In my recent posts, I’ve discussed the potential value in using marketing automation to handle your law firm’s emails. Marketing automation can help you get your message out there, but it’s important to make sure the content you write is the message you want to send.

In this post, we’ll discuss what makes a good law firm marketing email, and what should you be checking for before you use marketing automation to reach out to your clients. Let’s look at how you can avoid sending emails that confuse your clients or embarrass your law firm.

Law Firm Email Etiquette: Sending The Right Message

As a lawyer, you probably think about ethics in terms of attorney-client relationships, disclaimers and breach of privacy, among other topics. These are all important professional ethical considerations, but email marketing has its own set of ethics — or more appropriately, rules of etiquette — worth exploring.

Writing Focused Emails

It can be tempting to try and cover a number of different topics in a single email. However, you’ll run the risk of losing your audience’s attention. If they’re not sure what you’re focused on, how can they be focused, either?

What you want your readers to do should be obvious. Do you want them to read the content and take a survey you’ve created? Do you want them to click on a link that sends them to a new blog post you’ve written? A goal in writing good content is to stick to one main idea throughout — from subject line to signature — keeping that idea at the forefront as you craft your message. When you go back to proofread your paragraphs, ask yourself:

Do each of these sentences contribute to my main goal?

If not, revise them or eliminate them. Think carefully about where you place your call to action. Consider where you want to add links. Would links to your blog, website, and social media serve specific objectives? Would they distract your readers? If your email is about a new blog post, include a clearly displayed link that encourages readers to engage with the content.

Clients don’t all have the same focus — and accordingly, they shouldn’t all receive the same emails. It’s a good idea to tailor the content to the needs of each subgroup — one way in which email marketing and marketing automation can be incredibly useful. (The marketing automation software Drip, which I reviewed here, makes use of this tailored content concept. A number of other marketing automation programs do, too.) Tailoring your content for each group shows clients that you’re listening to their needs and understand what they’re interested in.

For example, if your firm handles multiple practice areas, a business law client may not appreciate receiving content about divorces, but may greatly benefit from regular updates about FTC rulings.

Tone and Context

Have you ever been sent what seems like an angry text message or email by a friend, only to find out they were distracted or in a hurry when they sent it? Think back to reading that message. Was it too brief? Poorly worded? Did it sound passive aggressive? WAS IT IN ALL CAPS? There are many factors that contribute to the difference in how we perceive written and spoken word.

Writing isn’t just about putting words together. It’s about the tone those words convey. The fewer words you use, the more careful you need to be, because there’s less context for your reader. There’s a balance between waxing poetic and being downright abrupt. There’s a difference in the emails you send to a friend and the highly formal documents you write as an attorney.

Strike a balance. Set your tone as informative and confident, but approachable and not jargon-laden. Have an employee at your firm (perhaps one who isn’t a lawyer) read your content before you send it. They’re likely to find problem areas.

Syntax and Grammar

I recently had a discussion with a linguist. He brought up the following saying to me:

“Language is the last bastion of acceptable prejudice.”

Does this sound crazy? Perhaps you wonder altogether what it means. Let me give you an example. If you spend time on a website’s comment threads, you’ll see something exactly like this pop up:

In the thread, someone makes an argument or comment.

The next person in the thread tells them they’d better learn how to use the right “your/you’re” before they decide to post their thoughts.

The implicit meaning of that jab is this: Your inability to spell words correctly means you must be stupid (and, therefore, your comment has no validity).

If you feel a weird sense of gratification in reading a person’s punishing comment, you’re not alone. Some linguists will tell you that the more subjective and intricate a topic is, the more snobbish people get about their mastery of it.

Language is one of those topics.

As this linguist went on to explain, humans use language to sort and classify others. On the internet, a place ruled by the written word, this is one of the only things we have to go by when we make a judgment. Well-written content, or at least, content that follows conventional standards about what is “right” in language, can be an indicator of education and social self-identification.

Whether these judgments makes sense to linguists or not, they matter to the general public. That means they’ll matter when it comes to crafting emails at your law firm. People make judgments about us based on our writing. If that’s one of the first impressions you’re giving a client, then it can speak to (or destroy) your credibility and reputation.

Read your content before you send it. Have someone else read it, or read it aloud to yourself to spot errors. There are a number of grammar and syntax checkers available on the internet, too. But, keep in mind that the human eye is still superior to a machine.

How To Treat Your Emails With Respect

If you don’t remember the story about the Skadden Arps summer intern email disaster, let me refresh your memory.

On a fateful afternoon in the summer of 2003, a Skadden Arps intern decided to reply to an email from a friend about what he’d been up to all day at the well-known, New York-based firm. The result was a short but profanity-laced message that revealed what appeared to be the intern’s blasé attitude toward his internship. He typed a few quick sentences and hit send.

Unfortunately, he didn’t send that e-mail to his friend: he sent it to every single underwriter at the firm.

He quickly issued an apology. It was a much more professional message this time, but the damage was already done. The email spread throughout the office and to other firms, too. (“This is a good lesson in what not to do.”)

Despite the accomplishments he’d racked up before that moment (Duke undergrad, Harvard Law), he damaged his reputation and the reputation of his firm in just a few keystrokes and clicks.

That was more than ten years ago. Yet, if you Google his name, this incident is one of the first things you’ll see.

Behold, the power of a single email.

(This particular intern got lucky. He managed to stay with Skadden Arps for a few years before successfully moving on. It should be noted that he’s not the only person to make such a faux pas, either before or since.)

Emails are a double-edged sword. They can help give your firm’s marketing a huge boost, and they can also damage your reputation and negate your marketing efforts.

You can avoid embarrassing mishaps by treating each email as if the whole world is going to see it. If you’re using a marketing automation software to send your emails out, you may well be sending them to hundreds or thousands of people.

That might not be the whole world, but it’s an awful lot of eyes on your words. That means checking — and double-checking — your work to make sure you’re not sending your clients any message, but the right one.

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