1/18/15

Write About What You Know -- It's Good Advice, Especially for Lawyers Writing Blog Posts

Whether or not Mark Twain advised us to "write what you know" is debatable, but it's considered good advice by many and you've probably heard the quote and considered its lesson.  (I first heard it as advice given to me by poet Naomi Shihab Nye in an early writing class.)

Those who disagree argue that it's exactly what writers shouldn't do -- instead, they should use their imaginations and creativity to write about what they don't know.  They've got a point.  Maybe it is a bit confining for the fiction writer: how could we have Star Trek or Narnia if writers were kept to writing about only the things of which they know?  However, it is particularly wise counsel when the writer is an attorney who is publishing content online for his or her peers, clients, and potential clients to read and consider.

"Write what you know" has been attributed to Mark Twain.

The Temptation to Write About The Unknown in Law Blogs

Law firms who have blogs for legal marketing purposes are always concerned with how their blawg is going to help the firm make rain.  Some track their analytics to see how many times a particular post link has been clicked; others monitor how often the blog has spurred someone to call the firm for more information or maybe even to set up an appointment.

ROI (return on investment) is important to judge.  True enough.

Thing is, if your blog is working for you as a marketing tool then there's always the temptation to boost what you are doing to get more traffic or more potential clients.  To expand your firm's practice or practice areas using the blog.

Conversely, if the law firm's marketing efforts aren't working and business is stagnant, then the firm may be considering new practice areas as a way to boost business.  Writing blog posts discussing that new area of the law may be one of the first toes they put in the water as they segue the practice .  

There's also the reality that after awhile, the blogger runs dry on things to discuss and is searching for ideas and themes for new blog posts.  Maybe new practice area issues or blog themes will be easier to write.

My suggestion:  please don't decide to write posts discussing a new and untried practice area.  It's one thing for a savvy personal injury lawyer, for instance, to decide to focus efforts on a new type of PI theme, like delving into the product liability area.   It's another thing for that personal injury lawyer to decide to market in criminal law just because he (or she) thinks that criminal trials would be exciting, different, fun, or profitable.

Here's why.
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Write About What You (or Your Law Firm) Knows

Most blogs aren't taken as seriously as more traditional publications, like your Bar Journal monthly magazine, or even blogs like HuffPo.  Your reader is going to be taking your post seriously, however.  And so will your State Bar should they decide to review your stuff.

It's just smart to write about the practice areas you know and within which you have experience.  If you are an injury lawyer or law firm who would like to venture into criminal law, great!  Go get that CLE and learn your criminal rules of procedure and insure that you are competent to practice criminal law before you start writing posts on your professional law blog about criminal law issues.

Moreover, if you're a personal injury lawyer who writes a blog post (or a series of posts) about criminal law matters, then you are putting yourself out to the public as a criminal attorney just as if you were to buy advertising on a local radio station or an advertisement in the telephone directory.  There are ethical considerations here (and disciplinary rules) that need to be considered when lawyers are blogging.

Bottom line, if you are a lawyer writing about a legal issue on a law firm blog, either have a personal professional depth in that topic via education and/or experience, or may sure to quote your law firm expert who practices in that area as part of your coverage of the topic.  Don't be what my Uncle Billy would call "a man with a hat and no cattle."  It can get you in trouble with readers, potential clients, and the disciplinary authorities.  
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