I spoke at this webinar on The Recipe for Writing a Legal Article on Saturday 9 May 2020 from 3pm to 4pm. This was streamed live on the KL Bar Young Lawyers Committee Facebook page. I joined Dee Wei and Lavinia, both experienced advocates and prolific writers. I have edited this post and set out below 18 tips. Most of these tips were covered in the session itself, and I also included extra material.
You can view the video recording of the session by clicking here.
#1: Keep building a reservoir of knowledge
The starting point is to have a pool of knowledge at hand. Your legal research, your understanding of regulatory changes, the work put in to your written submissions, and your ongoing files.
My first legal article was for the KL Bar Relevan newsletter and it was on contingency fees. I was a pupil then. I had done legal research of the changes in the UK and elsewhere allowing contingency fees and conditional fees. Having done all the research, I was encouraged by a partner in my firm to write an article about the topic and whether Malaysia could introduce contingency or conditional fee arrangements.
#2: Have interest in the subject
Find an area or areas of law that you are genuinely interested in. So I am always keen to read up on company law updates. Marcus, the co-founder of The Malaysian Lawyer, writes on employment law updates.
#3: Finding the right platform
Options for the right platform for you to publish your articles or writings:
- LinkedIn article post. This creates a shareable article and with its own URL.
- Start a blog: WordPress or blogspot.
- You can use Medium.
- Your own firm’s newsletter. If you are a pupil or a junior lawyer, ask to co-write with a more senior lawyer or partner in the firm. Build up your profile this way.
- Publications of your State Bar or the Malaysian Bar. Volunteer yourself and your articles.
I am not a fan of writing a PDF article and then sharing it online. It may be useful for the specific purpose of emailing to clients. But that format is not good for the online world. It will not be picked up via Google or other search engines, and it will not auto-format for mobile devices.
Writing Tips for Your Article
#4: Know your audience
Know who your intended audience is going to be. I know that I want The Malaysian Lawyer to address readers of financial dailies, directors, general counsel, company secretaries, business owners and commercial readers. So I do not write as if it is an academic article and I do not include heavy case law citations.
#5: Have a good title
A good title helps. One tip is to incorporate the number of points within your title. Another tip is to use the active voice to tell the reader what this is about.
- “Companies Commission Provides Seven Reliefs to Companies“
- “10 Things on the New Beneficial Ownership Reporting in Malaysia“
- “Federal Court Decides on Final Payments Claimed in Adjudication“
#6: Conclusion upfront
Your first or first two paragraphs must capture what the article is about. If the reader just reads that first paragraph, will the reader understand the gist of the article? Will the reader want to read more?
#7: Short sentences
Always use short sentences. One tip is if you are using a lot of commas, try to break up the sentence. It becomes easier to read. It makes the sentence punchier. If you need to refer to several items in that one sentence, use lists or bullet points.
#8: Simple language
Use simple language. I try to completely cut out any Latin phrases and simplify legalistic terms or phrases.
#9: Use headers
Break up long and chunky paragraphs. Use headers to flow from one section to another.
#10: Tell a story
This is especially important if you are writing a case commentary or a case update. Tell the story. Describe the characters involved. The type of contract involved. I try to link it to any news reports to give more flavour. Tell the story in a chronological fashion.
#11: What is the right length?
There is no absolute rule. 800 words would be a nice minimum length to post up on The Malaysian Lawyer. I find my articles around 1,000 words or a bit more. This article is just over 1,200 words.
#12: Critically self-edit
If you submit articles to publications or to your firm’s newsletter, you have the advantage of having someone to edit it. A second pair of eyes will proof-read for it. Learn from those edits. Ask questions and improve.
Not all of us may have that opportunity to have someone edit our writing. Then, be very conscious about finding good writing. Ask yourself why the writing style is good. It may be from blogs, may be from articles from The Edge, or it may be your opponent’s written submissions. Try to learn from there.
Infographics and Images
Dee Wei is very good in creating infographics. He shared that he subscribes to Easelly. This is an example of the very helpful infographic that helps with procedure or s a step-by-guide. This is one area I have no experience in. Something I want to try more in the future.
#14: Finding the right image
I make sure there is always an image on every one of my articles on The Malaysian Lawyer. I look for royalty-free images. You can try Pexels, Pixabay, 123RF, or Unsplash. In addition, use Google image search and tick the box for ‘Labeled for Reuse’.
I make sure the dimensions of the image will fit the thumbnail dimensions for sharing on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Keep and catalogue all these free stock images. I will use the images in the slides for my talks as well.
Showcase Expertise through your Articles
#15: Being a thought leader
By constantly writing, I also develop a reputation of being a thought leader. But I ensure it is very specific areas that I want to build my profile in. I publicise my articles frequently on LinkedIn. I won’t get direct comments on my LinkedIn post. But I frequently get comments from clients and foreign lawyers that they read my updates and articles.
#16: The title can help to market
I also plan out how the title to my article can also help in my marketing. The article would be listed out in my profile or my CV, and I may have to use it for my law firm’s profile or for RFPs. A catchy title will help from the marketing angle.
#17: Different platforms
As I gained more experience in writing, I actively sought out different platforms to publish my articles. For instance, I did not want my articles to solely be in my firm’s newsletter. I sought out industry publications like in other professional bodies or international legal publications. I looked for opportunities to write an article for business publications. By having these different publications, this also looped back to having a diverse feature of my articles on my CV.
#18: Extra reading materials
I end off by recommending some books and online resources. Read to become a better legal writer.