How to Write High Quality Legal Copy for the Web
A lawyer may be superb at cross-examination but may not necessarily excel at writing legal copy. Some law firms outsource their legal copy writing to companies who understand what constitutes success on the Internet and how to attract new clients to these law firms. If outsourcing is not in the budget or if a law firm or solo practitioner wants to create their own web copy, certain fundamental rules must be followed.
Legal Copy for the Web
Legal copy is content for a website such as that run by a law firm. The purpose of the content is to attract more business and to have a high ranking on search engines. Accordingly, legal copy has to look and sound professional and have the right amount of information to land on the first page of engine searches.
Key elements of writing high quality legal copy for the web are:
• Learning what the law firm should say about itself
• Writing the content about the law firm in plain English
• Sounding authoritative without being condescending
• Ensuring there are no spelling errors
• Ensuring there are no grammatical errors and proofread the content
• Making the pages user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing
• Selling the law firm to potential clients
• Assuring the content is keyword-rich so that search engine optimization is maximized
• Checking other legal websites for purposes of comparison and getting ideas without plagiarizing
Learning What the Law Firm Should Say About Itself
Unless law firms have a steady client base, they will constantly need to attract new business. There is constant competition among law firms in cities and small towns. A law firm needs an excellent reputation, which is something only it can do by successfully representing its clients. It also needs to learn what to say about itself to its clients on its website.
If the law firm does criminal law, it needs to explain what kind of representation a potential client can expect and why the firm is better than the next at representing its clients. If it’s a general practice firm, the website should explain why using this law firm will take care of all of the client’s legal needs. The website copy should clearly communicate the firm’s area of expertise (i.e. real estate, insurance, criminal law, etc.)
The most important thing is to portray the law firm in the most positive light possible without fabricating claims. For example, if the law firm has a 90 percent success rate at winning criminal cases, then it can claim that on the web page. However, it cannot claim that it has won all of its cases if that is not true. Web copy should stay within the bounds of the truth. Sales puffery is one thing—lying is another. Legal ethics will dictate what the firm can and cannot say about itself.
Writing Content About the Law Firm in Plain English
It is important for legal copy to be written in plain English so that potential clients can understand what the firm is trying to say. Use of some legalese is acceptable, but if the web page is all legalese, the firm will have lost its audience. Legal copy should be easy to understand and not be boring. Using the active, not passive voice, is essential for fresh writing.
Sounding Authoritative Without Being Condescending
It is important to sound authoritative. After all, the potential client needs to feel that the lawyers know the law and can navigate their way through the courthouse with ease. However, a potential client will pick up on a condescending tone and the firm will lose that client. Sounding self-assured without sounding cocky and not talking down to a potential client will help the goal of getting that person to sign a retainer.
Credentials & Other Trust Building Signals
One way to complement legal web copy is to make sure that the website has prominently featured displays of the firm’s credentials and other associations. Linking out to places like the American Bar Association and other very trustworthy organizations can help to position your copy as an authoritative source for online legal information. While most legal websites do not accept credit cards because they do not sell products online if there is an instance where online payment must be accepted for client billing, product downloads, etc. then it is also a smart thing to prominently display the credit card company logos (MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and Visa) as this will help to increase the credibility of your online shopping cart solution.
Ensuring There Are No Spelling Errors
This cannot be stressed enough. With spell checkers, there is no excuse for misspelled words. While the best writers usually have their dictionaries available, they still use their computers’ spell checkers. There is nothing worse than misspelled words on a web page. It reflects very poorly on the law firm.
Ensuring There Are No Grammatical Errors and Proofread the Content
Like misspelled words, use of poor grammar is an eyesore and also reflects poorly on the law firm. To write high quality legal copy, practice makes perfect. The more a lawyer does legal copy, the better she becomes at it. Some spell checkers also check for grammar, but grammatical mistakes are not always caught. It is best for legal copy writers to read their copy aloud. If it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t.
Checking with other lawyers in the firm will help with trouble spots. Having other lawyers review the copy should also improve the quality of the writing, especially when a lawyer is new at writing legal copy.
Above all, proofreading the finished content is essential. That does not mean proofreading it once; it requires proofreading over and over until the writer is satisfied that she has done her best with the legal copy.
Making the Pages User-Friendly and Aesthetically Pleasing
If the law firm does not outsource the website, it can use a template. There are plenty of templates available on the Internet. The firm should pick one which looks as if it were made for a law firm. Having a website look plain is all right so long as it looks scholarly and exudes confidence in the firm. Law firms should avoid outrageous colors schemes and flowery designs and concentrate on looking legal.
The pages should also be user-friendly. A potential client should not have difficulty negotiating through each page or the firm will lose that person as a client. The firm should make sure the template encourages ease of use.
Choosing the right legal domain name is also an important consideration. The best legal web copy in the world will not be taken seriously if the website’s domain name is ez-lawyerz-shop123.info instead of a more credible sounding legal domain like JohnsonSmithJones.com or JSJ.com or something similar.
Selling the Law Firm to Potential Clients
The key to writing high quality legal copy is also making sure the law firm is selling itself. After all, that is the goal. There is no place for being modest. If the law firm is outstanding in its field, the writer should say so. If there is something significant that the firm has done, it should be listed. If the lawyers are top-notch and are there for their clients 24/7, then the web copy should say so. Listing the firm’s best attributes is the way to sell the law firm to potential clients.
Maximize Search Engine Optimization
This is the most difficult thing to grasp. Search engine optimization occurs when keywords are repeated throughout the legal copy and search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, pick up the keywords, thereby placing the website in a good position during a search, hopefully the first page. Without landing on the first page, the website is going to get lost and the law firm will not get new business.
There are seminars or webinars to take for search engine optimization which will ultimately help writing high quality legal copy for the web. Search engine optimization takes awhile to get adept at it and a long time to master it. It will help for the writer to read whatever she can about search engine optimization, and it is even better for the writer to take advantage of seminars and webinars. There is no point in having a good website if no one ever sees it.
Checking Other Legal Websites for Purposes of Comparison
Getting ideas from other websites is a good idea to see how other law firms present themselves. So long as a law firm does not plagiarize another firm’s website, it is beneficial to check other legal websites to see if the firm’s webpage is on the right track.
With sufficient practice, a lawyer can write outstanding legal copy for the web.