When I was in law school, one of my professors—a no-nonsense New Yorker with a Harvard pedigree—liked to say that those of us who became trial attorneys would need to learn how to effectively communicate with a group of “shoe salesmen and janitors.”
That’s how he referred to juries.
Pretty brutal, I know. But his point was that despite all the high-level legal philosophy that was being jammed into our heads, we’d still have to learn to translate complex concepts into language an average person could understand.
As I entered the world of commercial litigation after law school, I saw this first hand. The actual issues, theories, and applicable law involved were so ridiculously complex that we mainly tried to make the jury like us and our client better than the other side.
And you don’t get a jury on your side by talking over their heads or about things they don’t care about. You’ve likely seen this in action yourself.
How was it that Johnnie Cochran overcame an avalanche of evidence that suggested O.J. Simpson was guilty of murder? After goading the prosecution into the biggest of many mistakes (letting Simpson try on the shrunken bloody glove), Cochran gave the jury an easy-to-understand opportunity to let Simpson off:
“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
Now, the lawyer’s duty to provide the best possible representation to those who are guilty or wrong is one big reason why I quit practicing law. And maybe the benefits of your product or service are not as difficult to communicate as some nebulous legal theory.
But in an attention-starved world where everyone is constantly bombarded with competing information, your message must be designed to slip into the mind of your prospect as effortlessly as possible. In that regard, you might want to think like a trial attorney when “making your case” with your copy.
Here are five ways that smart copywriters are like smart trial lawyers:
1. Spot the Issues
The first year of law school is designed to change the way you think. It’s an exercise in training the mind to be able to spot the legal issues in any given fact pattern. Copywriters must do the same, but it’s called identifying compelling benefits and likely objections. The biggest way to fail with your copy is to fail to understand the issues that matter to the prospective buyer, so start spotting the issues first, just like an attorney approaches a new case.
2. Use Short Words
A smart trial attorney knows that a short word is always better than a longer word with the same meaning, and smart copywriters know the same. Short words are not only easy to understand, they also effortlessly pack more emotional power without giving the appearance that you’re “trying too hard” to persuade.
3. Use Common Expressions
Both attorneys and copywriters must understand who they are speaking to, and a big part of that understanding involves knowing and using the language the audience uses. Most people won’t be impressed with your unique vocabulary. They’ll be much more impressed that you’re “one of them.” Use the expressions, colloquialisms, and even slang that the people you’re trying to persuade use, and you’ll communicate more effectively.
4. Use Lyrical Language
You don’t have to resort to ridiculous rhymes like Johnnie Cochran, but language with rhythm and flow is pleasing and easy for the brain to digest. When choosing your words, be sensitive to opportunities for alliteration, repetition, and even subtle rhyming.
5. Paint the Right Picture
Great trial attorneys and copywriters understand that words are simply symbols that trigger mental imagery, and that’s why the right words make all the difference. Make sure you’re not inadvertently painting a negative picture in the prospect’s mind with your metaphors and word choice, or you’ll see your argument fall apart fast.
Drag Out Your Inner Attorney
So that’s a crash course in how thinking like a trial attorney can help you write better copy. And you didn’t even have to suffer through law school or lawyer jokes to do it.
What do you think? Do you see any benefit to dragging out your inner attorney to “win your case” with your copy?
About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.