This is the sixth post in a series about Logical Fallacies in Online Law Firm Marketing. For links to the other posts in this series, refer to the series introduction, “Logical Fallacies in Online Marketing.”
When it comes to content marketing for law firms, there are those who believe that if an attorney uses a ghostwriter for the creation of their law firm website content, it’s unethical.
Arguments against ghostwriters include (but are not limited to):
- All lawyers are natural writers, so, therefore, they should write their content.
- All lawyers are natural writers so, therefore, they should enjoy creating that content.
- Content written by a ghostwriter isn’t trustworthy or authoritative because it is not written by the attorney.
In this blog post, we’ll talk about why these arguments don’t hold up, and how to delegate content creation the right way.
Argument: “All lawyers are natural writers; therefore, they should write their law firm website content.”
While words are the lawyer’s tools, it’s safe to say that some attorneys are naturally great writers, others have developed the skill of writing over time, and some probably fall somewhere in between.
However, even when an attorney is a natural writer, it doesn’t mean that they should necessarily write their own content. That’s not to say that an attorney can’t write their own content. In fact, in an ideal world, attorneys are often in the best position to write their own website content.
(Who else knows an attorney’s clients and potential clients better than the attorneys themselves?)
But the issue that comes up for many attorneys is related to time. No matter how good your writing skills are, you still only have access to 24 hours in a day. And, with a busy schedule and clients to tend to, it can be hard to fit in the time to write your own content.
There’s an opportunity cost at play: if you have to spend the time writing content, you have to give up something else to do it, be it practicing the law, spending time with your family, or anything else.
And for attorneys who are busy running their practices and trying to have some kind of work-life balance, adding one more element to the mix can make things even more complicated.
For attorneys who are just starting out, it may, in fact, make sense to write your own content. While you may not have access to the kind of budget necessary to pay a ghostwriter to write for you, there’s a good chance you have access to time. When that’s the case, writing your own website content can be a great way to start improving your online visibility, gaining the trust of potential clients, and building your business.
But for attorneys with better established practices and less time available to write, trying to squeeze in content creation can, in some cases, be overwhelming. When that’s the case, it can make sense to hire a ghostwriter.
Argument: “All lawyers are natural writers; therefore, they should enjoy creating their law firm website content.”
This argument has similar elements to the argument above.
Again, not all lawyers are natural writers. But no matter how skilled a writer the attorney is, there are simply some attorneys who enjoy practicing the law much more so than they enjoy writing law firm website content.
(There are also many attorneys who truly do enjoy writing their law firm website content, and again, we encourage those attorneys to continue writing if they enjoy doing so.)
However, in cases where an attorney doesn’t like writing their website content, doesn’t have the time to do so, or any combination of the two, it can make sense to hire a competent ghostwriter to handle those duties.
Argument: “Content written by a ghostwriter isn’t trustworthy or authoritative because it is not written by the attorney.”
Consider the following, pulled from a 2012 New York Times piece by William Domnarski:
With so much news and controversy about what federal appellate judges say in their opinions, it would be natural for a layperson to assume that such opinions actually come from judges’ own pens (or keyboards). But ever since the beginning of the law-clerk age, which dates back at least 70 years, most judges have been content to cast their vote in a case and then merely outline the shape of their argument — while leaving it to their clerks to do the hard work of shaping the language, researching the relevant precedents and so on. Almost all federal appellate judges today follow this procedure.
Almost all federal appellate judges have their opinions written by ghostwriters.
(A notable exception was former Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner — but not all judges are like him.)
While the author of that piece isn’t happy with the fact that these judges use ghostwriters, he also notes that this is a well-established, decades-old practice.
Similarly, it’s not unusual to see junior associates at a firm do the groundwork to research and draft briefs for a senior-level attorney, who then edits and signs off on the pieces. But most people don’t bat an eye about these practices. It’s understood that legal research and document drafting can take up a lot of time.
So, why do such practices exist? Why should the creation of these documents be delegated to someone else? The answer is likely not that these attorneys and judges are lazy or unable to do it themselves.
These are practices that are often better suited for ghostwriters because of the time-related aspect and opportunity costs described above. Senior-level attorneys (and judges) have other important tasks to deal with that require their senior-level talents and experience to be channeled in different ways.
However, just because a ghostwriter writes for attorneys or judges doesn’t mean that the content they create is untrustworthy or lacks authority.
Judges usually review the opinions drafted by clerks; senior attorneys usually examine the drafts of their junior associates. When these individuals sign off on the work done by others, they are taking responsibility for what has been written. They are putting their stamp of approval on the trustworthiness and authoritativeness of the information contained within the document.
When it comes to choosing ghostwriters, the important elements are choosing someone who is capable of doing the task well, and ensuring the proper oversight and editorial control.
If you’re comfortable delegating the creation of a brief, signing your name onto it, and submitting it to the court, then the analogy is the same when you hire a ghostwriter to compose content for your website.
How do I choose a good ghostwriter for my law firm website content?
Between the time and effort involved in content creation, there’s nothing wrong with delegating some or all of your law firm website content tasks to a ghostwriter.
We’ve seen attorneys delegate all of their content creation to a ghostwriter, just as we’ve seen attorneys who love writing their own content. We’ve also seen attorneys who enjoy writing but, lacking time, will outsource some of their writing to get an extra boost.
The trick to getting the most out of a ghostwriter (and avoiding any potential ethical or practical problems) is to choose someone who, among other things:
- Has a strong understanding of the business of law, and what you do as an attorney.
- Has a strong understanding of legal ethics, and can properly translate legalese.
- Understands and abides by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
- Allows you to have a high degree of editorial control. (On a related note, you should absolutely have access to your website in the event something needs to be updated or changed.)
- Can clearly explain their project management system to you.
To learn more about how to choose the right proxy writer for your law firm, listen to our podcast episode, “Hiring a Ghostwriter for your Law Firm Website and Blog.”