I don’t know attorney William Friedman of Alexandria, Virginia. I have no idea whether he is a nice guy, effective advocate, or pleasant colleague. But as a lawyer, a writer, and a baseball fan, I have the utmost respect for him. Because he dared to be creative, a little light-hearted, and entertaining in a recent court filing.
Friedman is no doubt still celebrating after his beloved Washington Nationals won the World Series over the Houston Astros. But he faced a dilemma earlier in the Nats’ playoff run that all lawyers experience from time to time: deadlines, court dates, or meetings that no longer work due to unforeseen circumstances or other pressing matters (or, as was the case when I was a litigator, the fact that the clock doesn’t begin ticking on a 30-day filing deadline until day 29).
Friedman needed an extension in a pending federal case, so he petitioned the judge, outlining the reason for his request:
“Due in part to the unflagging support of a certain nine-year-old boy closely associated with undersigned counsel, the wheels of justice have turned and the [Nationals have] rightfully advanced deep in the baseball playoffs. The nine-year-old and counsel wish to continue to stay up late watching baseball and to attend tomorrow’s game, if it is necessary. Counsel’s attendance at each is required for supervision.”
The Place Where Fun Goes to Die
Even accounting for the fact that this was a minor (and unopposed) request, Friedman gets points from me for being heartfelt, amusing, and compelling in his motion. The opportunity for lawyers to actually express themselves in writing in a human way is not one that always presents itself, nor is it necessarily appropriate in every context.
But that doesn’t mean that lawyers should avoid showing any spark in their writing, especially when they create client-facing content and blog posts. Unfortunately, because of the way we were taught to write as lawyers, the content we produce is too often like the oft-repeated slam of the University of Chicago: “the place where fun goes to die.”
Yes, you need to provide the answers, information, or news your clients and prospects are looking for. They didn’t arrive at or seek out your website or blog post for its entertainment value; your readers are there because they have legal needs or concerns for which they need an attorney’s help.
But when the subject allows for it and when doing so would align with your goals for a piece of content, adding a spoonful of sugar to the legal medicine you deliver can help you better engage readers, making them more inclined to keep reading what you have to say.
Relatable, Not Hysterical
Personality in your blog writing does not mean that you have to have folks LOLing or that you need to start channeling Hunter S. Thompson. You don’t need to be “edgy” or risk offending people. It is simply a matter of relatability, readability, and enjoyability.
The subjects of legal blog posts can easily translate into dry, matter-of-fact recitations of laws, rules, or case decisions. Yawn. But with just a little bit of personality, you can make things much more interesting.
Consider this paragraph discussing how divorce impacts small business owners and their ownership interests:
If, during a marriage, one spouse starts their own closely-held business, such as a partnership, LLC, professional practice, or corporation, the shares of which are not publicly traded, the business generally, and the ownership interests, in particular, are marital assets subject to division.
Soon to be a major motion picture, no doubt. Compare that to the following:
As a small business owner, it can be hard sometimes to not take things personally. With so much cash, sweat, and tears invested in your company, its successes or struggles will impact you in ways far beyond what is reflected on a balance sheet. Conversely, your personal life can have a huge effect on your business, especially if you are going through a divorce. That’s because your ownership interest in your business may be deemed an asset subject to division with your spouse.
Same information but put in context and delivered by a lawyer who understands what business owners and people going through divorce feel. A lawyer who “gets it.” A lawyer who is not an algorithm.
A lawyer from whom a reader wants to hear more.