What Blawgers can learn from Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

Dr. Watson Blogs
Blogging is elementary my dear Holmes

In my first post of the year I made reference to blogging by Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson as depicted on the BBC Television series.

For ease of reference I will repeat what I blogged in that post:-

“… on Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia (BBC One) it was revealed that Sherlock Holmes gets most of his clients from Dr. Watson’s blog.

Sherlock Holmes:

Do people actually read your blog?

Dr. Watson:

Where do you think our clients come from?

Sherlock Holmes:

I have a website.

Dr. Watson:

In which you enumerate 240 different types of tobacco… no one is reading your website.

I looked at the question of Do Clients search [online] for a Lawyer? in May. I maintain, from experience, that they do. Others disagree. Sherlock Holmes did not disagree with Dr. Watson on this one, other than to point out the exact number of different types of tobacco enumerated on his website (243 not 240)! Indeed Sherlock has now deleted his post on Analysis of Tobacco Ash. Whilst Dr. Watson’s blog goes from strength to strength …”

Paul Hajek also considered this in Sherlock Holmes and The Pressing Case for Blogging: Elementary. Paul says:-

Don’t be boring: if you produce turgid and bombastic blogs you are unlikely to engage your potential market.

I would agree with Paul but I have also been thinking about other lessons for lawyers who blog that can be taken from Holmes and Watson.

The main point on blogging from ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ was that it was Dr Watson’s Blog and not Sherlock Holmes’ Blog that brought in the clients. They were not interested in 243 different types of tobacco but were interested in how Sherlock Holmes solved cases as described in language they could understand by Dr Watson.

Sherlock Holmes’ blog is perhaps of the boring, turgid and bombastic type highlighted by Paul Hajek, whereas Dr Watson’s blog contains great content which is of interest to potential clients.

Some law blogs are definitely written by lawyers for lawyers. Indeed this blog is. That is intentional on my part given the subject matter of this blog. Other law blogs on specific areas of the law may like to gain a readership from potential clients but find their readership to be on the whole other lawyers. This will probably be due to the technical way in which the posts are written. They are like Sherlock’s tobacco blog which is only really of interest to other tobacco aficionados.

Do lawyers who want to attract clients to their blogs need to think more like Dr Watson and less like Sherlock Holmes? Do they need a Dr Watson to assist them? I am certainly not suggesting they hire a ghost writer, but perhaps there is someone within their law firm who can write for a client audience better than they can. What do you think?

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  1. If you want your site to be read by clients you need to think like a client and answer the sort of questions a client is likley to ask.

    Questions like “‘Whats that supposed to mean?” and “How does this affect me then?”

    Writing in an easy style with a lot of white space and bullet points is VERY important. The way a page is set out is almost as important as what it says. Pictures help.

    There is a lot of help and guidance on writing for the web on the Copyblogger website http://www.copyblogger.com/ -set up incidentially, by an American Attorney!

    Strangely it is actually harder to write in a simple style than it is to write in a complex one. it takes a lot of time and practice, but is well worth the effort. My Landlord Law blog has been of enormous help to me in my business.

  2. Thanks Tessa

    Great advice as always.

    I hadn’t considered that it might actually be harder to write in a simple style than it is a complex one. But I suppose for lawyers they will write in the style that comes more naturally to them – which is likely to be of the more complex variety. So changing style to a simple one will be harder to do. This is no doubt the problem that Sherlock Holmes has given his high intelligence and abilities in abductive reasoning which will lead to a more complex writing style.

  3. I often find that legal websites are sterile and full of legalese.

    If you have a target market then you should alter your style to suit that market. a bit like changing your C.V. depending on whether you’re going for an office job or a amnual labour job.

    There are five types of readers:

    The Financial Times lot = Well educated, possibly wealthy, politically aware and probably employed in a senior role.

    The Independent lot = Educated, possibly see themselves as middle class are politically aware and probably employed in a managerial or senior role and most likley younger than the FT reader.

    The Guardian lot = Educated, possibly see themselves as middle class are probably employed less likley to be a student compared to the Independent reader.

    The Daily Mail lot = Lesser educated, more likley to be in lower paid jobs or retired.

    The Sun lot = Failed in education, more likley to have low self esteem, come from a poorer region, in low paid or manual employment if employed.

    I’m generalising in the above presumptions, but who is most likley to need the services of a Lawyer and why?

    It depends on your chosen area of Law to practise.

    Libel cases are usually taken to a Lawyer by the wealthy, of such patrons, these are most likley to either have a Lawyer already or know of at least one Lawyer in their circles.

    At the other end of the spectrum is the Debt Lawyer, whose clients are usually lower to middle earners or business either seeking to either collect a debt, seek to cushion the reality of the debt they are in or to have themselves declared bankrupt.

    In the middle of the spectrum there are the rest, from criminal cases to the divorce.

    Who are your target clients? Who do you want to write for, them or yourself?

    You must convey yourself to your targeted market of clients and write in a language that they can easily understand, if you don’t then you’ve lost those clients and you’re just writing for yourself.

    If your legal website has content that is easy to navigate and easy for an ordinary person you just happen to bother on the street for research to read, then this means you’re getting it right. The same goes for your blog.

    If you’re website or blog is purely for you to have a vehicle to reach out to others in the Legal profession, by all means go uber legal and use as much legalese as you like, but question your motives for doing so. This is not socialising or social media, it’s broadcasting, it’s a vanity persuit.

    There are those rareties, like myself, that can translate legalese into plain English and vice versa. Why not ask someone to proof read your offerings before you publish to your target audience, because a lot of people do search on-line for the services of Lawyers and they usually like to search locally, depending on their budget and legal requirements.

    When was the last time you had a referral or client contact from the telephone book and if you did get contacts, how many and was it worth the cost of your advert in that publication. My guess is that you didn’t get a very good ROI ratio.

    You should also find out just how many visitors to your blog or website are lawyers or clients. Take a periodical poll now and then. It could be useful and let you know just who you’re reaching out to. Ask them why they read what you write. You might just be a bit surprised at the answers.

    And for the record. I hate blogs and websites that broadcast to me and shout that they are the best at everything, ever.

    I do like a legal website that has frequently asked questions sections in easy to read format and in plain English.

    Watson understands his target market and writes for them whilst sharing his interests in a language and format that is easily understood by many , Sherlock understands tobacco, he too shares his interests but writes for himself and in technical terms that only a few can understand.

    So yes, we can learn a lot from Sherlock and Watson. That’s elimentary.

    1. Thanks Miriam

      Wonderful observations. Always good to get them from the outside looking in. Lawyers often think they know best and their websites/blogs are more often than not what they want (Sherlock) rather than what their clients might want (Watson).

      Your suggestions about research via an ordinary person on the street and taking a web/blog visitor poll are spot on. I doubt, however, that many lawyers will ever take this sterling advice.

      In previous blog posts on The Time Blawg about blogging for business development some lawyers have commented that they never get clients via their blogs. I rather think that this is because they take the Sherlockian approach to blogging rather than the Watsonian one.

  4. Brian

    Many thanks for the mention – great minds think alike!

    I take your point that it was actually Watson’s blog which formed the basis of the work generation.

    I was somewhat comforted, if memory serves, that Sherlock seemed rather more proud of his blog in the second epsisode Hounds of Baskerville.

    My hunch is he read Watson’s blog and bowed to his superior bloging style which Sherlock then tried to immitate.

    Which is perhaps a further lesson to be learnt in line with Tessa’s observation above, that it is often more difficult to write in a simple style than in a complex one.

    It can take time to move from “the turgid and bombastic” to write in a more welcoming and interesting style with content with more mass appeal for one’s targeted audience but it is possible as i think Sherlock may also have demonstrated.

    I think my writing both style and content has improved since I started blogging almost three and a half years ago

    1. Thanks Paul

      Wikipedia tells us that Holmes is often described as criticising Watson’s writings as sensational and populist, suggesting that they neglect to accurately and objectively report the pure calculating “science” of his craft.

      “Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it [“A Study in Scarlet”] with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story … Some facts should be suppressed, or, at least, a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unravelling it.”
      —Sherlock Holmes on John Watson’s “pamphlet”, The Sign of Four.

      However, this sensationalism no doubt appeals to the populace in a way that the pure science never would.

      I think you are right though, about the latest BBC series where Holmes may well be taking a leaf out of Watson’s blog. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the third series.

      There are lawyers who may do well to follow Sherlock’s example, if they do want to attract clients to their blogs, by becoming more like Dr Watson in their blogging style. Those lawyers need look no further than to you and Tessa to see how it can be done.

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