Recently on the Myers Freelance blog, we’ve been dealing with the ins and out of writing a series of legal blog articles on a related topic.
Refresher: The Legal Blog Series
This all started in our recent blog sample for criminal defense attorneys. There, we wrote 476 words on the upcoming Supreme Court case Carpenter v. U.S., a word count that could only provide a brief recount of the facts of the case, the legal issue it presented, and why it was important. We finished that article by pointing out that you don’t need to confine your discussion of an entire legal issue into one legal blog article: Writing a series of posts is an option, too.
We followed that post up with the good news and the bad news about writing a legal blog series. The good news was that search engines will (almost definitely) not penalize a legal blog series for having duplicative content. You’d have to make some very big mistakes to get penalized. The bad news was that writing a legal blog series takes some extra planning – if you don’t split up the overarching topic into smaller and well-defined subtopics, each post could poach web traffic and search engine optimization (SEO) points from the others in the series.
How to Write a Legal Blog Series
There’s a huge legal issue on the horizon and you’ve decided that, yes, you want to write about it for your law firm’s blog. While professional legal bloggers can see that a legal issue will take several blog posts from the start, many attorneys who write their own legal blogs will only realize that they’re dealing with a series-worthy topic after trying, and failing, to cram it into one post for hours.
Once the realization sets in that 500 words is simply not going to be enough, take a step back to plan out your upcoming legal blog series.
The Planning Stage
Effectively planning a legal blog series will prevent the series installments from poaching SEO points, search engine rankings, and web traffic from each other.
We’ve used the onion metaphor for legal blog writing before, and it helps here, too: Complex legal topics are like the core of an onion, hidden underneath layers of easier topics that look more familiar to laypeople.
The onion metaphor is a good way to plan a legal blog series. By dealing with one layer at a time, you slowly walk your way into the more complex topic while still keeping every installment of the series unique enough that it won’t compete with the other parts of the series.
One example is our blog series dealing with the ethical issues of ghostwriting legal blogs. There, the topic that was going to take several thousand words was the criticism of ghostwritten legal blogs. So we analyzed that criticism and broke it down into four distinct arguments against ghostwriting, each of which got its own installment in the series:
- Ghostwritten legal blogs violate Rule 7.1 of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct (not if you don’t lie in the author’s byline),
- It violates Rule 8.4 (again, not if you don’t lie in the author’s byline),
- It’s unpopular (the “consensus” cited was among fewer than 6 attorneys. The survey that wasn’t cited involved over 800 American Bar Association members and found that 60% thought it was both ethical and common), and
- It dilutes the depth of the legal conversation (ghostwritten legal blogs are meant to attract new clients, not be a stand-in for law review journals).
The more you blog, the easier this process becomes. As you write more legal blog articles, you’re able to refer to prior posts through internal links, allowing your next post to build on past content. For example, if a case comes up that changes how probable cause works in your state, and you covered probable cause in your blog a year ago, you don’t have to spend several paragraphs describing probable cause. Instead, you just drop the link.
Executing an Installment in a Legal Blog Series
Once you’ve planned out the installments in a legal blog series and have settled on small, confined topics, writing the posts is just like writing any other blog article, with a couple of small differences.
First, your introductory paragraph will probably become longer, especially for the later installments in the series. It’s important to remember that not everyone will read this series from front to back. Many people will first encounter your series somewhere in the middle. Providing a quick synopsis of where the series started, where it’s going, and internally linking to those installments at the top of the introduction in each installment is crucial. It also means you need to go back to the earlier installments and link to the later ones, once you’ve finished writing them and they’re live on your site.
Second, your last paragraph should include a quick teaser of what’s to come in the next installment. This grounds your reader by providing even more context to what they’re reading and reminding them of the installment’s place in the wider scheme. These are both especially helpful for keeping a lay reader involved. It also requires you to go back and add that internal link to the prior article, once you’ve posted the next one.
Finally, you’ll notice that, with longer introductions, the meat of your blog post will have a lower word count. This is normal. Solidifying those connections between the installments of a legal blog series takes time, space, and words. Skimping on them can leave lay readers in the dust, where they ask questions, get confused, and leave your firm’s website for one of your competitor’s.