All write, all write, all write – it can be good for your career

  • November 10, 2015
  • Kim Nayyer

Sometimes lawyers choose to write, and that can be a very good thing. I’m not thinking about the writing lawyers have to do to carry out their professional responsibilities, but rather the writing they want to do. Lawyers may choose to write for any number of personal or professional reasons, and this can be an excellent idea. 

To market, to market?

To write articles, blog posts, or newspaper columns for the purpose of attracting business may seem self-serving to some, but I suggest it can be a valuable activity when we consider writing for business development from a positive and constructive angle. You can build a genuine professional profile, showing your strength and interest in your chosen subject area. Your work may demonstrate passion about an area of practice, and you can translate that passion into nuggets of useful information for your readers.

It might be that the initial motivation or even ultimate goal is to market services, but to get there a lawyer will have present as particularly knowledgeable in the area. And this presentation must stem from a place of genuine enthusiasm, otherwise it’s nothing more than a sales pitch.

Posit and discuss

Marketing, of a sort, can benefit legal academics just as it does practising lawyers. As the one may look to establish herself as the person a prospective client should retain, the other may begin to initiate academic discourse on an issue and to engage the thoughts of colleagues. Some excellent academic thinking is generated from blog posts, for example, or short pieces and working papers posted to sites such as SSRN. Paul Daly recently published a piece about the value of shorter, open papers for stimulating academic engagement and even to influence the judiciary. Though publication in blogs or other open and interactive forums may precede or bypass formal peer review, readership can be wide and vibrant discussion can thrive.

A popular law school faculty blog,, is an excellent example of how legal academics can generate ideas and discussion via blog posts. (It is one of several excellent law school-based legal blogs, to be clear.) Indeed, a summer 2015 post on ABlawg reviews the contributions a number of academic blogs make to legal education: Engagement of junior faculty, opportunities for comment on new decisions, high interest level, and opportunities for student involvement are some examples.

A footprint that fits

Any discussion that hopes to encourage at least a few lawyers to engage in professional writing must also offer a caution: Be alert to your digital footprint. Watch what you write, especially online—and nowadays, it seems if you write you can expect to be doing so online. We hear this cautionary refrain often –  I’ve written about it myself. We have professional regulation to help us sort out what we should writeonline or in marketing materials, but what if it’s too late? We read ominous crash-and-burn stories about unassuming individuals who happened to write this or that on a blog or other social media site or even a journal or newsletter, and we don’t want to be that person.

We can respond to this concern in a few ways. Perhaps the path of least resistance is to simply say, “Well, if I don’t write anything I won’t have said anything I’ll have trouble swallowing later.” Of rather more effort is the conscious pursuit of public obscurity, for privacy or to maintain “impression management.” Arguments favouring a right to be forgotten have basis, to be sure. Increasingly, we also see the valuein taking ownership of our digital footprints, whatever they may be.

Another approach is to see and seize the opportunity to take proactive and even pre-emptive control of your online presence. Examples of fine legal professional reputations further enhanced by fine writing surround us. Look at some of the blogs at for excellent work by practitioners, academics and others. Through careful, informed, and interesting writing lawyers can build a genuine, positive profile or portfolio so sound and strong that even a few out-of-context tweets can be expected to have little impact.

In my advanced legal research and writing class, students write a graded blog post and are invited to participate in ungraded class discussion, all in the comfort and security of a private course blog. After grading is complete and the course is concluded, I invite students (often now new graduates) to post selected work in one or both of two public forums. Students respond in different and equally valid ways to the complex question of online presence. Some students clearly do not wish to begin to build their professional online presence via a blog post they wrote for a law school course or mediated by me. Others wish to keep their schoolwork and online presence—professional or otherwise—separate. Others see value in the platforms themselves and in the contribution to professional discourse. Some see such publication as an opportunity to begin to build their professional profiles.

Practice makes better

Bryan Garner, legal writing author, commentator, and lexicographer, writes of the need for lawyers to write, learn, and practise to achieve a level of writing skill that matches even their own early self-assessment quality of their writing. (His piece is largely about the Dunning–Kruger effect, which suggests that, when we are less skilled, we may mistakenly see ourselves as much more skilled than is the case. Further, we recognize that misplaced self-assessment and own previous lack of skill only after we are able to receive effective training in the skill.)

Garner cites the Malcolm Gladwell theory that skill mastery requires 10,000 hours of practice. At the least, it seems fair to suggest simply that, as with any skill or activity, we improve with practice and with incorporation of formative feedback. Lawyers may have to work to seek the latter, but opportunities for the former abound.

Kim Nayyer is Associate University Librarian, Law and Adjunct Associate Professor with the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria.

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