Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned professional, writing is an activity that can be extremely beneficial for a lawyer’s career. It is also a skill that requires nurturing and refinement through practice. Many lawyers cut their teeth on the art of the word in law school – primarily through participation on law review, law journals and legal writing classes. These activities often serve as the foundation for a lawyer’s writing skills and can be the catalyst for his/her portfolio of published work. For those who have not been afforded…or seized the opportunity to gain such exposure, a successful writing future can still be in the cards post J.D.
So as an attorney who wants to write more actively in 2017, how can you build your writing portfolio? In order to maximize the success and enjoyment of the endeavor, I recommend taking a few preliminary steps before you put pen to paper:
Identify Your Audience.
As a first step, it’s important to be clear on your chosen audience. Meaning: for whom are you writing? Other lawyers? Law Students? Business executives? Academics? Yourself? Friends? Family? The General Public? Identifying your target audience will enable you to tailor your writing topic and tone; and determine the most relevant outlets for your prose.
Know Your Objective.
It’s also important to know your objective with your writing. Perhaps you want to bring in new clients, increase marketability for job opportunities, build your brand, or showcase your expertise. You may want to build a following, see your name in lights or simply want the freedom to express yourself. Whatever the reason, you should know (1) why you want to write; and (2) what you hope to achieve from your writing.
Determine The Type of Writing That Appeals to You.
Writing comes in all shapes and sizes. Some pursuits are academic…others are more social/conversational. Time commitments and the pressures to produce content are also different. So think about your preference: Do you want to follow the academic path? Something short and sweet like Twitter? Are you an aspiring legal journalist? Perhaps you’re a blogger at heart. Maybe it’s a combo? Think about what style and format appeals to you before you jump in.
Choose Topics of Interest.
Choose topics that interest you. You’ll put more time and effort into the quality of your work product if you do. In addition, stay current on the legal profession and its goings on as well as your area of practice. Being connected will provide your writing with an informed perspective, which will add more value to others.
Now that you know your audience, have an objective, understand the kind of writing that appeals to you…and know what you want to write about, it’s time to start building your writing portfolio. So what are your options? Below are a few:
- Substantive Law Articles. If you haven’t written much historically and/or are a junior lawyer, chances are you have not logged in enough hours to fly solo on a meaty substantive legal article. But…you can hitch your wagon to someone who has: a practice leader, senior partner or professor. Offer to do the research, editing and/or some contribution to the article and you may get some credit of authorship. Even if you don’t, it’s great education and training for your future articles.
- ABA Section Journals and Newsletters – In the U.S., the American Bar Association (ABA) and its local chapters have practice sections that offer journals and newsletters to its subscribers. Join the section(s) of your choice and connect with the lawyers who manage the section’s publications. Volunteer to write articles, edit articles or participate in any way that can help in order to get your start. Interested in writing about sports and entertainment? The Entertainment and Sports Lawyer is at your service!
- Personal blog – Establishing a personal blog will provide you with an open platform for your self-expression. If you want full control over your writing and the opportunity to develop a more casual and conversational portfolio, a blog is something to consider. But also consider this, if your goal is to build your profile and reach a lot of people, your content has got to be frequent…and it’s got to be good. And that ain’t easy – especially for a busy, hard working lawyer.
- Blog Contributor – Writing blog articles about the law for someone else’s blog is a kinder, gentler writing path to take. It allows you to choose the frequency of your writing and leverage someone else’s time, effort (and sometimes money) in marketing the blog and its content.
- Legal Publications – Online and major legal and industry specific publications employ their own writers, but the editors welcome contributing articles. If you are aiming for a more traditional platform, connect with the powers that be at these publications and shop your work. If it’s good, there’s a strong possibility they will publish it.
Leverage Social Media.
If you want to build a writing portfolio, chances are at least one of your objectives (see above) is to disseminate your writings and reach as many people as you can. The use and popularity of social media makes it easier than ever to spread the word: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Google Plus etc. are all good avenues to reach a larger audience. So use them to promote your work, build your portfolio…and your brand.
Keep Your “Me” Documents Current.
You never know where your next client, professional contact, job opportunity, speaking engagement, etc. is going to come from, so it’s important to always look your best. So keep your writing accomplishments/publications current on any and all social media profiles (including LinkedIn bio) as well as your resume.
Writing opportunities for legal professionals are abundant – and it’s never too late to start. For some, this endeavor begins in law school. But even if you’re off to a later start with building your portfolio, today’s avenues facilitate a wider reach and heightened profile for those spreading their word. So now that you have a roadmap, determine your course, start your engines and get ready to write!