Here’s the biggest mistake I see lawyers make when they’re writing client alerts, blog posts and other client communications — they’re trying to impress.

They want to dazzle clients with their knowledge. Put more bluntly, they’re trying to show off.

They’ll delve into the history of The Railroad Tariff Act of 1864, as amended, tracing the law’s development and making sure to specify legislative acts, Federal Register sections, and case citations.

And you know what? Most clients don’t care.

Here’s what they want to know: Does this matter to me? If so, what should I do about it?

And they want to know this in the first 20 seconds, not at the end of a 2,500-word mini treatise.

Put yourself in your clients’ shoes. They don’t want a scholarly treatise. They’re busy, they’re bombarded with marketing stuff from other firms, and you have 20 seconds to grab their attention.

So get to the point right away.  At the start tell them who should care about this development and why.

And give them news they can use. They’ll appreciate useful information and tips. For example: “If your company has received a complaint about sexual harassment by an executive, here’s the first step you should take. ….”

I know that most legal topics are difficult and nuanced, but let readers contact you for more information if they want it.

In sum, here’s my advice for writing client alerts and blog posts that will stand out:

  1. Write no more than 500 words. No more! Shorter is even better.
  2. Get to the point right away.
  3. Figure out why a client should care about this subject and put this reason in the first three sentences.
  4. Include one useful piece of information.
  5. Assume your reader is an intelligent person, but not necessarily a lawyer or expert in this field.
  6. Use plain English as much as possible and avoid citations.  And for goodness sakes, stay away from footnotes. Use links if you want to direct the reader to source material.
  7. Don’t quote too much from a statute, ruling or other legal document. Paraphrase with your own words.

Once you master this approach, you’ll be writing better, more accessible client alerts and other communications that take less of your time.