Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Media and Journalism, Partner Issues

Inside Straight: The Ten Rules For Writing Articles To Generate Business

I mentioned last week that I recently moderated a panel of in-house lawyers at Schnader Harrison’s annual retreat. Always happy to share, I’m gathering here my existing thoughts on writing articles to develop legal business plus some new ideas suggested by the panelists. And, because handy lists get clipped and saved, I’m putting those thoughts into a list.

What are the ten rules for writing an article that will generate legal business for the author?

1. Write about a substantive issue, not a procedural one.

No one in the history of the world has retained a lawyer because the lawyer was the world’s greatest authority on Federal Rule of Evidence 403 or how to remove an action to federal court. People hire 10b-5 lawyers, not removal lawyers. If you’re writing to generate business, write on a substantive topic, not a procedural one.

2. Write about a niche area of the law.

If you write an article about some clever provision that a real estate lawyer should put in a lease, potential clients will read your article, send your article to their existing real estate lawyers, and ask the incumbents whether the incumbents have considered this idea and are able to put it to use. Your article thus educated the world and may have generated business for incumbent counsel, but it didn’t generate any business for you.

Niches are better. If you write about a niche area of the law — I’ve previously suggested that Colorado escheat law is wide open — the client’s incumbent firm won’t be able to provide the service that you’ve written about. If you’re writing to generate business, you don’t want to just suggest ideas that other lawyers can easily use.

3. . . .

[How was that for an enticing ellipsis before the jump? I'm starting to figure out this blogging thing, huh?]

3. Write an article that is intelligent and well-written.

You’re trying to attract business here, not repel it.

4. Write an article that is relevant to in-house lawyers or business people.

If it’s not relevant, no one will read the thing.

5. Publish the article in an appropriate journal.

The conventional wisdom, which is often true, is that lawyers should publish articles in the trade press, rather than the legal press. Trade publications are read by business people who, the conventional wisdom says, are more likely to retain lawyers.

Although that’s often true, it’s not universally true. One can imagine that a technical legal article, meant to attract lawyer-clients, might belong in a legal publication. And a brilliant thesis that requires more pages to present might belong in a more academic journal.

But think before you publish, and consider who’s reading the journal in which you place your piece.

6. After you’ve written the article, distribute it widely.

As long as you’ve taken the trouble to write the darned thing, you might as well make maximum use of it. Send reprints (or emails with links to the article) to clients or potential clients. Carefully craft the “subject line” of the email and the two or three short sentences that tell a recipient what’s behind the link.

Here’s a bad idea for those short sentences: “Please click this link to read another publication brought to you by the Trial Department of Bigg & Mediocre.” (If you don’t tell me what I’m clicking to read, I won’t bother.)

Here’s a good idea: “The Colorado Department of Escheat Audits [I'm making this up here; don't burden me with facts] has, in the past six months, initiated audits of 25 corporations, and has threatened to act yet more aggressively in the future. These audits typically cost $3 million to defend and result in fines of $100 million each. In the attached article, we explain the three costless steps that a company can take to completely eliminate the possibility of becoming the target of one of these audits.”

I’m clicking, and so’s every other in-house lawyer.

7. Deploy your colleagues to distribute the article.

You should send links to your clients and prospects, of course, but cajole your colleagues into doing the same for their clients and prospects. Maximize distribution of your article.

8. Hand out the article at beauty contests.

Of course.

9. Use the article to generate speaking engagements.

Many CLE providers are desperate for topics and speakers. If you get your article into the hands of some entity that sponsors CLE programs, you’re likely to be invited to give a talk about your subject. You’ll naturally distribute copies of your article as your “course handout.”

10. Write the same article again, and place it in another publication.

Well, not precisely the same article again. But gin up a related thesis, or expand slightly upon what you’ve written, and then publish a new article on the same general topic. Because you’ve already done most of the spadework, it will be easier to write the second article than it was to write the first one, and readers of the second article will begin to perceive you as an expert in your little niche.

There you have it: The thoughts that occurred to me over the course of a lifetime, supplemented by the ideas of my fellow panelists last weekend, all condensed into one easy list. If you’re not rolling in business by this time next year, you have no one to blame but yourself. Good luck!


Mark Herrmann is the Vice President and Chief Counsel – Litigation at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link) and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide. You can reach him by email at inhouse@abovethelaw.com.

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