In-house Legal Writing: Time Well Spent?

It is accepted wisdom that publishing quality legal content, be that an article in a journal, a newsletter, a legal update, an online blog, or a social media post is an important business development tool for law firms. It helps to raise the profile of a firm; highlights particular areas of expertise that set the firm apart from others; and demonstrates that the firm has its finger on the pulse of legal developments relevant to its clients, both existing and prospective. This is especially so in the digital age, as online content is often used to identify firms with the relevant expertise and gives them added credibility.

However, the writing of legal content in-house can constitute a significant investment in terms of time spent by lawyers on non-chargeable work. This is so even if the bulk of the research and drafting can be delegated to a junior lawyer, as traditionally it has been in larger firms. Smaller practices often do not have that luxury and are reliant on the efforts of partners. Moreover, the return on that investment is hard to pin down in a tangible way.

A Hidden Cost

Far too often, the cost of generating regular legal content of a sufficiently high quality is not monitored effectively, or at all. Accurate tabs are not kept on the number of hours invested firm-wide in researching and writing suitable content. In fact, many firms might be surprised at the total number of hours per year spent on non-chargeable legal writing.

The problem with this approach is that considerable fee earning capacity is being allocated to an activity that, typically, cannot be shown to produce direct financial returns. The returns are more nebulous ones, such as raising the awareness of a firm generally, showcasing its expertise and helping, along with other marketing initiatives, to win new clients.

Of course, in-house writing does have non-financial benefits. In larger firms, it assists in the training of junior lawyers, developing and honing their research and writing skills. It also generates knowledge in-house of areas of law which a firm may not otherwise have. However, similar skills and knowledge can often be gained through research for fee earning work and it is usually more important for junior lawyers to be gaining front-line legal experience and to be charging for their time.

An Alternative Approach

Given that so many firms regularly publish legal content, it would be a brave decision for a firm to decide unilaterally to cease generating content. In fact, most would not consider that a realistic option at all. However, it is possible to control the level of investment in content production, without sacrificing the quality of that content.

Many law firms are now choosing to outsource legal writing to professional ghostwriters, either on an ad hoc basis for specific pieces of writing (especially those that might entail considerable research), or wholesale outsourcing of regular content production. Whilst the latter is less common, it is seen increasingly.

Legally-trained, professional ghostwriters, such as those at Lex Conscientia, can provide relevant and highly-technical content at a fraction of the cost of producing that content in-house. By operating with extremely low overheads and having access to the same research tools as top law firms, significant cost savings can be fed back to firms for written work of the highest standard. With their extensive experience of writing for different target audiences, ghostwriters can tailor the tone of the published content perfectly to suit the particular need. They also monitor legal developments and can suggest relevant topics to firms to promote the more important areas of their practice.

The Way Forward

Firms must think strategically about their legal writing and control their spend on its production. Published writing should be well-researched, of a high quality, pertinent to its target audience and timely. However, it should also highlight the strengths of the firm, showcase niche expertise and, ideally, establish thought leadership in a given area of law. The option of outsourcing to professional ghostwriters is increasingly attractive and a simple way to control costs.