Hello, I’m the content manager for Avvo. I started working here about three years ago (Saint Patty’s Day is such a great day to start; add that in with the March Madness craze and the two together really make for a hell of a first impression of the company culture), and it’s been an interesting experience seeing the wide variety in the different kinds of content that attorneys create on the site.
We have a little thing called the Avvo Brandcloud, and although I originally intended the voice and tone guidelines to be for our internal writers, it struck me that they might be useful to show to everyone, especially to attorneys like you that are trying to provide helpful articles designed to tell consumers what actions they should take next.
Given the varying level of quality we see in the legal guides coming in, it struck me that it might help if we share some tips with you so that you too can write awesome guides on Avvo (and we would super duper love having more great guides come in—you look smart, and we look smart for having your content on the site; it’s win-win!).
The articles we consider to be a cut above the rest basically follow the same principles as our voice and tone guidelines. The main gist from our guidelines is that we LOVE it when attorneys write like this:
You provide the information and guidance so consumers know what to do next. Guidance is very important, because most consumers have a legal problem that they want fixed—so tell them how to fix it. It’s especially important that you let them know when they really do need an attorney to get the solution done right; we know that DIY doesn’t really work for many legal issues.
Use plain English. Anyone should be able to read your legal guide and understand it. This means that you shouldn’t be using legalese, or citing statutes all over the place. I know from personal experience that law professors take great pains to beat plain/simple writing into the heads of their students, and yet so many lawyers forget that rule once they get out into the real world. The bottom line: you’re not going to help anyone if no one can even understand what you’re trying to say.
We love, love, love it when attorneys use our how-to guide template. Why? Because it really helps a reader when they see the information broken down into steps. See an example right here. If you choose to use our free-form template, then follow the same principle: use headers, bolding, and bullets or lists to break the text into more digestible chunks.
We know that although an attorney’s heart may be in the right place, they may not understand our standards for stupendously-uber-excellence. That’s ok, because that’s what this post is for. Hopefully, you can help spread the word so that we can get more attorneys getting staff picks.
Right now, awarding staff picks is getting harder because what many attorneys are doing is churning out legal guides like they’re some kind of factory. However much they may be operating as if under the “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” theory, this is the age of the Internet, social media, and all that good stuff. My point is, there’s always someone around to hear it—publishing a legal guide on Avvo isn’t going to disappear somewhere in cyberspace; there’s a very real chance that your guide will show up on Google search results, and that people will actually click on the link.
Normally, getting visitors to your content would be a great opportunity to say “Yay! People are reading my stuff.” However, if you haven’t taken the time to actually put together meaningful, useful, or valuable content, the visitor will see that lack of value in the first five seconds, and then leave (most likely rolling their eyes or sighing at having clicked yet another useless link).
What this means for you is that your activity on Avvo is a part of your reputation, and you shouldn’t forget that. People who see your poorly written or low value content are not going to hire you as their lawyer. Additionally, with the coming changes to Google’s search, high bounce rates (when visitors get to your site and then leave without doing anything else) will factor into your credibility as an author. The more crap you churn out, the more Google will see you as someone they shouldn’t even show in their search results.
The good news is that we’re willing to share our secrets with you so you don’t make the same mistakes. We’ve painstakingly made this list after gazing at hundreds of thousands of legal guides submitted to us, so please enjoy.
Legal Guide Don’ts – READ ME!!
- Don’t use Google Translate to post one legal guide into 20 different foreign languages. We’re just going to take it down (unless it’s in Spanish), and chances are that you’re going to look incompetent to people who actually speak that language because online translate tools stink. We’re also pretty sure that Google is smart enough to recognize the same content coming at them in different languages, which means that you look like you’re just posting the same guide 20 times period (this might make you look a little odd).
- For the love of God, don’t copy/paste statutes as entire legal guides, because it isn’t going to help anyone out there. Your job as a lawyer is to tell normal people what those statutes mean; showing them nothing but the statute itself will most likely open the doors to confusion and misinterpretation of the law. What’s even worse is that a person may take the wrong course of action because they don’t know what they’re doing.
- Don’t tell people just that they might have a problem. They already know they’re in some sort of trouble. Tell them what to do. Whether it’s turning in a certain form or hiring a lawyer, a consumer will always appreciate advice that tells them what to do next. They know they have a problem; what they need is to have that problem solved. Be the one to tell them what exactly (be specific!) it is that they should do next—the consumer will be grateful.
- Don’t publish a guide with crazy formatting. Come on…you’re a person that not only made it through college, but you also managed to jump through the extra hoops (LSAT, law school apps, moot court, the bar exam, etc.) to become a lawyer. Are you seriously going to then publish something online that looks like it was managed by a first grader? Go the extra mile and actually LOOK at the guide preview and fix errors in spacing and formatting. If you can’t figure out our legal guide interface, then just contact our customer care and we’ll be happy to do it for you.