Writing, posting and sharing blogs by @Lihsa

I’ve been blogging for over ten years now. And during that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about the craft.

Blogging has quite a distinctive style. There are a couple of ways I could go with this post: talk about the art of writing, posting techniques or ways to share your post. How about all three?

Blogging better: how to not write a like a lawyer

Writing a blog post

Writing a blog post is as simple as writing an email. Literally. It should be just as conversational, just as casual and just as succinct.

Not even my grandmother wants to wade through 50 densely written paragraphs about my opinions on whatever is on my mind. Never mind that no one’s grandmother would ever need to see a list of footnotes and citations to further codify my thoughts.

I try to keep paragraphs to three to four lines—not sentences—lines. And, yes, to a lawyer, a sentence-long paragraph seems ridiculous. But have you seen the length of a lawyer’s sentence? A typical sentence, written by a lawyer, is usually three lines long. Full of dependent and subordinate clauses, a diagramed lawyer’s sentence looks like an oak tree.

In blogs, we are aspiring for palm trees: a long trunk, a few frothy fronds and maybe a couple of coconuts.

In short: keep it simple. If you can’t explain your topic to your grandmother, you need to try again.

Post a blog post

Think about posting a blog like drawing a map. There are certain elements in a blog post that signal to Google where your post is located. You need to drop cookie crumbs to lead Google to your blog.

Think of these as sign posts, guiding Google: “come this way: my blog post is exactly what you’re searching for.”

What are these signposts? On this allegorical map called Google, you want to include:

1. Title: it acts like the city name on a map

2. Headings: these are the city’s sites and restaurants

3. Hyperlinks: these are the addresses to your coolest friends’ homes

If you don’t use these signposts, your blog post will be lost in the vastness of Google tundra, with a mere pinprick flagging Google to your page.

But when you add these signposts, you not only drop a pin to your post, you are adding billboards, neon arrows and flashing lights. Google is then directed to your post because you have signaled that your post is exactly what Google is searching for.

Which brings me to the all-important keyword. Think of keywords this way: how would you explain your blog post to your grandmother? If your post is about the constitutionality of the freedom of speech, then these key phrases should, in some part, be a part of your post’s title, headings and hyperlinks. Again, if you can’t explain it to you grandmother, try again.

Sharing a blog post

So you’ve finished your post and published it. I bet you think you’re done, right? Oh, no, mon frère.

You have to tell somebody about your blog post. You can’t just wait on some random cat to search on Google for you. You have to share it (which is a very nice way of saying publicize it).

The easiest way? Social media. Yes, that’s right. You have to post something about your blog on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or something. You could go the old fashioned route and email your post to a bunch of people but then you’ve just turned your blog post into an annoying emailed newsletter.

Social media is the natural sibling to blogging—there are a whole slew of legal bloggers that congregate on Twitter. Injecting yourself into that stream is great place to start to be known and engage like-minded people. My own blog sharing has led to recognition, speaking gigs and rewarding professional relationships (see @LawyerCoach , @StaceyEBurke , +Jan Rivers@beingkatie ‏ and @HaleyOdom, just to name a few).

And, who knows, you may find that when you share your post on Facebook, your grandma may share it with her Facebook friends. And one of those friends could very well lead to your next future client.

This post originally appeared on the HighQ Solutions blog.

I
was in London last week and some colleagues and I were discussing blogging.
One asked a very pointed question: How do you get people to comment on a
blog post?  The short answers is, you don’t.  You never will.
Occasionally, when the stars align and you’ve written a brilliant post
on a hot topic, then and only then, you will get a comment or two.  But
even then, it is very likely that at least one of those comments will be
correcting your grammar.

When I attend conferences there are
always a handful of people that come up to me and say they read and
enjoy my blog.  About half of the time they will follow with a
discussion about something I have written in the last few months.  These
are the comments that people don’t leave on the website.  At first, I
was bothered by this.  I thought, “Well, why didn’t you just say that
when I wrote it?”  But I’ve come to think of blogging as starting a
conversation with whole group of people, many of whom I have never met. 
Some of those people will continue that conversation with other people
they know.  Some of them will run into me at a conference and will
continue the conversation with me directly.  And some of them will only
continue the conversation silently in their own heads. I have come to
see any continuation of a conversation that I start as a sign of a
successful blog post.

But still there is the question of how
to write a blog post that interests people and gets them to continue
that conversation? There is no short answer here, but I have a few tips:

  • Forget about any other kind of
    writing you do.
      Blogging is not journalism, it’s not letter writing,
    and it’s certainly not legal writing.  In fact, I would argue, blogging
    is less like any other kind of writing and more like speech.  Write the
    way you speak, without the “ums” and pauses, of course.
  • Read your finished posts aloud. This
    engages a completely different part of your brain and you will find that
    you stumble over words and phrases when speaking aloud that didn’t
    trouble you when you were reading silently to yourself.  These are the
    areas to rework.
  • When you rework your post, make
    clarity of purpose your only concern.
    You will find that otherwise
    unacceptable punctuation, grammar, spelling, and formatting sometimes
    gets your point across more succinctly than writing “correctly” does. 
    Go with it.
  • Be personable. Remember, this is a conversation. Nobody wants to talk to a boring person, no matter how interesting the subject.
  • You are not reporting the news.  This
    is a big one for external facing law blogs to remember. If you are
    reporting content that you found on Lexis or the New York Times, then
    chances are your audience has already read it somewhere else, written by
    someone who actually writes for a living. Why compete with
    professionals? Link to those other articles for the details and instead
    write about your take on the subject. 
  • If you are funny, use it.  If you are
    not, please don’t.
      When using sarcasm or satire, always make it very
    clear. I don’t care how obvious it is to you, someone will not get it
    and that can be very dangerous. Make sure Sarcasm or Satire are included
    in the Tags on your post when you use them.
  • Be provocative.  Never lie, or argue
    against your actual position (unless doing satire – see above), but it
    doesn’t hurt to take a slightly stronger stance than you would
    otherwise. Nothing gets attention like a bold statement confidently
    made.
  • Don’t forget to use the title. Only
    on a personal blog can you choose your own title, usually you have an
    editor giving your post some boring title that YOU wouldn’t even click on. The
    title should get your audience’s attention, but it also creates a frame
    that sets up their expectations.  Use those expectations to your
    advantage, make people see things differently than they expect from your
    title.
  • Choose topics that bother you. 
    Things that happen, that surprise or upset you; things that you find
    yourself day dreaming about at inopportune times; ideas that get stuck
    in your head; these are the best topics, because they will also get
    stuck in the heads of your readers.
  • Publish immediately.  When you feel you have your ideas down, publish.  Do not sleep on it.  Do not wait to see what you think the next day.  You will hate it.  You will see every flaw and error.  If you wait, you will never publish.  If you cannot publish, or you are not done by the end of your writing session, then start over from scratch the next day and publish as soon as you’re done.
  • Don’t write too much.  You do not
    have to be comprehensive. Set up the conversation.  Throw out a few
    points to think about and then let it go. Remember, you want to start a
    conversation, not finish it.  (This post is already too long and chances
    are good that you haven’t actually read this far.)
  • Leave the audience with a rhetorical
    question, a bold statement, or a thoughtful turn of phrase. 
    Give them
    something short and concrete that summarizes your post. Find a phrase
    that sticks in your mind and it will stick in theirs too.

Which
leads me back to the issue of comments. After writing a blog for about
three years, I think I now understand why my favorite posts, the ones
I’m most proud of, are the least likely to get comments.  I think it is
precisely because they make people think.  Readers are left with an idea
that is new to them.  It is probably an idea that I have spent days or weeks
formulating, and I’ve just dropped it on an unsuspecting public.  If I
have expressed myself well, and gotten my ideas across, then the readers
too will have to sit and mull over my ideas for a while.  By the time
they realize they have something to say on the subject, they are no
longer on the page, or near a computer.  They may not even remember
where the original idea came from. But when they see me at a conference,
or a seminar, or on a train, or waiting in line for a bathroom, that’s
when they will come up and say, “I read your blog.”  And then our
conversation – the one that I began writing by myself, weeks or months
earlier – will continue, as if we were old friends who had simply paused
for a moment.

It was 1987 and I was in my High School Freshman English class. We were asked to pick a partner and jointly write a paper on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,
Washington Irving’s tale of a headless horseman who terrorizes a small
New England town. The assignment was to “be descriptive”.  The teacher
wanted as many adjectives and adverbs as we could use to describe the
story, the characters, and the setting.  The kid sitting next to me scooted his desk next to mine and we started
writing. Everyone else turned in a page or two, but we wrote eight or
nine pages and still probably had fewer sentences than any other team. I
bet that was the worst and the most painstakingly descriptive paper ever written on the subject, but we got an A.

I
was reminded of that incident recently when a colleague forwarded a
vendor’s email.  The email was so full of jargon as to be comical. 

“…we are a global customized research solutions provider. Since 2003, we have worked with a number of law firms in US
and Europe – supporting decision makers tasked with responsibility for their firm’s growth – with quick and insightful research on key initiatives relating to business development, client
retention or strategy execution.
“Our offshore research model
with
350+ analysts based in India – pioneered by McKinsey and now used by
many professional services firms
– allows us to cost-effectively service both urgent or
quick turnaround research requests as well as in-depth
market or competitor intelligence assessments.
[Our company] is a knowledge partner of choice to several Fortune 1000
companies and SMBs in
the US, Canada & Europe. We have executed
research assignments in more than 80 sub-sectors entailing analysis of
market and competition dynamics in 50+ countries, using a judicious
blend of secondary data sources and primary
interviews with industry stakeholders.”

I know what all of the words mean, but…

Why
do people write this way? It’s not easy to read or understand. It
doesn’t make you or your company sound more impressive. If your
marketing materials read like my freshman English paper, I would really
hate to see what your research looks like.  Try this…
“…we are a global [ ] research [ ] provider. Since 2003, we
have worked with a number of law firms in US and Europe – supporting [people with] responsibility for their firm’s growth – with [research] relating to business development, client retention or strategy execution.
“Our [business
model,]
with 350+
analysts based in India – [DELETED Irrelevant] – allows us to [ ] service [] urgent [DELETED
Redundant]
research requests as well as [ ] market [and] competitor [ ] assessments. [Our company] is a [vendor] of choice to several Fortune 1000 companies and SMBs in
the US, Canada & Europe. We have [helped
companies]
in
more than 80 [industries] in 50+ countries, using [ ] secondary data sources and primary interviews with [people in each industry].”

Now, I’m not saying that’s the greatest copy ever written, but at least I can understand it without rereading it four times.

“Business Development Coaching for Lawyers (“BDCL”) leverages a proprietary coaching structure that optimizes solutions-based tactics intended to catapult your practice to the next level. We partner with you, our clients, in pursuit of shared goals and strategic alliances. Simply put, our services at BDCL exceed the expectations of legal leaders who recognize the value of purposeful investments in human capital as a means of preparing and aligning people and systems in pursuit of growth.” 

Say what?

Why does corporate America speak this way? What is the origin of this weird language?

Maybe it began in George Orwell’s classic political and science fiction novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, set in a future dystopian society where ideas explore the concept of humans coping, or more accurately, the inability to effectively cope with, technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity’s spiritual evolution. The fictional language of that society, “Newspeak”, attempts to influence thought via how we express our language.

Written during the Cold War, the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bleak commentary on the human race and a warning against the dangerous probabilities of communism. 

Today in 2012, after the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall, Nineteen Eighty-Four is now a haunting reflection of mass media, data mining, and its consequences. 
One consequence is a modern language whose quality is lamentable, one that overflows with pretention and euphemism– all of which contributes to fuzzy ideas and a lack of logical thinking. While Orwell’s Newspeak was fictional, our modern day language is all too real.

When hearing the jargon we’ve adopted that is so prolific in business, I cringe. Yet, it is easy enough to slip into the temptation to use hackneyed phrases and clichés and it is  frequently too great to overcome. 

Admittedly, I have unintentionally violated my own conviction using phrases that are vacuous and just plain embarrassing. Groping with an insecure, or more accurately, an insincere moment wanting to appear “important,” I’ve mumbled something about “shifting paradigms” a time or two and then winced at my infraction. Fortunately, no one noticed because they were deeply sheltered under their own overarching concepts taking shape out-of-the-box to drive initiatives. I’m just saying…

Challenging the current business lexicon while my contemporaries seemingly embraced the new language has been a solitary journey until recently. After attending a writing workshop entitled “Avoid Meaningless Clichés,” I realized that maybe I wasn’t so alone after all. 

Finally, someone else was spotlighting this dilemma. The presenter emphasized that when writing, every word must be chosen judicially and applied intentionally. “It is not enough to write so that you can be understood; you must write so clearly that you cannot be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“Yes, yes, yes,” I wanted to shout! Elated, I Google searched, hungry for more evidence that there was a in fact, a tribe emerging who longed for straight talk.

Then in an issue of Entrepreneur magazine, Erika Napoletano of Redhead Writing further emphasized the impact that language can have on business and dubbed the term “buzzspeak” in her article Big think, small movement. 

She asks, “Are nonsensical and annoying words sucking the soul of your business?” Napoletano contends that buzzwords are an excuse to talk around what we really mean to say and that to use them is lazy and disrespectful to our audience. She asks that we respect our audience enough to tell it to them straight.

As law firm marketers, we know clients are hungry for solutions to problems; they want them fixed quickly. So skip the buzzwords and don’t give them any “bandwidth” (another one of my favorite words). Listen instead of talking their ear off.

Napoletano cites four useful tips when communicating:

Simplicity: If you want them to buy what you’re selling, don’t make them learn a new language or feel inadequate when they don’t understand what you’re selling. They will shut down and buy from someone else. Don’t we see this every day when trying to convey our message to lawyers? Lawyers generally hate marketing jargon.

Brilliance: True brilliance reveals itself in what you offer to your clients. Your solution makes THEM look brilliant. You don’t need buzzwords to make you look brilliant.

Time: Your solution should save them time whenever possible; don’t waste it, just get to the point.

Usability: Respect your audience by offering easy-to-use solutions that make sense for how they operate. Asking them to change their day-to-day routine won’t get you the yeses you crave.

Avoid these overused phrases whenever possible: Bandwidth, gravitas, bottom line, kicking the can down the road, drill down, on boarding, core competencies, value-added proposition, low-hanging fruit, going forward, take it to the next level, at the end of the day, and any other annoying phrases you hear every day, sometimes multiple times.

Finally, the folks at FightTheBull.com, and authors of the book Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, have developed a piece of software called Bullfighter that scans your writing for BS. I’m not kidding. 

The software measures three things: Bull Composite Index (BCI), which is your total score on a scale of 1 -10; Bull Index (BI), the number of jargon and corporate speak terms you use on a scale of 1-100; and the Flesch Reading Level (FRL), the “grade reading level” on a scale of 1-100. 
For all three scores, higher numbers are better. I’m definitely going to buy Bullfighter to test my own writing 
It’s the least I can do to support the straight talk revolution and put my money where my mouth is.

Editor’s Note: Susan Baldwin is a guest blogger and legal marketing manager at a top AmLaw 100 law firm.

As I am sure, everyone has heard that Ashton is turning over his Twitter account to his team at Katalyst.

And, as you all know, I am one of Ashton’s biggest fans. I know, get in line, right?

Anyways, I cannot tell you how disappointed I am. It felt so real, my relationship with him. LOL

So what, pray tell, does this have to do with you, dear blawg reader?

Well, the question becomes: should a lawyer post his own tweets or should s/he hire a ghost tweeter or turn it over to a Twitter team?

There are couple of scenarios here:

  1. Solo Practitioners
  2. Boutiques
  3. Institutional Firms

But, basically, I think it boils down to brand.

If you, personally, have a substantial enough practice to merit your own brand then I think you could farm it out and be sure to have some sort of review process in place. If you are affiliated with an institutional or boutique firm that has a substantial brand, then you should definitely have someone vetting tweets that looks at ethical issues, grammar and consistency.

But if its just you, go for it. Just read twice THEN hit “Submit” and, remember, it never dies.

Honestly, I’m surprised Ashton’s lasted this long. He’s a humongous brand. But he leveraged his Klout for the ultimate dollar amount and it has served him very, very well.

But now he has to be smarter than his fans and set aside his people-pleasing whims and put some parameters and protection in place.

Poor guy. I’m sure he’s crying all the way to bank …

While lunching with new friend and social media guru @apudave yesterday, our conversation turned to grammar.

I was so happy.
The topic? Ellipses.
You know . . . those little dot-dot-dots?
We had quite divergent views on spacing, appropriate usage, surrounding punctuation and why, oh, why, lawyers ALWAYS have to be different.
After promising to look into the entire matter, here is my synopsis.
  1. Treat ellipses as missing words. That way, the grammar and punctuation rules make more sense. If you are collapsing two sentences and removing words from the beginning of the second sentence, that means that you retain the period from the first sentence and add the ellipsis afterwards. So your quote would look like this: “@glambert is a fine fellow. . . . and that is all that I have to say about @gnawledge.”
  2. Spacing is optional, but desirable. I know, in this Twitter-infested world, spaces are throw-aways. But it does make for a more eye-pleasing read . . . don’t you think?
  3. Punctuation should be retained. If you are quoting a paragraph and parsing out a sentence, you should include the quote’s punctuation. Grammar Girl gives some great examples of usage with other punctuation: “Aardvark went home . . . ; Squiggly would meet him later.” [Note the space between the ellipsis and the semicolon.]
  4. Use ellipses sparingly. Ellipses can be used to either indicate missing words, trailing thoughts or separate disconnected phrases. The first type is a grammar choice, the other two or style choices. Any way you do it, just don’t over do it.
  5. Lawyers use ellipses in weird ways. I could regurgitate the rules but will instead point you to The Bluebook §§ 5.3-5.4. Basically? Don’t start or end a quote with an ellipsis. And if you are skipping one or more paragraphs, do a hard return, indent, then place four periods (“. . . .”) on its own line.
You gotta love those lawyers; only they would quote entire PARAGRAPHS of text.
As an added bonus for sticking with me through this oh so interesting post, here’s a little PC shortcut for you: when you type 3 periods in a row, the spacing will create automatically. Alternately, if press Ctrl+Alt and a period, it will create the ellipsis too.
Who knew grammar could be so controversial . . . ?

Tips for Delivering CI via Email

Social media advocates predict the end of email but, while it is always interesting to consider new, improved ways to disseminate intelligence, most law firms are not likely to drop email any time soon.

Scenario: A litigation partner is leaving for a lunch with a target client and needs intelligence on the company, person, opportunity, competitors and our relationships within the hour.

It’s nice to imagine that you will have time to conduct an interview to determine the appropriate intelligence topics, perform thorough, in-depth research, develop a complete and insightful analysis, AND format your findings/results into an attractive document.

Or, better yet, you’ll upload your beautiful report to a social, sharable, fully-indexed and dynamic web/portal/SharePoint- or app-based report to distribute to all appropriate members of the practice/industry group or client team. Or, you could do something else even cooler and better..

But, the reality is that it’s all you can do to run the searches, scramble for the necessary analysis and shoot off a quick email for the attorney to read in the back of the cab on her way.

That said, here are some tips to effective intelligence delivery of intelligence via good old-fashioned email.

  • Put important stuff at the top – If you are delivering a handful of answers, put those answers right at top. When laying out your information, just think of a small mobile screen and remember that they won’t get past the first few lines.
  • Keep it short – We learn in school that a paragraph can be between 3 and 5 sentences. But in business emails, you want a double line break between almost every 1-2 sentences, especially if they are longer sentences.
  • Use bullets – In fact, wherever possible, avoid sentences and stick to bullets. Attorneys in particular are very familiar with the outline format and so feel free to group by heading and subheading and keep it very brief. No more than a sentence in length.
  • Double- and triple-proof – Check for common typos, grammar, punctuation etc. The smallest mistakes can undermine your credibility and the entire intelligence product.
  • Attach reports – You can almost assume that most anything attached to the email will be, at best, briefly skimmed and, at worst, completely ignored. If you want the attorney to know something, type it into the email. You might also point out the attachment (“Please see attached…”) and direct them to the page.

I’m sure there are a ton of other good ideas and I hope our commentors will share their tips!


A new conundrum past my plate today.

Do you place an apostrophe to create a possessive after a trademarked name?
I’m sure a few of you are thinking, “who the heck gives a crud about this kind of stuff?”
This is one of the few instances when intellectual property attorneys and marketers share common ground.
IP lawyers say that trademarked names act as adjectives to a product and, therefore, cannot be made possessive. If a trademarked name is treated as a noun, the trademark could be rendered useless.
Branding aficionados and writers agree: don’t dilute the brand. And putting an apostrophe after a registration mark or trademark just looks weird.
So don’t write:
“LinkedIn®’s professional networking site is outpacing other job board sites.”
Instead write:
“Professional networking site LinkedIn® is outpacing other job board sites.”

After attending a 4-hour grammar class–yes, I know, I am a geek–I was heartened to witness that there are those still out there who are positively impassioned about punctuation.
The class erupted in a thirty-minute discussion on–get this–how many spaces should follow a period.
Good grief.
You would have thought we were talking about which soda as better: Pepsi or Coke. No fewer than thirty-five people weighed in on the matter. These were their thoughts:
  1. If you are typing on a typewriter (and, really, who does this?), it is two spaces.
  2. If you are tweeting, it is one space–if you have even written a complete sentence, that is.
  3. If it is a legal document, it is two spaces.
  4. If it is a mobile device, most phones automatically make it a period followed by one space, if you enter two spaces.
  5. If it is web copy, it is one space.
Finally, after nearly coming to fisticuffs, the consensus was to use one space after a period.
Geez. You woulda thought it was the Grammargeddon.

No more lengthy diatribes on NYTimes.com.

I noticed on today’s home page:

A Note to Readers

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