In theory, when you write a legal blog post for your law firm’s website, your decision to cater to either direct or referral audiences should impact your writing style. This means writing in a way that either focuses on explaining complex legal topics for laypeople, or that focuses on providing in-depth legal analysis to impress other attorneys.
In practice, one of the main ways that you can make your legal blog appeal to either lawyers or to normal people is in how you structure your introductory paragraph. Laypeople need lots of background information in order to understand a legal topic, so using the introductory paragraphs to set the table and provide that information is crucial. If your audience is full of lawyers, on the other hand, you can use a roadmap to jump right into the topic at hand.
Set the Scene for Lay Readers With Background Information
It takes three years to get a law degree. To practice, it takes another several months of studying for one of the most difficult exams on the planet, passing that exam, and then getting hired at a firm or hanging out your own shingle.
If your law firm’s online marketing strategy is to appeal directly to potential clients, you need to write your legal blog in a way that gets your point across to people who have none of that educational background. Readers will know nothing when they see phrases like parol evidence rule or fruit of the poisonous tree, while terms like probable cause or medical malpractice are even worse because some readers think they know what they mean, but really don’t.
This is where the first paragraph or two can make a huge difference. You can use the beginning of a legal blog post to set the stage for lay readers by putting your legal topic of choice into the broader perspective to provide the context needed for a more full understanding. For a blog post describing how the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine works, therefore, you would begin with the Fourth Amendment, how it prohibits searches or seizures that are “unreasonable,” uses the exclusionary rule as a remedy for these illegal acts, and then segue into the situation where an unconstitutional search reveals evidence that snowballs into more and more evidence.
Use a Roadmap for Readers Within the Profession
Lawyers, on the other hand, don’t need this kind of background information and are likely to skip it if they encounter it in a legal blog or leave the post, entirely. If your law firm relies on referral clients and is courting them in its legal blog, cutting to the metaphorical chase is a better tactic.
Use a roadmap.
It may have been awhile since you’ve had to read a law review article, but they’re the best place to look to see roadmap paragraphs in action: “In Part II of my article, I’ll summarize the oral history of the rules of evidence in Swaziland’s indigenous courts. In Part III, I’ll explain the impact of South Africa’s rules, as they integrated into the area…”
Roadmaps in legal blog posts don’t need to be so strict or formal, though. Simply summarize the rest of your blog post in a sentence or three.
An Example: This Blog Post
This blog post is an example of each introductory tactic. Because our targeted audience is full of attorneys and other legal professionals, and because we know that online legal marketing is not something that many in our audience are fully fluent in, we tend to fill our initial paragraphs with the kind of background information you need to contextualize and understand what we’re about to say.
Here, we opened our post with the fact that there are different audiences that you can be directing your legal blog towards, and that different opening paragraphs cater to these audiences. This provides the background information that you need to understand why the writing style in your introductory paragraph makes such a big difference.
If you delete this opening paragraph (as well as opening phrase “In practice,” in the second) you’re left with the roadmap that works for knowledgeable readers. It summarizes, in three sentences, the rest of the post, giving readers a macro understanding of the information that follows before they delve into the details.