Lawyers Media News


Ten Promising Law Blog Formats

Writing within a predetermined format is more efficient than winging it.

Writing to a pre-determined format greatly speeds the blogging process. Consider the listicle, a familiar blogging pattern. Bloggers who adopt this format can get right to the substance of the post. They don’t have to worry about organizing their material because the organizational framework is built-in.

Similarly, the "question and answer"  or FAQ format comes with its own spine: set-up intro, question, answer, question etc.

As author Stephen Covey observed in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the fast lane to productivity is to "begin with the end in mind."

Selection of a blogging format is also a great way to conquer the blank screen.

The following categories of articles are useful models to get a content marketing assignment from start to finish in a reasonable amount of time:

  1. Link Posts
  2. Annotated Source Material
  3. Lists About the Law
  4. Checklists
  5. Public Relations
  6. Case Analysis
  7. Roundup Posts
  8. Regular Features
  9. Analysis and Trendspotting
  10. The “How to” Article

Introduction


This article runs through what I consider to be the most valuable blog post formats for attorneys. I assume my reader is a busy attorney who knows that the firm’s website needs fresh content but is strapped for time and is a little unsure how to tackle a blank screen.

“Begin with the end in mind.”

So wrote author and productivity guru Stephen Covey, whose 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People advised a generation on how to be more productive with their time. “Begin with the end in mind” means, simply, to take time to plan, to visualize an outcome, to have a destination in mind before setting out on a journey. Beginning with the end in mind wrests good outcomes from mere busyness.

For bloggers, beginning with the end in mind can mean making a conscious decision, before the first word is written, to write a particular type of article. Writing to a pre-determined format is be, as Covey might say, highly effective.

1. Link Posts


Short on time? Just post a link and a snippet from somebody else’s work.

E.g., Tech Firms Ask Supreme Court to Require Warrants for Phone Searches, Gigalaw

If you have a moment, add a comment. That’s always appreciated.

E.g., Blasphemy laws worldwide: A report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Volokh Conspiracy

Finally, consider merely embedding a legal document and adding a brief comment.

As here, Text of Complaint in Rod Wheeler v Fox News re Seth Rich Murder, The Trademark Blog

2. Annotated Source Material


The annotation format allows a law blogger to quickly dash off an interesting post by piggy-backing on the value inherent in the source material.

When a blogger writes within the annotation format, the source material comprises most of the blog post. The author's commentary occupies a small portion of the post, usually relegated to set-up or transition roles.

All that's necessary for a strong annotation-style post is a fresh source document and a good take on its significance.

Here are a few examples of annotation-style posts.

In The IMAX of gracious apologies (Washington Post/Volokh Conspiracy, June 22, 2105), veteran blogger and constitutional law expert Eugene Volokh wrote about a trademark spat over the mere mention the term IMAX in a news article. Volokh contributed a mere five sentences to the post, and one of them is "Nice."

Here's the same blogger using the technique on a court opinion addressing First Amendment challenges to President Donald Trump's act of banning commenters from his Twitter feed. Some help for lawsuit challenging bans of subscribers from @RealDonaldTrump (Washington Post/Volokh Conspiracy, July 27, 2017). After a few set-up remarks, the remainder of the post is text from the court's opinion.

Another example of cutting and pasting an official document and calling it a blog post is from McInnes Cooper attorney David T.S. Fraser, Canadian breach notification requirements finally published for comment (Canadian Privacy Law Blog, Sept. 1, 2017). Scant analysis, but the payoff is a keyword-laden post created with little effort.

3. Lists About the Law


A list article is a great way to punch out a quickie law blog post.

Lists are easy to write and easy to read. Lists have a built-in organizational structure. And they're perfect for skimming readers, freeing them to scroll quickly down the screen, taking in as much or as little as they desire.

Most importantly, lists provide real value. A good list article distills the blogger's impressions about complex subject matter. A list article positions the author as a trusted advisor who can separate the important from the trivial, connect the dots, and draw meaning from the river of daily news.

Lists can look back: Top 10 Municipal Law Developments of 2016

Lists can look ahead: What Employers Can Expect in the 2016

Lists can dispense advice: The 10 Biggest Mistakes Physicians Make When Selling a Medical Practice


This post from Fisher Phillips shows a well-made list article: August 2016: The Top 7 Labor And Employment Law Stories

The firm's use of numbered subheads gives the article a readily apparent structure. Verbs give the subheads some snap. Good use of white space too, a professional look all around.

Here's a post from Jackson Lewis, part of a regular "Top Five" series from this firm: Top Five Labor Law Developments in May 2017

There's a lot of good information in the Jackson Lewis post, though readability could have been improved with subheadings and less-dense presentation.4. 

4. Legal Checklists


A legal checklist can form the basis of a great law blog post, describing at a glance the steps the reader should follow to resolve a known legal risk or problem.

Checklists are the listicle's cousins, but different in that they emphasize practical information and necessary steps for successful completion of a given task.

Legal checklists might address:

  • documents to be brought to an office visit or court appearance;
  • considerations for closing a real estate transaction;
  • high-level guides for complying with regulatory schemes;
  • processes for meeting routine business formation requirements;
  • year-end tax compliance issues;
  • best practices for onboarding, disciplining and discharging employees;
  • what to do following an automobile accident.
Legal checklists typically are "top of the sales funnel" content, aimed for Internet users who are seeking to educate themselves about the dimensions of a known legal problem. Checklists make a good jumping-off point for discussions with the client regarding their particular legal situation.

Legal checklists should carry a publication date. Most individuals -- certainly all attorneys -- understand that the law is dynamic and that stale information should be viewed with suspicion.

This "checklist" from Harris Bricken blogger Dan Harris is more a list of questions to be asked than a delineation of action items. Nearly all of the checklist questions raise potential legal risks that can be mitigated by retaining the firm. See A Legal Checklist for Doing Business in China (China Law Blog, April 22, 2013)

In this post from Walker Corporate Law Group, the blogger uses a checklist to demonstrate expertise in assisting entrepreneurs with startup legal issues: Legal Checklist for Startups (Walker Corporate Law Group, Nov. 2, 2011)

Below is a sampling of law-related checklists:

In summary, a good checklist post supplies helpful legal information to prospective clients at the right moment, and it opens the door to further discussions on all of the legal issues raised by the checklist.

5. Public Relations


A law blog can be a mighty public relations tool, amplifying content created elsewhere or highlighting awards and courtroom successes.

Any of the following can supply the basis of a respectable public relations-oriented law blog post:

  • courtroom successes
  • article and book publications
  • professional recognitions
  • new hires
  • speaking engagements
  • firm-sponsored events and webinars
  • charity events and fundraisers
  • high-profile engagements
If the blog is a niche law blog of the sort typically published by larger firms, the item should relate to the blog's coverage areas and provide value to the reader. For small and mid-sized firms publishing on their own websites, anything promoting the firm is fair game.

News media mentions and article publications are an easy source of blog posts. See e.g., Debra Katz & Hannah Alejandro Author New Law360 Article (Katz Marshall & Banks) (article publication) and Troutman Sanders Tobacco Team Quoted in Law 360 Article Regarding FDA Announcement (Tobacco Law Blog, Aug. 7, 2017) (media mention).

Firms can maximize the marketing value of professional publishing activities by (1) negotiating how the firm and its lawyers will be described in news articles and (2) retaining copyright in firm-authored works.

Here, Morris, Manning & Martin's John Yates shares a slide deck from presentations at a pair of technology law conferences: Presentation: Emerging, Disruptive and Sharing Technologies: What Is The Sharing Economy and Where Is It Going? (MMM Tech Law & Business Report, April 15, 2016)

Perkins Coie publishes a day-after account of a firm-sponsored event for tech entrepreneurs: Are You Serious (Copyright, Content, and Platforms, April 1, 2016)

This Hunton & Williams post promotes the firm's participation in a multi-author book publication: Hunton Privacy Team Publishes Several Chapters in "Getting the Deal Through" (Privacy and Information Security Law Blog, Dec. 15, 2016)

6. Case Analysis


The case analysis is a little harder to pound out in a jiffy. But it can be done, especially if you are working with a tried-and-true recipe.

Elmore Leonard's rule for writing well is relevant here: "Leave out all the parts that readers skip."

Today, the need for rapid distillation of the significance of a given court ruling burdens bloggers and professional journalists alike. Because of information overload, and because the basic facts of news developments spread so quickly, case writers must quickly get to the big-picture significance of a particular ruling. Analysis and explanation form the beginning, middle, and end of the best case writing today.

A strong case writeup today typically follows this pattern:

  1. Commentary on significance of ruling
  2. Expanded discussion of facts and court's reasoning
  3. Additional commentary on significance of ruling
  4. Disposition and relief granted
  5. Forward-looking commentary on significance of ruling

Commentary is now the star of the show.

The most promising approach for law firm bloggers is to start the post discussing the significance of the case to clients, expand on that take throughout the post, and conclude with additional ruminations about ripple effects from the court's ruling. Let readers see how your mind works. This is your differentiator. This is how you position yourself relative to all the others working in the same niche.

7. Roundup Posts


On Jan. 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a case in which the court held that the First Amendment rights of corporations and unions were infringed by federal election laws that prohibited independent expenditures in support of political candidates.

Within three hours, the Washington Post published Reactions to the Supreme Court reversing limits on corporate spending in political campaigns, a roundup article collecting over a dozen rapid reactions from other newspapers, broadcast news outlets, and legal experts.

The WashPost article provided clear value to its readers, placing numerous perspectives on the same page and saving time readers might have spent searching the net for additional information.

Roundup posts are problematic for law firms, however. Few if any law firm bloggers are willing to publicize insights/reactions from competing firms, no matter how compelling they might be.

The solution is for law firm bloggers to build roundups from alternative materials. For example:

Roundups can be occasional, part of a regular feature (Friday round-up, SCOTUSBlog, Aug. 25, 2017), or the entirety of a blog's output as in the case of curation blogs (Computer and Internet Weekly Updates, Barry Sookman's Copyright, Intellectual Property, Computer, Internet, e-Commerce Law Blog, Aug. 26, 2017; and Vincent Polley's Miscellaneous IT-Related Legal News (MIRLN)).

A well-managed RSS feed reader is an essential tool for quickly creating timely roundup posts.

8. Regular Features


The creation of a regular weekly feature article is a good way to boost productivity among the law firm's blog-writing team — and stimulate reader interest as well.

Regular features promote editorial planning by giving everyone a clear target to shoot for each week and they calm the "What can we put on the blog today?" stress that often attends regular care and feeding the of a popular law blog.

A law firm that runs a regular feature is not hostage to the day's events or, worse, the day's lack of bloggable events.

For readers, regular features offer the prospect of valuable information outside the news of the day. Well-executed regular features promote interest in - and subscribers to - the firm's blog by creating an expectation that similar feature articles will be published in the future.

Regular features can be:

  • a serialized focus on a high-profile compliance issue (e.g., a regular TCPA litigation roundup on an advertising law blog; or, on a privacy law blog, a weekly breakdown of some aspect of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation);
  • interviews with newsmakers;
  • an "Ask the Lawyer" feature;
  • book reviews, movie reviews;
  • a curated list of legal news reported elsewhere during the prior week;
  • a weekly summary of industry news of interest to the firm's clients;
  • a week's end "What's Ahead" article;
  • anything that can be regularly produced by the firm.
Here, the Perkins Coie law firm runs a weekly roundup of legal developments, giving each a 3-4 sentence summary and a link: Fintech Week in Review - August 18, 2017 (The Fintech Report, Aug. 18, 2017)

The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries office leavens its Massachusetts Law Updates blog with a "word of the month" feature that defines and discusses a different legal term each month: Word(s) of the Month - in pari delicto (Massachusetts Law Updates, 6/1/2017)

9. Analysis and Trendspotting


Identifying trends and offering well-reasoned interpretations of legal developments will provide the basis for highly valuable posts.

Analysts stand out in an information environment swollen with numerous iterations of the day's news. Analysts tangibly demonstrate the presence of a discerning, sentient being on the other side of the computer screen. Analysts provide expertise and thought leadership by bringing something new to the conversation.

The first step toward a strong analysis article is to adopt the right mindset. The writer must commit to writing a "connect the dots" article instead of a summary of whatever legal development is providing the basis for the article.

The second step is to brainstorm promising angles. All of the following prompts will lead to a good post:

  • Where is the law heading?
  • What are the implications for a bill that has been recently introduced or passed?
  • Which problems do you expect clients will need assistance with in the near future?
  • Are new technologies exposing weaknesses in the law?
  • Are economic trends threatening to create legal problems for clients down the road?
  • When a new demographic or economic study is published, consider the legal ramifications for clients.
  • Which legislative initiatives will likely become law?
  • Which legal issues will be considered in upcoming sessions of state supreme courts and legislatures?
Keeping an eye on the calendar is a good idea. It's often possible to write a strong forward-looking post by scanning significant dates in the immediate future. Tax deadlines and effective dates for major legislation are two good examples.

Finally, there is the easiest calendar peg of all: the end of the year. Most firms should be able to write at least one blog post along the lines of "Top Legal Issues for Retailers in 2018." Just substitute an important client industry or demographic for "Retailer."

10. The "How to" Article


The "how to" law blog post is a great way to meet potential clients at the moment they begin researching their legal problem — prior to the selection of legal representation. A "how to" post, well done, builds trust and positions the law firm as a desirable solution provider for the client's problem.

"How to" posts are also ideal candidates for selection by Google as "Featured Snippets," those information boxes that Google frequently pins to the top of organic search listings.

DIY types and problem-solvers enter thousands of "how to" queries into Google each day. Google is often the first place individuals look for answers to critical, "once in a lifetime" legal problems such as criminal arrest, financial difficulties, personal injuries, and motor vehicle mishaps.

Google also assists individuals who are attempting legal self-help for less-pressing but nevertheless important legal problems - business formation, estate planning, and real estate transactions, to name a few. Self-help efforts often culminate in the realization that professional assistance is necessary.

"How to" blog posts that anticipate — and answer — common law-related questions will rank well in Google search. "How to" blog posts are strong "top of the funnel" content describing in broad strokes the dimensions of a legal problem. They draw searchers in and invite the creation of a deeper relationship.

Aside from providing answers to questions that would-be clients are asking, there is another reason why "how to" posts are valuable: Google Featured Snippets. These are the information boxes prominently displayed near the top of Google search results. Featured Snippets sit just below PPC sponsored results and above all other organic search results.

Websites fortunate enough to earn Featured Snippet treatment by Google report significant increases in click-through rates and traffic. According to a 2017 study published by SEO tools provider Ahrefs, the Featured Snippet steals about 8.6 percent of the clicks that would have otherwise gone to the top organic listing.

In almost every case, Google selects pages that are already doing well for Featured Snippet status. The Ahrefs study found that 99.58 percent of Featured Snippets point to pages that already rank in top 10 of Google for the target keyword.

A successful strategy for earning Featured Snippet treatment is to frame the question in the blog posts's title (or a subheading) and then immediately deliver a succinct, one-paragraph answer to that question.

"How to" blog posts work well for large firms too. They just can't be packaged as "how to" blog posts.

Effective "how to" content for businesses — packaged in business-oriented language like "tactics," "strategies," "action plans," "roadmaps" etc. — demonstrates expertise, experience, and a deep understanding of the client's business.

Don’t Overlook E-Mail Newsletters


A monthly or quarterly newsletter is a great way to maintain a connection with clients. Sign subscribers up when the retainer agreement is signed. Add non-clients via the website and with “forward to a friend” signups.

Newsletters also do double-duty as fresh content for the firm’s website.

There is no single, “best” format for an email newsletter. It can be a collection of news articles readers might find interesting, it can be a single article on a given topic, or anything in between. 

Published April 1, 2022 in Marketing
Thomas O'Toole is the owner and lead legal writer at Lawyers Media LLC.