Think of Your Reader

A lot of writing by lawyers is clearly intended only for other lawyers. Cases in point from a recent edition of Lexology:

Opinions: the Sixth Circuit’s most active authors
Squire Patton Boggs
This post examines which Sixth Circuit judges write the most opinions. My analysis examined opinions available on Lexis over a five-year span. On…

Delaware – Federal district court limits fee request
Morris James LLP
This is an interesting decision for the way it treats a fee request in connection with the settlement of Delaware litigation. Counsel in a case filed…

This sort of thing is fine if your target market is a lawyer at a big firm – except that probably isn’t your target market. And maybe not even if it is – those two examples aren’t exactly gripping.

Your readers may well be in-house counsel, so things of purely lawyerly interest may work for them.

But wouldn’t it be better if your in-house counsel reader could distribute your blog post (or whatever it is) to all the business people he or she supports, with no requirement for translation into plain English?

In order to expand your reach, it’s better to pitch things to a more general, non-lawyer audience. Some tips:

  • plain language wherever possible
  • avoid legalese – or use it once, explain it and move on
  • no Latin!
  • be practical in focus – why is this legal development important to someone outside the rarefied world of lawyers? what action does your reader need to take (or avoid) as a result?
  • don’t go into too much detail – you want to give the highlights, without giving away all your wisdom and without miring your reader in the minutiæ (which can be a bit, well, boring)

Next tip: lay-out and design

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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