Even newly minted lawyers are starting to avoid legalese. This is true not only in documents they create but also in writing to and talking to each other and to clients.
The Benefit of Plain Talk
The trend of teaching law students to avoid legalese and use plain language reached the point not too many years ago that it is now labeled as a “trend” or the “plain language movement.” As one law professor put it, the “traditional style of legal writing is notorious for its unnecessarily complex words, legal jargon, and convoluted sentences that can obscure meaning and create ambiguity.” The movement started as early as the 1970s, and in 1983 the organization Clarity International was formed to promote the concept internationally.
The move to avoid legalese was in response to the fact that clients were confused and intimidated by language they couldn’t understand. So if clients and potential clients hate legalese why would you use it in a web page that is aimed at attracting new clients?
But before we go too much further let’s get a working definition of legalese: “The formal and technical language of legal documents that is often hard to understand;” or “language” used by “lawyers” and in “legal documents” that is “difficult” for ordinary people to understand.
Six Tips on Drafting Your Law Firm Website Text
So, if you are convinced that website language that draws the reader in rather than turning her off is the way to go, let’s apply the concept of plain language (and other rules that make a web page attractive) to your web page.
- You have 15 Seconds, Make Them Count. First, let’s start with the fact that around half of all viewers will spend 15 seconds, or even less before deciding if the website they landed on is going to be worthy of their time. So you’ve got to capture the reader’s attention quickly on your landing page!
- Know Your Audience. A general rule that applies regardless of industry is to know your audience. You can get away with a bit of legalese if your target is lawyer-to-lawyer or even high-level business people, but the “no legalese” rule should be strictly applied if you are attempting to attract clients with no legal or business experience, as would be the case with a personal injury or a medical malpractice firm.
- Be Direct. Your legalese-free prose should consist of short, clear sentences and short paragraphs of two to four sentences. The passive voice is to be avoided. Let us rephrase that: always use the active voice. It is more powerful and clearly identifies your firm as the actor whose successes are being highlighted.
- Keywords & Key Wins.Take a tip from journalists and follow the “inverted pyramid” rule. Simply put, this means putting your firm’s most attractive feature(s) on the landing page. (Recall the 15 second rule above). Here you can mix in a little SEO as well. Has your firm received an award for excellence from the Bar Association? Did you recently win an impressive jury award? Hook the reader in 15 seconds with plain language. By the way, if you didn’t know that SEO stands for “search engine optimization” -the use of language that helps to move your page toward the top of a Google search – and no one in your firm knows what is meant by the term, you might consider looking for some outside help.
- Qualities & Qualifications. Quickly show the reader how your firm is different from other firms. Here you may want to discuss legal specialties. Your challenge is to do so in a way that follows the cardinal rule of avoiding legalese.
- What’s Next? Finally, your landing page should include a call to action. You�ve made the reader comfortable with your legalese-free website, and now is the time to close the deal. Make sure to invite the reader to call to make an appointment to come by and engage your services.
Your website needs to reflect your unique brand. You do this through approachable, plain language content that speaks directly to your potential client. Even if you are using your website for strictly reputation confirmation, my advice is to show your expertise without the unnecessary legalese.
Need help? Email me at Meranda@DenverLegalMarketing.com