Six Variations on a Law Firm Practice Area Page
My piano teacher was a patient woman. Most weeks I’d show up at her house unprepared, plodding through the assigned pieces.
“Did you practice last week?” she’d ask. “This is very rough.”
“I did,” I lied.
There was no need for further interrogation on my practice habits. My playing spoke for itself.
Many times my teacher grew exasperated and shouldered me aside, playing through the assigned piece perfectly, not as a musical performance, but as a melodic accusation against my indolence. Other weeks we would go through the motions — her pretending to teach, and me pretending to learn — until our time together concluded.
If I sincerely wanted to learn to play the piano, she repeatedly advised, I should approach practice sessions this way: Work on the difficult passages first, play assigned scales and exercises next, then return to the assigned repertoire, again emphasizing the difficult passages; finally, finish up with fun, easier pieces from past lessons. Play slowly at first, build speed later, follow the fingering notations.
Five minutes later I was on my bike headed home, thinking, "I wish I knew the trick to getting good at piano."
People are like that. We often receive good advice, or obvious advice. But rarely do we take it. Sound advice seems too simple to be useful.
Benefits, Not Features
For example, everyone involved in marketing knows that good copywriting centers on “benefits” not “features.” For legal services, “benefits” are solutions to client problems. “Features” are how many attorneys are in the firm, where they went to college, their years of experience, and which areas of law they practice.
And yet … how many times have we encountered (or written!) law firm copy that is completely devoted to a discussion of features, i.e., the expertise of the firm?
Nowhere is this more apparent than a firm’s practice area descriptions. Here’s a real-life example, which I’ve edited a bit in an attempt to obscure the source:
Our Privacy and Security Team is experienced in reviewing and developing privacy policies, employment agreements, information security requirements, and policies and procedures for technology vendors. Whether the employer is a small business or a multi-national corporation, our attorneys have the knowledge and experience to custom-design appropriate documents to fit the business’s needs.
The person who wrote this copy is likely an experienced marketer, someone familiar with the “benefits not features” guidance. And yet the passage above is written entirely from the law firm’s perspective. The unfortunate message: This law firm is an experienced provider of documents.
Wouldn’t this copy work better if it was written from the perspective of the client? Say, by discussing a concrete problem such as the prospect of ruinous class action litigation due to a data breach or the misuse of corporate assets by employees’ inappropriate use of its computer networks. With these problems in mind, the law firm can use its practice area page to pitch its approach to minimizing associated legal risks.
Of course it would. Everybody knows that. And yet …
I think the reason we don’t see better practice area pages is because, being human, we’re more comfortable fitting in than standing out. As with all creative endeavors, mistakes can, and will, be made. Also, writing original copy that speaks to the client’s problems is hard work.
Six Stabs at Something Better
To prove my point, I’m going to risk falling on my face right here, with six approaches to writing a law firm practice page that aim to deliver something better than what’s out there right now:
- Interview with the practice group chair. The interview will show, not tell, that the firm’s practice group knows the relevant industries and their legal problems. By putting a human face on the material, the page creates a connection between the firm and prospective clients.
- Problem solved. Basically a case study, with an emphasis on how the firm addressed, and solved, a particular legal problem. If the firm can demonstrates success solving one problem, the prospective client will assume the firm has equal ability to address other related problems.
- Money. How does this practice area efficiently deliver legal services to the client? How does the firm leverage technology to advance the client’s interests and minimize litigation spend/exposure?
- Risk. Modern general counsel are under enormous pressure to deliver tangible results for expenditures on legal services. They often adopt their board’s lens on business operations: risk, revenue, return on investment. A practice area page that emphasizes cost-savings via preventive lawyering or identifying or minimizing legal risks would align with a general counsel’s interests. Something like, “We use our deep industry experience to structure win-win contracts that minimize risk and keep all parties rowing in the same direction. For example, ….”
- Crystal ball. What will the future bring for the industries served by this practice area? When it comes to information, content about what might happen in the future is much more valuable than content about recent developments. Law firms can built trust and demonstrate expertise by anticipating client problems and proposing plausible solutions or risk mitigation strategies.
- Hot topic(s). A discussion of a front-of-mind policy or compliance issue is a good way to demonstrate expertise regarding an entire practice area. For example, a treatment of drone registration requirements could make a compelling introduction to a firm’s regulatory practice. Consider an image carousel approach to delivering content on several hot topics related to the practice area.
For all of these practice area page approaches, the (once again seemingly obvious) advice that “it is better to show not tell” is relevant. Copy that reads “Our M&A practice group closed 24 transactions valued at over $50 billion in 2015” is much more compelling than “Our experienced M&A attorneys have a strong reputation for expertly handling a wide range of corporate acquisitions.”
But Tom, won’t this content get stale over time? Yes it will. You’ll need to write new content so your practice area pages stay fresh.
The downside to this approach to writing practice area pages is that it requires close supervision from the firm’s partners. It’s not possible to delegate the writing of these pages to a copywriter working alone.