Recognizing Story Ideas
By Geri L. Dreiling
In part one of this three-part series on using guest articles in your law firm marketing, I highlighted the reasons lawyers should consider publishing.
In part two, I outline strategies for spotting story ideas and I discuss the three broad categories of articles: substantive, procedural, and lessons learned in practice.
Spotting story ideas
Topics for articles are as plentiful as the files on a lawyer’s desk, as numerous as the phone calls that need to be returned after a vacation. The trick to story ideas is recognizing them.
An article may fall under one of three broad categories: substantive, procedural or strategic, and those that summarize lessons learned in practice.
A substantive article might draw upon a brief that’s already been researched and written. Perhaps the issue involves a question of first impression or brings an interesting 21st-century twist to a settled area of law. For example, a lawyer who has done research to determine whether a city could be liable for a collision between a Segway and a pedestrian that was blamed on crumbling sidewalks may have a story idea.
The article gives the lawyer a chance to explore related questions. In addition to addressing the issue raised in the case, an attorney might explore the ramifications of the legal ruling. In the Segway example, the author might also discuss what the ruling means for Segway riders and retailers, whether city councils should get to work on passing new traffic laws and how insurers will be affected.
Another option is to write about procedural rules or case strategy. Litigation is as much about complying with procedural rules and making strategic decisions at critical moments as it is about understanding the underlying law.
One dilemma many trial lawyers grapple with is whether to file a case in state or federal court. In the 2007 case Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, 231 S.W.3d 814 (Mo. 2007), the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that although the state court could look at federal employment law cases in discrimination suits, Missouri would develop its own jurisprudence. This ruling, combined with the facts that summary judgment motions are harder to win in state court and state juries do not have to reach a unanimous verdict, many employment discrimination lawyers in Missouri are now choosing to file their cases in state court when possible.
Employment lawyers aren’t the only ones wrestling with the question of whether a case should be filed in state court. After Missouri’s venue rules were changed in 2005, making it harder to file personal injury cases in Kansas City and the city of St. Louis, some plaintiffs’ lawyers who previously leaned toward filing suit in state trial courts located in large urban areas have had to decide whether to file a state court case in a rural county or to file the case in federal court in the hope of getting a jury pool containing jurors from urban areas. A lawyer who routinely weighs the pros and cons of federal and state litigation could also write an informed article on the topic.
The third category of articles outlines the lessons a lawyer has learned. Most lawyers have been approached by colleagues and asked for advice. The same advice that might be freely dispensed over the phone, during lunch or even in the hallway outside a courtroom can also be turned into an article.
One way to convert a mentoring session into an article is to use the numbered-list technique, a mainstay of the publishing industry. But instead of writing “Five Strategies for Sticking to Your Diet over the Holiday,” a lawyer might want to tackle “Ten Things Every Attorney Should Know Before Hanging Out a Shingle.” A commercial litigator might want to write an article discussing five strategies for taking the deposition of a chief executive officer. A mediator might want to outline three ways in which lawyers can make their presentations more effective during mediation.
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