Jeff Fabian, J.D.

Former lawyer, professional writer for law firms and the legal industry with interests beyond the law.

Tag: writing clearly and concisely

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The Two Keys to Impactful Law Firm Web Content: Empathy and Ability

Does your website try to convince prospective clients to contact you, or does it lead them to convince themselves? When it comes to content marketing, this is a critical distinction, and one that I explore in the article that follows.

Getting Clients is About Giving Them what They Want

For law firms that are relatively new to using – and I mean really using – the Internet to grow their client base, knowing how to develop quality website and blog content can be a challenge. Even getting to this point begs the question: What does ‘quality’ really mean when it comes to online content?

To a certain extent, the answer depends on what you want to get out of your law firm’s online presence. For the sake if this article, we’ll assume that your firm is like most others, and is seeking to harness the power of the Internet to grow its book of business.

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Fast and Loose with Footnotes—Maybe Not Such a Good Idea

Do you have a tendency to rely on substantive footnotes in your briefs? If so, consider this a warning.

A Stern Warning from the Bench

It is generally advisable not to bury key points in footnotes or rely on references to other documents in briefs. But, when a tribunal says something like the following, it is definitely time to take notice:

“Incorporation by reference amounts to a self-help increase in the length of the brief and is a pointless imposition on the court’s time.  A brief must make all arguments accessible to the judges, rather than ask them to play archeologist with the record.”

These are the words of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) in its recent influential decision, Cisco Sys., Inc. v. C-Cation Techs., LLC, Case IPR2014-00454 (PTAB, Aug. 29, 2014), quoting DeSilva v. DiLeonardi, 181 F.3d 865, 866-67 (7th Cir. 1999) (internal quotations omitted).

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Can I Write About That? Ideas for Extending the Reach of Your Blawg

Can I Write About That? Ideas for Extending the Reach of Your Blawg

This article considers ways that lawyers can look outside of their core practice areas to find topics that may be of interest to their clients and prospects. Using the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, I discuss how law firms can use current events to target their intended audiences and drive more relevant traffic to their websites.

How Thinking Outside the Box Can Drive Prospects to Your Firm’s Website

Let’s face it: Most lawyers’ blogs are pretty stale. Maybe not to you or me, but to your prospects? How about an article with a title article along the lines of, “Ninth Circuit Issues Landmark Ruling in Eminent Domain Litigation.” Sounds enthralling. Right? Right? Bueller?

The reality is that the stuff that matters to lawyers just doesn’t matter to the vast majority of their clients and prospects. Yes, landmark decisions are critically important, and yes, they affect your clients’ cases. But, do your prospects really care about the appellate history or the court’s reasoning? No, they don’t. All they care about is that you can help them get what they want as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

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Did You Miss Anything? Going Beyond the Four Corners of the Document

In this article, I focus on the idea of looking beyond the contents of your contract or brief to see not what mistakes you’ve made within the document, but what you’ve overlooked completely. Too often, during the editing process, lawyers (and other people) only focus on what’s in front of them. But, in many cases the problem is not what is there; rather, the problem is what’s missing. The article starts with an example in the transactional context and then gives some practical suggestions before turning to litigation.

Providing Sound Advice Requires a Broader Perspective

As a transactional lawyer, you spend a good portion of your day writing and reviewing contracts. Whether you’re working on an eight- or nine-figure deal, preparing an NDA, or addressing a consumer relationship, providing sound advice is as much about spotting missing terms as it is about clarifying or negotiating the existing language in the agreement.

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Popular Belief Notwithstanding, The Order of Your Words is Important

The foregoing notwithstanding? Or, notwithstanding the foregoing? In my experience, most lawyers don’t give much thought to the distinction between the two. But, is there not a critical difference? Let’s look at some examples.

A Primer on the Proper Use of ‘Notwithstanding’ in Contracts

In a past life, a transactional attorney I worked for once told me that my edit to move “notwithstanding” within a contract provision was “personal preference.” Since that day I have always carefully scrutinized the use of this term in contracts. As can be demonstrated with a relatively simple example, the placement of this word—frequently in either “The foregoing notwithstanding,” or “Notwithstanding the foregoing”—can completely alter the effectiveness and enforceability of competing language in an agreement.

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Write Better Emails

Write Better Emails: Do These Three Simple Things Before You Hit “Send”

In today’s corporate environment, the way we write becomes a reflection of who we are. This article discusses three habits of professional writers that anyone can incorporate into their daily practice in order to write better emails.

Make it a Habit to Write Better Emails with These Three Tips

For managers and individual contributors at all levels of large corporate organizations, the ability to communicate clearly in written form is critical to success. This is true across all departments. From operational units to legal and human resources, lack of writing skills is perhaps the one deficiency that can stand out the most to coworkers, colleagues, clients and customers.

Most people in corporate and non-profit positions send numerous emails on a daily basis. In fact, there is a good chance that your sole form of communication with certain co-workers and outside parties is via email. In these relationships, your writing style, tone and ability become a reflection of who you are, and they become a direct representation of the company or organization by which you are employed.

All of this boils down to one simple conclusion: The quality of your emails matters. If you think you may have room for improvement, here are three habits you can form in order to write better emails:

3 Ways to Improve Your Emails (and Other Business Communications)

1. Avoid Redundancy.

If you say the same thing over and over again, or if you use the same words over and over again, people will notice, and they will think to themselves, “Another email from [your name here]? [Your name here] always says the same thing over and over again.”

Hopefully that was an obvious example of how not to write a quality business communication. Redundancy is annoying to most readers on a number of levels, and it is a writing flaw that can easily be avoided with a little bit of effort and critical thinking.

There are two ways that an email can be redundant:

  • It can use the same words repeatedly, or
  • It can contain duplicate (or triplicate) content.

You want to avoid both forms, and doing so gets us to our second tip…

2. Actually Proofread (Don’t Just Use Spell Check).

In the rush of a busy day, proofreading may seem like a waste of time. It isn’t. It doesn’t take long to proofread an email, and reviewing what you’ve written before you hit “Send” can save you potential embarrassment (or worse) – while also showing respect to your email’s recipient. Have you noticed that some people consistently send well-written emails? It stands out, and it’s because they proofread.

Proofreading means doing more than running an automatic spell check. In addition to the fact that spell checkers are not 100 percent accurate and most applications’ grammar “corrections” are not always correct, you want to look for more than just spelling and grammar errors. In a nutshell, you want to look for anything that might stand out in a negative way to your reader. Do you use the same word repeatedly? If so, revise to vary your word choice (but don’t just go crazy with a thesaurus—make sure you know what you’re saying). If you say the same thing more than once, as people tend to do when writing off the cuff, cut out unnecessary sentences and paragraphs so that you are not wasting your reader’s time.

3. Think from the Reader’s Perspective.

Another way to significantly improve your business communications and write better emails is to put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Once you have a draft, review what you’ve written from his or her perspective. Will your email’s recipient be able to follow your train of thought? Do you have certain specialized or inside knowledge that he or she does not? Is your reader up to speed on the issue at hand, or is he or she playing catchup? Something that makes perfect sense to you could be difficult (or impossible) for someone else to follow if they lack your perspective. As a result, you need to try to write from theirs.

For more tips, read: How to Get Your Employees to Write Better Emails: 5 Tips for Improving Internal and Outbound Communications.

Inquire about a Corporate or Non-Profit Writing Training Program

As a former in-house corporate attorney for a publicly-traded company, I am all too familiar with the pitfalls of poor-quality emails. If employees within your organization have room for improvement when it comes to their written communications, some training may be in order. To inquire about a corporate or non-profit writing seminar or intensive training program anywhere in the United States, please get in touch with me online today.

Write Better Emails

How to Get Your Employees to Write Better Emails: 5 Tips for Improving Internal and Outbound Communications

When it comes to business communications, what you say and how you say it are equally important. Here are five tips for getting staff members and individual contributors to write better emails.

Writing Better Emails: Start Out on the Right Foot

For small business owners and managers in large corporate organizations, ensuring that your employees convey the right message – both substantively and in terms of overall professionalism – is crucial. Whether a poorly-worded email turns off a potential customer, or a consistent lack of clear and concise communication disenchants a long-term client, what your employees say says a lot, and there is a lot you can do to make sure the right message gets through.

Writing Better Business Emails: 5 Ways to Improve Your Employees’ Communication Skills Today

So, if you consistently find yourself cringing when you see the way your employees are representing your company, what can you do? Here are five basic tips you can share with your staff members and individual contributors to help them write better emails:

Tip #1: Always Include a Greeting.

Failure to start an email with a greeting can send the wrong message in a couple of ways. First, it is impersonal. This sends the wrong message right off the bat. Whether you are communicating with a colleague, courting a prospect, or servicing a customer, addressing your email’s recipient by name lets him or her know that you are engaging in a personal connection.

Second, it is lazy. In today’s world of text messages and social media, writing shortcuts abound. But, this does not mean that they are appropriate in the business setting. Including a greeting is just good practice (and it is not too formal under any circumstances), and there is simply no reason not to show your email’s recipient the respect of addressing him or her by name.

Tip #2: Remember Your Audience.

When exchanging text messages with friends or posting on social media, the rules are different. Personal relationships are not the same as business relationships, and there are generally-accepted standards for getting your message across in 140 characters or less.

But, a business email is not a text message to your friend. It is not a Tweet or Instagram caption. It is a professional communication. When sending business emails, whether internally or to outside parties, remember that the norms for certain other types of communications do not apply.

Tip #3: Be Concise.

While business emails should avoid the shortcuts that have become commonplace in texting and social media, they should still be concise. No one wants to wade through a stream-of-consciousness email and still be left guessing why they received it in the first place. Think about what you want to say first, then put it into words. If you need to start writing in order to organize your thoughts, open up Word or Pages and then start your email once you have identified the message you intend to convey.

 Tip #4: Be Organized.

If you need to write a longer email (which is fine, as long as there is a purpose behind every sentence and every word), organize it so that the recipient can easily digest what you have to say. While it may be tempting to save the punchline until the end, it can actually often be helpful to state your conclusion at the beginning. In the legal field, this is known as “CRAC” (Conclusion, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion). Let your reader know what to expect up front, and set the stage for what he or she can expect the rest of the way.

This not only shows respect for the reader’s time, but it can also make it easier to internalize new or complicated concepts. It is like assembling a piece of furniture: If you know what it is supposed to look like when you are done, the instructions will be much more intuitive to follow.

Tip #5: Turn On Automatic Spell Check

But not for purposes of relying on your email client to proofread your emails. How many times have you clicked, “Send” only to regret it immediately? With automatic spell check turned on, you have to click twice to send an email (with most applications). In addition to reminding you that you need to proofread – and you should always proofread – this gives you an additional moment to think through whether you are really ready to send a message that represents your company.

Inquire About Corporate Training for Writing Better Emails

If your employees’ written communication skills have room for improvement, I can help. I am a former in-house corporate attorney and private practice owner who now writes professionally. To inquire about a corporate or non-profit writing seminar or intensive training program anywhere in the United States, please send me an email today.

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