The importance of storytelling in legal blogging

Shared stories create a connection to others that builds a sense of belonging to a particular community.

- Dan Siegel

I had the pleasure of attending a LMA Luncheon at the Washington Athletic Club last week and listening to Hanson Hosein, director of the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington, discuss his views on social media and the law. I’m a graduate of this program and was curious to see what he would say to the legal field. My colleague Kara McKenna also attended, and posted a great wrap-up on Gen Y Biz Dev.

Hanson is both a lawyer and a journalist by background — a former CNN correspondant, no less — which makes his perspective on this matter all the more interesting and relevant.

Hanson is also a master storyteller. He traveled the country with his wife to convey the importance of mom and pop stores in modern America, examined the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and explored the tragedy of Detroit.

So, it may be no surprise that the biggest takeaway from his talk is the relevance of storytelling in legal blogging. This applies to any sort of blogging (or modern media), but Hanson sees a missed opportunity for lawyers to tell stories in their online writing.

What is storytelling?

People no longer trust marketing and are very aware of branding, so content that comes off as overtly promotional ends up turning off readers.

Hanson’s definition of storytelling is “narrative plus engagement.”

Storytellers create a flow out of events. Rather than just reporting actions and outcomes, a storyteller crafts those actions and outcomes into situations that the reader (or listener, or viewer) can relate to — storytelling bridges gaps between data and experience.

A great example of storytelling is a video about a little boy in Los Angeles and his hobby of building arcade games out of cardboard boxes.

Watch it, but be warned — it moved some members of the audience to tears.

The director of this short harnessed the power of storytelling to raise thousands of dollars for Caine’s college fund. Had he merely asked for donations, most of these donors would have not have opened their wallets. However, by providing insight into Caine’s situation and showing America what a smart, capable child Caine is, many viewers felt moved to help.

How can you use storytelling in your legal blog?

Many law bloggers face the same challenges as a deodorant company or a compact budget car: their product itself just isn’t that exciting, but this doesn’t mean that the lifestyle associated with it or the problems these products help solve aren’t attractive.

For instance (via Hanson), Degree deodorant’s Adrenalist campaign shows the adventurous possibilities that abound when not hampered by the threat of perspiration. Ford Motor wanted to revamp its image, so it invited young social media mavens to showcase the fun of its Fiesta. Milk helps moms and dads make breakfast easier.

None of these products are sexy, but the image that a little storytelling creates is.

Lawyers can do this too: focus not on the details of the law, case, decision, etc., but on how it can improve the lives of their clients. Your audience will generally connect with you much more if you can explain to them how a case will save them money or how certain actions can keep them out of a lawsuit than if you bore them with minute details.

Here are some tips:

  • Provide useful information — engage with your audience now, help them out, and when they need a lawyer, they will hopefully remember your story.
  • Have an action idea: the mission statement of your entire story.
  • Use your posts to establish trust and connection with your audience. Interact with them.
  • Write “to” people — not “at” them.
  • Find stories internally that might be interesting to others.

Examples

For every lawyer who tells me he can’t make his content more interesting because his field just isn’t that interesting, there’s a lawyer in the same field writing conversational content that a reader can relate to.

I’m a huge fan of what Charlie Sartain at Looper Reed is doing with his Energy and the Law blog to make energy law in Texas more approachable. For example, he might ask a reader to put themselves in the position of someone who has bought interest in over-produced oil wells.

Robin Shea at Constangy’s Employment and Labor Insider consistently ties in legal issues with current events in a way that is never boring.

Karen Koehler, The Velvet Hammer, provides insight into the life of a trial lawyer while still providing usable information. She takes an unconventional approach to what might otherwise be mundane, such as a case involving a freeway collision.

What stories do you have to tell?

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