Ask the average person what we do as attorneys and they will conjure up an image from the TV show “Law & Order” of a well-dressed, fast-paced attorney arguing in court.
How many times have you told someone you’re an attorney and their response was “you must be good at arguing?” Of course, that’s not what we really do. Well, at least that’s not what I do.
Most of what we do is sit around a computer reading, researching and writing.
I write a lot, and I don’t mean motions, emails and tweets. I write for publication. It started years ago with a column for a newspaper, much like this. Now that I am an attorney, it is for legal publications, books, journal articles and commentary.
I recently was asked why I write. The obvious answer is that I enjoy it. In a few hundred words I can influence and help others. It is a powerful resource.
There also is a less altruistic reason. Writing helps me establish credibility. In terms of my law practice, it is a marketing tool.
For most attorneys, it is an underutilized marketing tool. For most, I suspect it is a feeling of lack of time. For others, you may not know where to start or what topic on which to write.
A few years ago, I was approached to author a chapter in a book for the American Bar Association. I knew so little about the topic, I had to literally Google the key term, impact investing, or what is now commonly called Environmental, Social and Governance.
Not only was it a new concept, I also was tasked with writing about its development in the United Kingdom. New topic, new standard of laws.
I spent months researching. It was the most difficult writing project I have ever conducted, for a book that 10 people would read. However, at the end of it, I had a wealth of new knowledge and added credibility.
From there, it was figuring out what to do with that information. I authored a few more short articles for legal journals, read by fewer people than the book.
Then it started to pop, and opportunities began to present themselves. I got involved in legal development on the topic in Europe. I began speaking at international law conferences. When this article is published, I will be speaking at the American Bar Association midyear meeting in New Orleans.
I am frequently called by major media outlets for my opinion on the topic. I have somehow become an international expert. All because I took the time to write.
I am sure I lost a lot of you when I said I spent months researching. We’re busy, so how can we make the time for that?
The truth is you are already doing the research. You have some client issue that you’ve spent hours trying to figure out and it dominated your thoughts for days. You found some new twist, or a new development that isn’t widely known. You got excited and told a colleague. Then at the end of it, you wrote one paragraph in a motion for an audience of one.
There is your topic and research, the question is what to do with it.
Break free of the idea that legal writing has to be a 40,000-word law school paper. My average journal article is 2,500 words. I have had some as short as 250. For articles like this, my target is 750. It all depends on where it is being published.
Choosing where to submit is about what you want to accomplish. If you want to build credibility and get a nice line on your law firm’s bio page, chase the journals at law schools. If you want to share information with practicing attorneys, submit to what you read.
One of the perks of being a member of the Jacksonville Bar Association is a subscription to the Jacksonville Daily Record. The JBA’s monthly Bar Bulletin always needs quality submissions from members.
That leads to a secret about being published: Many publications need people to write submissions. They sometimes scramble to fill space. From my experience, even the elite publications get only about 10 submissions per space. That means nine people are rejected, but you learn from the rejections and hone the skill.
Your topic doesn’t have to be about some complex nuance of law. I’m writing an article about writing, but you’re still reading it and now you know I know a lot about ESG.
Jon McGowan is founder of The McGowan Law Firm in Jacksonville Beach. He practices business law, local government law, international business law and environmental law.