Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk for Free?

Back in December Mark Herrmann wrote this interesting piece for Above the Law on firms that make their briefs available online to attract business. While some argue firms can lose business making briefs available for free, Hermann sees it differently:

Care to learn whether a firm is any good? You can either take it on faith (“I’m a great lawyer! Trust me; I say so!”) or you can actually read the firm’s work and listen to the lawyers in action. 

For example, as Herrmann notes, Winston and Stawn has an excellent bank of briefs it has filed in courts across the country. The
Photo by Daniel Schwen
bank provides each brief's topic, the type of brief (e.g. amicus, opening, reply), the court in which the brief was filed, the attorney responsible, and the date. The bank isn't searchable per se, but each category of information can be filtered, making relevant briefs easier to locate.

I agree with Herrmann 100%. While I'm not sure this will ever become a trend--we all know how slow lawyers are to adopt novel ideas--I fully buy-in that showing clients the type of work they'll be getting is substantially more effective than simply telling them you'll do a great job.

But, as Hermann also notes, many lawyers feel others will "steal" their work if they make briefs readily available.

This seems a weak excuse not to make them available, though. First, many of these briefs are available online through Westlaw and Lexis anyway, so if other lawyers want to "copy" your work, they can easily do so. Second, no two cases are alike, and while another lawyer might be able to use some parts of your brief, he won't be able to use the entire brief. And his own work will likely stand in stark contrast to the excellent parts he's appropriated. Third, anyone who might use your briefs for their own purposes likely isn't someone who would have hired your firm in the first place; you're making briefs available for potential clients, and if other lawyers find and use them, no skin off your back.    

I don't write briefs for money anymore, but I might again at some point. And you'd better believe if I do, I'll continue to make the tips I have offered on LLW available to everyone. Because I know how much time and effort I've spent becoming a strong writer, and my writing can't be duplicated simply by following writing rules--it has to be honed through practice. I'm proud of the work I've done, so why not show it to others?

Putting your briefs out there carries little risk and the potential for big reward. Strong writers know clients will buy the cow.

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