I am back on my writing bandwagon: lawyers should leave copywriting to copywriters. I will never forget the first law firm invitation that I made for a lawyer. We went through at least 20 versions and agonized as to whether to use the words “invite” or “cordially invite.” An invitation. An invitation that would be read once. An invitation that would be read once and then thrown away. Of course, I am the exceptional lawyer who can write good copy. 😉 Why? Because I was trained as a journalist and as a writer long before I ever went to law school. Because of that very experience, I did not do very well in my legal writing class—a badge of honor in my book. Here are my 5 basic rules for writing good copy:
- Do not write a sentence that is longer than two lines.
- Drop all adverbs. Any word with “-ly” is superfluous. If you can not write well enough to invoke descriptions without using adverbs then you need to practice more.
- Use an active voice. What does this mean? Instead of saying, “The Firm was given The Best Law Firm in the World award by the Two PR Professionals and a Dime Organization,” say “The Two PR Professionals and a Dime Organization gave the firm the The Best Law Firm in the World award.”
- Do not use legalese, unnecessary capitalization or Latin. Enough said. If you don’t know what I mean, then you really do not need to be writing your own copy.
- Do not use exclamation points. Okay, lawyers never use exclamation points. But marketers love to use them. Exclamation points are too cutesy, too redundant and too lazy. If you want to excite a reader, write exciting copy. An exclamation point does not transmit excitement, even if you are Yahoo! (maybe that should be especially if you are Yahoo!).
These are just a few of my rules for writing. If you want to read an excellent book on how to become a good writer, I would suggest Stephen King’s On Writing—a splendid how-to book on the craft. And be patient with yourself. It takes a very long time to write a good, short sentence. As the famed journalist A.J. Liebling said, “I can write better than anyone who can write faster, and I can write faster than anyone who can write better.”