How to Use Tone & Style to Brand Your Law Firm & Engage Potential Clients

by May 22, 2019

Many solo attorneys and small law firms fail to brand themselves. However, in today’s saturated legal market, branding is important. Unfortunately, many law firms, branding starts and stops with their logo. That’s a mistake.

Another mistake is when small law firms try to market to everyone — they often follow the logic that, the wider the net, the more opportunities there will be for new clients.

Unfortunately, branding generally doesn’t work that way. Branding defines who you are and your approach to law. Establishing the latter is often what attracts the right clients.

So, how do you brand your law firm beyond the logo?

The best step to take is to brand your firm through the content on your law firm’s website. The quality of that content is important — and so is the tone of voice and style of your content. These two techniques can deliver your brand effectively and immediately, more so than what a logo could ever do. In fact, the logo will act as a reminder of what your brand is, not an indicator of it.

Here, we discuss how you identify and apply your tone of voice and then how you transmit it via your style of writing the content — all in an effort to build your brand.

Tone Provides Voice to Your Law Firm’s Brand

Tone creates the atmosphere of a story, and your story is your practice of the law. It sets the stage for what’s happening and what to expect. Tone provides voice to your logo and your law firm’s name. It’s a nice logo you have, but what does it mean when someone sees it? What does the logo stand for? What does the name of the law firm stand for? When someone says your name, what does that evoke? What would someone say about you?

Tone helps you shape the answers to these questions so that you are in control of your own image and brand. Identifying the tone of voice you want to reflect your practice of the law, you must consider two things:

  1. Your law practice approach; and
  2. Your potential client’s persona.

Your Law Firm’s Approach to the Law

Think about your purpose. Are you practicing personal injury because you really do care — maybe you had your own experience that influenced you? Are you a criminal defense attorney because you believe the system is corrupt, or because you believe alleged suspects should have their constitutional right fulfilled, or because it’s just something to do? Where along the spectrum do you fall?

Speaking of spectrum, Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) conducted a study in 2016 on website content and tone of voice. It identified the importance of tone and its impact on the internet user’s likeliness to stay and convert or exit the website and search for another one. The study concluded with the finding of four core dimensions of tone:

  1. Funny v. serious
  2. Formal v. casual
  3. Respectful v. irreverent
  4. Enthusiastic v matter-of-fact.

Though a law firm website may never be funny, it will likely be some degree of serious. Law firm content can definitely be formal or casual or somewhere in between, depending on your personality and what you anticipate your preferred client wanting.

Most law firm content will always be respectful, but there are instances where it may be less so. Law firm content can be enthusiastic, which exudes a bit of passion about the law, just as much as it can be matter-of-fact, which indicates you are a no-frills type of law firm.

Below are examples of how this could work.

Examples of Law Firm Website Tone & Voice

Example Estate Planning Law Firm Content

  • We assist our clients in a full range of estate planning and probate law matters.

This line renders the law firm as serious, formal, respectful, and matter-of-fact.

  • You will die one day. We can help you with a full range of estate planning and probate law matters to ensure your heirs are protected.

This phrase renders the law firm serious, too, but a little less formal, respectful, and somewhere in between enthusiastic and matter-of-fact.

Example Criminal Defense Law Firm Content

  • Allegations of criminal activity are serious. We represent defendants accused of crimes in the greater metropolitan area.

This phrase renders the law firm as somewhat serious, formal, and matter-of-fact.

  • Prosecutors want to convict. Judges do not take crimes lightly. You need a defense, and you need it today.

This phrase remains serious, a little more casual, neither respectful nor irreverent, and more enthusiasm to defend rather than matter-of-fact.

  • If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense, you can expect the book to be thrown at you. A conviction could mean jail, fines, and a whole lot more: like your future. Get a defense lawyer today.

This phrase is not funny at all. It’s casual, in between respectful and irreverent, and highly enthusiastic — wanting you to contact them today.

These practice area examples show how tone can establish a certain atmosphere that gives voice to your brand. Thinking about how you want to represent yourself to your clients is important, but now you must think about who your preferred clients are and what they are looking for, and then make sure the two synchronize.

Developing a law firm client persona

Develop a client persona for each practice area you or your law firm provides legal counsel for. Think of your preferred client’s demographics. Then, think of their common behaviors and motivations. What are they searching for? What are they needing? Guidance? Hope? What don’t they want? To feel pressured? To feel judged?

Below are examples of what this could look like:

Example Estate Planning Law Firm Content

  • Age: 25 – 45, younger — likely not to die anytime soon
  • Education: at least a college degree
  • Career: professional jobs, like administrative, health, research and development, technology; not department store workers or fast food restaurant workers
  • Interests: growing a family, recreation, social media
  • What are they looking for? information, financial advice, estate planning (all of it: wills, trusts, special trusts, etc.)
  • Where are they at in their lives? just married, new baby on the way, just divorced, planning for the future, thinking about planning for the future

How does the above persona fit in with your attitude toward the law?

  • We assist our clients in a full range of estate planning and probate law matters.

For those clients who want information but may not be ready to act on it, this serious, formal, respectful, matter-of-fact tone won’t scare them away. There’s no pressure. There are just the facts. But it’s also not an approach for a younger crowd who want a little more intimacy or one-on-one conversations.

  • You will die one day. We can help you with a full range of estate planning and probate law matters to ensure your heirs are protected.

The smarter, younger crowd isn’t thinking about death — that’s not their reason for a will — the reason for a will is simply preparedness. This do-or-die tone can annoy or scare them off.

  • Don’t die without a will or trust. Make sure you protect your family and avoid probate court. Get estate planning help today by experienced, resourceful attorneys.

This and more casual approach, though it mentions death, has a lighter approach and explains why you need to worry about it: family and probate court. It’s more engaging and sets the tone that this is serious but not a do-or-die situation — so there’s no pressure.

Example Criminal Defense Law Firm Content

  • Age: 16 – 25, first-time offenders
  • Education: high school, some college
  • Career: none, seasonal, goes from job to job
  • Interests: partying, making money, no real interests
  • What are they looking for? Information, reduced charged, how to get out of the conviction, can the conviction be expunged
  • Where are they at in their lives? Still in high school, just out of high school, college

How does your approach on tone appeal to the above client persona?

  • Allegations of criminal activity are serious. We represent defendants accused of crimes in the greater metropolitan area.

This matter-of-fact approach will not spark any kind of emotion in the person, which may be good or bad, but for first-time offenders, they are likely anxious and emotional — so this approach would not appeal to them. For someone who has already had run-ins with the police, though, this matter-of-fact approach may be just what is needed; they don’t need all the extras; they just want you to do your job, and this sounds like you will.

  • Prosecutors want to convict. Judges do not take crimes lightly. You need a defense, and you need it today.

For a first-time offender, this sounds authoritative — like you know what the other side is going to do — and it makes it sound a little scary. Is it scary enough to make them contact you, though?  

  • If you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense, you can expect the book to be thrown at you. A conviction could mean jail, fines, and a whole lot more: like your future. Get a defense lawyer today.”  

For a first-time offender, this more conversational style makes it feel like the attorney is addressing you one-on-one, as though you will take the case personally and commit to a good defense.

Examples of Tone on Law Firm Websites

You can also simply think about your approach in an “I am this and/but not that” kind of exercise.

  • I am an aggressive fighter and not a negotiator.
  • I am focused and serious but not arrogant.
  • I am sympathetic but not soft.
  • I am opinionated but not judgmental.

Below are potential examples of appropriate tones of voice for specific law practice areas.

Examples of Law Firm Website Content Tone
Law Practice Potential Tone
Family Law Warm, Sympathetic, Serious
Criminal Law Straightforward, Aggressive
DWI / DUI Nonjudgmental, Informative, Serious
Personal Injury Compassionate, Trustworthy, Persistent
Estate Planning Casual, Focused, Practical
Business Law Focused, Authoritative, Contemplative


Note: if you have more than one area of practice, the tone should change according to each specific practice area. The context is different. The clients are different. So, the tone should be different.

How do you employ tone on your website?

Tone is developed via the words and images you use in your content. You can outright state you are sympathetic. But you also want to build on the explicit statement via the tone of your content.

Images can complement the text, too. Images, however, should be chosen with your tone in mind. Keeping the tone consistent will be important to your brand.

Law Firm Content Style Engages the Potential Client  

Your law firm content style of writing is probably somewhere between one of four primary styles of writing:

  1. Expository;
  2. Descriptive;
  3. Persuasive; and
  4. Narrative.

Expository is a style of writing that explains or imparts information to a greater audience. This kind of writing is often what we see when an attorney copies and pastes pieces of statutes to a page and then adds a call-to-action. It’s plain language of the law meant for no one in particular. There is no intentional writing. There is no preferred client in mind. Again, it’s just the law provided just to the people. It doesn’t engage. It simply tells information.

Descriptive writing is a style of writing where a place, person, or thing is described in great detail. It is meant to inspire the senses. It is not meant to explain or convince anyone of anything. This kind of writing is typical of attorneys writing content pages and describing what the court is, who the judge is, what the law is. It is also typical of law blogs that simply relay news stories, describing what happened but not bothering to apply it in a meaningful way that may matter to the prospective client. Descriptive writing describes but does not engage.

Persuasive writing is a style of writing that lawyers know best. Persuasive writing is used in briefs and legal memos, but some lawyers also use it for content on their websites. They have opinions of the law or biases against the prosecutor or police. Persuasive writing is argumentative writing, and it can be effective in website content and law blogs. The lawyer persuades you that the issue is serious and that you should do something about your legal matter. Persuasive writing is meant to convince, however, it still does not engage.

Narrative writing is storytelling. It is the style of writing not meant first and foremost to impart information, not meant to describe the law, and not mean to persuade. It is meant to develop a means of communication. You — as a lawyer — have a story. Your areas of law practice are part of that story. Your clients are characters. The court is the setting. The judge, jury, prosecutor, and others are all characters — heroes or antagonists. You are not simply telling what is but creating a conversation and talking to the potential client, involving the reader in the story. Narrative writing engages.

Through narrative writing, you are telling the story of the law, establishing a setting, describing conflicts, and creating resolutions. The potential client sees him or herself in the story. They can, therefore, connect, and, thus, the process of engagement has started.

Using the narrative voice, keep these things in mind:

  • Know all the characters of the story — including your preferred client;
  • Provide the setting and most important details at the beginning of your story;
  • Keep sentences short and simple — remember: it’s not an essay but a story;
  • Write using the active voice, e.g. instead of: a crime was committed; write: you committed a crime.
  • Don’t use legal jargon;
  • Keep your word choices relevant, varied, and appropriate.

Remember: you can also incorporate other styles of writing to describe, impart information, and persuade, but those are complementary to your narrative style of writing. And like all good stories, you tell it using tone that establishes the atmosphere.

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