Why Successful Law Firms Need a Style Guide (and How to Create One)
One of your law firm's main goals is to bring in clients, and to do so you likely publish content designed to attract people's attention. The content you issue is a reflection of your law firm, which means you need marketing materials that are consistent in tone, style, spelling and grammar, even if they were written by dozens of people. You also need to ensure your documents reflect your brand and your personality.
Law firm marketing content materials often consist of website content, blog posts or news articles, press releases, cases studies and opinion pieces. These can be written by anyone at your law firm, including any of your lawyers, your administrative staff, or your communications team.
Content written by multiple people without a style guide is likely to be inconsistent. That's because each person naturally writes with a different style and a unique tone.
Readers see inconsistent content—content that has varying tones, styles, spellings and grammar—as disorganized and even unprofessional. At the very least, they won't be able to get a good sense of your law firm's brand, which means they'll have a more difficult time trusting you.
That's why you need a style guide (or, as it's sometimes called, a Brand Standards Guide, or a Brand Identity Guide).
Your style guide is a document that lays out standard rules and expectations for anyone writing documents--articles, news releases, website content, case studies and any other marketing materials--on your firm's behalf.
The style guide sets the standard for grammar rules, tone, font, capitalization, use of slang or jargon, and personality. It also sets standards for any design features related to your firm, such as logos, fonts and palette.
Why do we need so much consistency?
Consistency is a key part of your law firm's brand. Readers—and potential clients—want a consistent experience from your law firm, no matter what document they're reading. That consistency helps establish and build a relationship with readers, turning them into solid leads.
If readers come across one page that sounds very informal, has many short paragraphs and uses contractions and slang, they're likely to be confused if they go to another page on your website and find highly formal writing with long paragraphs and complicated wording. When that happens they're likely to move away from you and onto a new law firm's website.
Consistency builds trust, which in turn builds relationships.
So how do I create my law firm's style guide?
This depends on how much time and effort you want to put into it. The easiest way to go about setting up a style guide is simply to adopt one that already exists, such as the Oxford Style Manual.
This is an easy solution, but it doesn't allow for your personality or your law firm's brand to shine through. It's more of a cookie cutter approach that doesn't go a long way to building a relationship with your readers.
If you want your personality or brand to show through, you'll want something customized.
To create a style guide yourself, you need to come up with a list of does and don'ts. This includes things like, "Do spell out all contractions," "Do not capitalize words that aren't proper nouns," "Do not use the serial comma") and so on.
Before you begin, ask yourself the following:
What is my law firm's niche?
What is my law firm's brand?
Who are my ideal clients or target audience? What language and tone do they respond best to?
What is my law firm's unique selling proposition?
Write your style guide based on the language that is relevant to your niche, brand, unique selling proposition and audience.
Some basic style guide issues to consider:
How to write titles/subtitles. (Are they long? Short? In all-caps? Are they full sentences?)
How to refer to people mentioned on your site after their first mention. (By first name? Last name? Full name all the time? Include their title in all mentions?)
How is your law firm referred to in website content? (If it's a list of names, is there a comma between them? Do you use the word "and" or "&"?)
How aggressive is your call to action? Do you use the same call to action on every post?
What is your overall tone? (Friendly? Formal? Aggressive? Authoritative? Controversial? Compassionate?) Are the articles written as though two people are having a discussion over coffee or should it sound like the information is coming from someone in a lecture hall?
Are there certain fonts or colors you use exclusively? Will your logo or letterhead appear on all documents? If so, where? Do you have more than one version of your logo? If so, which gets used where and how should it be displayed?
Do you spell out dates in full or use the first three letters? (April 1, 2020 or Apr. 1, 2020?)
What boilerplate gets used on your news releases?
Is there a tagline that should appear on all documents?
What are your guidelines on internal and external links?
Your style guide doesn't have to be long. It just has to ensure consistency so your readers (and potential clients) know what to expect when they visit your website.
Remember that your style guide should be reviewed and updated as new standards are implemented or adopted.
If you have a communications team or writer working on your content, they can put something together for you based on your preferences, your brand and best practices they've come across. This makes it easy for you to easily have a customized style guide that anyone writing your law firm's marketing copy can follow.
Want assistance creating a style guide that enhances your brand and gains your readers' trust? Contact Corporate Writers for information on setting up your law firm style guide and auditing past content to bring it up-to-date with your new style guide specifications. We're here to ensure your law firm marketing content generates the valuable leads to thrive.