I recently had a conversation with a lawyer who was struggling to finish a client alert. It had been sitting on his desk for about a week for his final review.
This lawyer is not known to be a procrastinator, so I asked him what was going on, and he candidly told me that he just couldn’t stop finetuning it. He said he kept moving around paragraphs, editing sentences and adding and deleting sections.
I (gently) told him that time was of the essence here since the alert was about a recent development in his area of the law and his clients expected him to write about it and they wanted to know his thoughts on the issue.
I also told him that three of our peer firms had published alerts on a similar topic in the past week and it was suddenly like a light went off in his head (nothing like a little competition to motivate someone!). A few hours later, he sent me his final version of the article, and we were able to finally distribute it, albeit several days late.
While it was better late than never, this situation wasn’t ideal for the article to get maximum exposure and the strongest effect, and I know I’m not alone in having this experience, which is why I decided to write this piece, which is geared toward lawyers but can be adapted for anyone in any industry.
When Perfectionism Becomes Content Paralysis
Many lawyers are perfectionists, which can really derail their efforts when it comes to content creation and stand in their way of elevating their brand and their lead generation efforts.
They’ll endlessly tinker with a piece of thought leadership (making rounds and rounds of additional changes and being unable to say it’s actually final) and wind up missing the boat on the right distribution time for it to reach their clients and prospects, resulting in the article losing its maximum impact. I call this content paralysis.
Because most client alerts are about developments in the law, every single minute counts when it comes to distribution, especially when your competitors are writing about similar topics. Don’t let others beat you to it!
Busy in-house counsel have limited attention spans, especially for client alerts from law firms (just think about the sheer volume of content they receive each week), and while you want yours to be well written, thoughtful and succinct, you most importantly want to be timely. Also, some in-house counsel only open alerts from the law firms they use – so they are actually waiting for their outside counsel to update them on what they need to know to do their jobs better. Time is of the essence.
You Just Have to DO it
Personally, I sit on articles when I am struggling with what to say. A combination of procrastination and perfectionism – and then throw in being too busy – can be a trifecta recipe for many of us to never get any writing done to further our personal branding and lead generation efforts.
Let’s change that!
One of the lawyers at my firm told me of a trick that she uses that has greatly helped me to turn my stuck articles into published works. She blocks out chunks of time in her Outlook calendar to write as if it was an actual meeting. Committing this time to actually do the writing really works. You know yourself better than anyone else in terms of how long it will take you to write something, and it doesn’t have to be the next War and Peace – so think short and digestible. Be realistic, but give yourself enough time (perhaps early in the day and in the late afternoon or evening – so that you have quiet space to think without the craziness of your hectic day-to-day getting in the way) to write and block out interruptions such as the pesky email alert in Outlook.
Client-Centric Writing Best Practices
Always keep in mind that writing for your clients is very different than writing a legal brief or even writing for a law journal. When writing legal insights and perspectives for your clients and prospects, you should always communicate in non-legalese terms that resonate with your target audience.
Too often firms create content that satisfies their internal audience rather than thinking about what readers would want.
Remember, in many cases your clients are not lawyers, you must always think about your reader when creating content. Also, don’t write for lawyers at other firms. Too often firms create content that satisfies their internal audience rather than thinking about what their readers want. If you put yourself in the shoes of your reader, you will be a much more effective (and client-centric) writer.
Always be brief and efficient when writing an alert – quickly get to the point in the first paragraph and make the headline clear, concise and compelling. Also, remember that it’s okay if your articles aren’t masterpieces! You’re not trying to win a Pulitzer Prize here. Just keep on publishing them because practice really will make you a better writer. You can also consider taking on a co-author to both share the burden of writing and if you choose your writing partner wisely, you’ll have someone from whom you can learn. And besides…
With Most Lawyers, ‘Good’ Is More Than Good Enough
The most important piece of advice I have for lawyers whose acute attention to detail and impeccably high standards leads to content paralysis is to do your best to not sit on an article and over edit it. Create and distribute content while the topic is hot. Please try to embrace the idea of good enough.
…don’t let your competitors win client attention that you deserve.
Here’s the thing: your good enough is going to be pretty darn excellent already, compared to the rest of the world. You simply can’t give 100% to everything 100% of the time anyway – don’t fall into the content paralysis trap. While you don’t ever want to sacrifice quality, your delay as you chase perfect means that, ulimately, you’re letting your competitors win client attention that you deserve.
I’d like to leave you with one final thought that I hope stirs up your competitive side. Many in-house counsel really do make the decision to hire outside counsel directly based on a piece of content written by a lawyer (they say as much, time and again, in GC panel discussions). So please do get those alerts off your desk and in the hands of potential clients – they’re doing no one any good sitting in front of you.
A version of this article originally appeared on JD Supra.