Writing and Editing for the Legal Profession – Sara Puls

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The process of sorting through freelance writing opportunities can be a real headache. Getting your query to stand out among the hundreds sitting in an editor’s inbox can be even more of a pain. This is especially true when writing for markets that specifically seek out freelancers. For this reason, writers may want to write outside of the box, so to speak, and offer their services to professions that aren’t constantly bombarded with query letters. One such option is writing and editing for the legal profession.

“The legal profession?” you might ask. “Don’t I have to be a lawyer to do that?” The answer is no. Not for the type of writing and editing suggested here, anyway.

Much of the legal profession, and especially non-profit law firms, rely on instructional materials, such as “How-To” pamphlets and “Know Your Rights” brochures, to provide basic legal information to their clients. Here’s where you come in: these pamphlets and brochures often appear to be slapped together without much effort or editing.

As a lawyer, I can attest to the fact that lawyers’ success is based in large part on reputation. Lawyers want and need to appear credible and knowledgeable. Plain and simple. So, while many law firms may not know it yet, they could definitely use your services!

Jeanette, who works for a law firm in Texas, agrees. “Most attorneys do not have time to create a brochure or flyer from start to finish due to their caseloads,” she says. “Also, most attorneys and paralegals at our firm do not have strong skills in brochure design or with using software such as Abode Lightroom or MS Publisher. As a result, many of the brochures we have created in-house are not formatted well and have errors.”

The first step in marketing yourself to the legal profession involves finding the right lawyers and law firms. Because small firms and nonprofit firms typically have less bureaucracy to work around, these firms are likely the best place to begin.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association has an extensive list of a variety of US-based nonprofit law firms and organizations, located here. For other lists of nonprofit US law firms by state, go here or here. Finally, over here, Global Legal Resources provides an extensive list of private US law firms, of many sizes, by city and state.

Beyond this, use your networking skills. If you know some lawyers, contact them. Ask them to put you in touch with the right people to make this happen. Networking is incredibly useful in the legal profession and most lawyers are willing to facilitate the process for others as well. Even if one lawyer can’t use your services, she’ll probably point you in the direction of another lawyer or law firm who can.

Alternatively, find a contact person who knows something about the firm’s informational materials. The right contact person will vary, of course: it may be an executive secretary or the solo practitioner herself. At a nonprofit firm, you might want to speak with the grant writers.

Indeed, the latter suggestion bears repeating. If you’re looking to write for a nonprofit, find out who the grant writers are and talk to those individuals. Grant writers see and use a lot of these informational materials in their day to day work, so they know just how helpful your expertise would be. Chances are they recognize a need for your services more than the attorneys do. The grant writers may just be your “in.”

Once you’ve gotten this far, set up an appointment to discuss your proposal. Then, if the firm to which you’re marketing yourself already has informational materials on hand, make sure to review those materials. At your meeting, point out any mistakes you find in the firm’s materials and make suggestions for improving overall clarity and readability. Demonstrate that you have the skills it takes to improve their professional appearance. One way to do this is by bringing in your own sample pamphlet (of any kind) to show you can create visually appealing and well-written material. Finally, you can offer to write or edit any new materials the firm puts out in the future.

If you write in another language, there may be even greater need for and interest in your services. In the US, many lawyers speak Spanish. But this does not guarantee that they know how to write well in Spanish. And if you speak and write in an even less common, non-English language, chances are a law firm could use your help even more. Regardless of the non-English language you speak, make sure to address your bi- or multi-lingual abilities if you have them.

It is also worth noting that even if a law firm does do a decent job on its informational material (as does the firm I work for), the organization may still benefit from your expertise. Undoubtedly, your services will be cheaper than the going rate for attorney and paralegal time (at least in the private sector).

Most lawyers are incredibly busy. Plenty of them also receive hundreds of emails a day. As such, this opportunity will not present itself if all you do is send a query letter to the “Contact Us” email address on a law firm’s website. But by taking the proactive steps addressed above, writing for the legal profession could potentially develop into an additional money maker. And let’s face it, we all know the world has too many lawyers, so there are bound to be numerous such opportunities ready for the taking!

For examples of the types of informational materials discussed in this article, check out the following:

  • On employment rights(Click on the document entitled “Wage Claims-What if my employer doesn’t pay me.” Notice the typo in very first sentence.)
  • On a variety of legal issues (Notice that this organization does not have its own clear and concise informational content.)
  • On child custody issues (This example is fairly well-written and lacks glaring errors.)

By day, Sara Puls is an employment law attorney for a non-profit law firm. By night, she reads and writes as much as she can. She’s also the co-editor of a new speculative fiction magazine, Scigentasy: Gender Stories in Science Fiction and Fantasy, which will have a website up and begin taking both fiction and nonfiction submissions in late May. Her fiction has appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi, Kazka Press, Liquid Imagination, Plasma Frequency Magazine, Stupefying Stories, and elsewhere. Her Twitter handle is @sarapuls.