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Legal Ghostwriting: The New Norm

Introduction

A few weeks ago, the editor of a successful legal journal told me that no partner writes their own articles anymore. It has always been the case that junior lawyers have helped research and draft first drafts of articles for senior lawyers. However, at Lex Conscientia we are seeing a shift from using internal staff to outsourcing the whole process to external ghostwriters.

Ghostwriting – Law Firms

Almost all law firms have a publishing presence in their practice areas. In the past, the task of drafting articles, newsletters, legal updates for clients, blogs and managing a social media presence was usually carried out internally, either by junior lawyers and/or the professional support team. In the past, the senior person had substantial input into the article via discussion with, and direction of, the junior staff. This process formed an important part of a junior lawyer’s training.

At Lex Conscientia, we have seen a growing number of law firms that are outsourcing completely the writing of their publications to external ghostwriters. Some firms outsource on an ad hoc basis for special projects or for one off articles or blog posts. However, an increasing minority of firms have handed over completely some aspect of their publishing activities.

Most often, firms provide a detailed brief on a particular topic, with suggested research areas and even links to particular articles they would like considered. Less common are the firms who provide a topic only and rely on the writer to draw conclusions. Rarely, though on the increase, are the firms that provide the practice area only and outsource the whole process, including researching a topic and drawing conclusions.

Outsourcing in this way also allows junior lawyers to focus on billable work and, in the best of circumstances, allows them to gain much more experience at the coalface. The problem with high levels of outsourcing can occur in conjunction with the heavy use of professional support lawyers to provide legal research, updates and current awareness.

If junior fee earners are not carrying out legal research, not writing up their findings and not drawing tentative conclusions for discussion with a more senior lawyer, then what kind of experience are they gaining?

For firms whose culture is inextricably linked with time billing, outsourcing will always remain an attractive option. In the short term, it will always be cheaper to outsource article writing to a trusted source than to lose the precious billable hours of a junior lawyer

Ghostwriting - Individuals

We have seen an increase in partners outsourcing some aspects of their personal marketing strategy. This means that senior lawyers are hiring somebody outside their firm to advise on, research and ghostwrite articles in their field of expertise under their direction, for publication under their own name.

Most often ghostwriting is carried out with the firm's full knowledge, however, increasingly, ghostwriters are being hired privately by individual partners to carry out their PR writing and are being paid for out of the partner's own pocket.

In our experience, the lawyer provides the topic and leaves the conclusions to the ghostwriter. The lawyer will then sign off on the article and publish it under his or her own name

This practice raises some eyebrows. However, if the publications are in areas of personal interest to the lawyer to raise his or her public profile and the lawyer either does not have the resources in-house or is unwilling to spend the time to engage with the firm's own support infrastructure, then external ghostwriting may be a pragmatic tool in a savvy lawyer's time management strategy.

‘Twas ever thus…

Has ghostwriting merely outsourced the “junior” to whom the task of research and writing has always been assigned? The difference with outsourcing to a ghostwriter as opposed to a junior lawyer is the different expectations and obligations of the parties involved.

The expectations between a junior lawyer researching/discussing/writing under the tutelage of a senior lawyer are generalised and undefined; an expectation of mentoring/protection on the one hand and hard, diligent and loyal work on the other. The balance of expectation and obligation between mentor/mentee is delicate and takes time and energy to manage effectively. It can be easily disrupted. How many junior lawyers who have effectively researched, analysed and written a published article are credited with at least joint authorship? Does this make the junior lawyer feel mentored or exploited?

Between the lawyer and an external ghostwriter expectations are clearly defined and easy to manage; an article to the brief, on time and with absolute confidentiality vs money. In the short term, for many stretched lawyers, this is just easier.

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