If that content helps showcase your expertise and knowledge, all the better. At the very least, be sure the writing does not harm your “brand” by hitting wrong notes, either by being overly pedantic or inappropriately informal.
You can position yourself as an expert on your website, on your blog and in your practice. Make your well-earned role as an expert abundantly clear by knowing your audience, speaking specifically to that audience, and choosing your mode of communication wisely.
Three Red Hot Outlets Looking for Experts
- Forbes Contributor
It would be difficult to beat the readership numbers of Forbes.com. Their contributor call-out will allow you to get your name in front of tens of millions of eyes. Though they do not accept story pitches, you can float a concept for one of their current sites. Look for an area where your expertise can shine, send them your theme proposal along with your bio, focusing on your qualifications, and samples of your writing.
- Help A Reporter Out [HARO]
This extensive database system has helped turn countless professional lawyers into near-instant experts in the media. More than 30,000 media members use the database to find experts to quote and as story sources. Add your name and background into the database and choose the option that will “ping” you in real time when there is a breaking story. Have some template responses at the ready, with room to add in personalized material; if you take the time to fumble through several drafts of your bio when someone’s tapped you, your contact will move on to a faster source. HARO is fee-based, but you can choose the package that is the best fit for your goals.
There are more than 200,000 subscribers, giving you access to a vast social media network you’d be hard-pressed to develop on your own. Their fee-based system distributes your content to news and industry outlets and social media channels.