By Geri L. Dreiling, Esq.
I wish that the first draft of everything I wrote were perfect. As someone who is paid to write, it would certainly make my job faster and easier — but, alas, after having written for a number of magazines and newspapers, as well as legal PR clients, I know that when I write that first draft it’s only the beginning.
For professional writers, this observation by Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw during a meeting with her editors certainly resonates: “There it was, the article I put my heart and soul into — and it was bleeding.”
For this week’s post I’ve decided to share seven tips to help you improve your law firm’s website copy and ensure that you put your best virtual foot forward when prospective clients visit your website.
1. Carefully review long compound sentences.
Anyone who has read statutes knows that they often contain long sentences peppered with “and” and “or”. Many lawyers use diagramming to figure out the full meaning of sentences in statutes!
Take a careful look at your law firm’s website content. Do you find yourself itching to start diagramming sentences? If so, break things up! It’s a good idea to try communicating one idea per sentence.
2. Use a topic or “summing-up” sentence at the beginning of a paragraph.
A topic sentence is a great tool that helps both the writer and reader organize information. For example, if you want to describe a personal injury settlement that involves an injury caused by a company employee, communicate that the worker was new to the job and describe the training the worker received just before the accident, you might begin the paragraph in this manner: “John Doe’s training had been minimal.”
3. Watch your transitions between paragraphs.
Once you’re done writing, go back and read the last sentence of a paragraph and the first sentence of the next. Is the transition seamless? If not, you may want to add a transition sentence.
4. Pick a style guide and stick to it.
Will you put periods between the letters in “LLC” or leave them out? Should you write “Corp.” or “Corporation”? Will you lowercase or capitalize nouns that are not proper names (e.g., “plaintiff” vs. “Plaintiff”)?
Although The Bluebook is the uniform system for citation in the legal profession, when it comes to content writing for law firm websites I prefer The Associated Press Stylebook. The AP’s style guide tends to favor lowercase letters over caps, making AP-formatted text easier to read quickly.
Whatever your choice, try to stick to it. There will be times when you prefer to contradict your chosen style guide, but these should be the exception, not the rule.
5. Verify that proper nouns, locations, names and addresses are correct.
Is it Apple Inc. or Apple Corp? Make sure you have the right designation. Is it Market Avenue, Market Street or Market Boulevard?
Other common problems include inversion of numbers in telephone numbers and introduction of errors by the autocorrect function of your word-processing program. (As I was typing the last name of an individual recently, Outlook asked me whether I wanted to change it to “gorilla”!) Spelling- and grammar-check programs, though useful, are no substitute for close reading of your copy.
6. Don’t underestimate the importance of one or even two sets of fresh eyes for review.
When I’m reviewing my work, my brain tends to read what I meant rather than what I actually typed. And because I’m a fast typist, sometimes my laptop just can’t keep up and words are omitted.
These are just two of the many reasons that I have our copy editor edit my blog posts. Once I’ve made those changes and incorporated some of my own, our web programmer typically gives the post a quick once-over.
7. Review the text again once it’s been posted.
Errors can creep in when the content is uploaded to the website. Recently a legal content writing client discovered that location modifiers had been added to an attorney’s law school listing by the company that handles the client’s website. Unfortunately, the person who made the addition placed the school in the wrong city and state and didn’t confirm the change with the client.
Mistakes are inevitable. It is important to proofread your content after the website goes live.
If you have any editing tips you’d like to share, let us know. And if you want to outsource the editing of your law firm’s website content to Legal Media Matters, contact us by filling out our online contact form or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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