Revising an Ontra Whitepaper
I rewrote an Ontra (external link) white paper recently to show them how I could write and edit for their company. I have over five years of legal content creation experience and that is what they were looking for. Supposedly.
An Ontra employee said the .pdf I wrote looked great but a later email said there were no positions open. Yeah, right. At this moment their website says they have 18 positions open and that they are actively recruiting.
I now think they hand out this white paper just to grab your email address, since you must provide it before you can read their out of date and sometimes dangerously bad guidance on how to start a practice.
This paper’s author has no experience writing business plans; I am astounded that Ontra is giving advice without the writer or its editor having gone through the business plan and startup process.
Here’s their job description, of which I am deemed not qualified. No requirement for SEO knowledge (internal link). Or whether someone has content authority experience. (internal link) Every online business writer today must know something about on page SEO. Who are these people?
About the job
Where we work
Our team enjoys hybrid/remote flexibility and we offer employees a generous WFH budget to help create a productive and ergonomic WFH environment. If you are located in a city where we have an office, you are welcome to work from the office on a voluntary basis.
About the opportunity
Ontra is seeking a Legal Content Writer to join our rapidly growing company and contribute to a world-class marketing and content strategy! The Legal Content Writer will play a foundational role in supporting the company’s content and demand generation departments. This is a great opportunity for someone who specializes in writing various forms of content for a legal audience and wants to help drive the company’s marketing strategy by working alongside functional leads to create high quality content across all stages of the buyer’s journey. This person is an exceptional writer that can successfully manage the full cycle of content—long-form and short-form—from ideation to execution and create legal content designed to turn prospects into customers.
The Legal Content Writer will report directly to the Director of Corporate Communications at Ontra and we are open to great candidates across the U.S.*.
Important: our preference is to make a full-time, permanent hire, but we are open to candidates with an interest in contracting and contract-to-hire as well.
What you’ll do
Content Creation: Ideate and draft legal content lead for new whitepapers, industry trends reports, blog posts, and guides by collaborating with internal teams on development and execution of legal content strategies that advance business objectives.
Ad-hoc requests: Handle one-off requests from different departments to help aid with attorney and employee recruitment campaigns.
Optimization: Partner with marketing operations and digital marketing to optimize content across the digital journey.
Reporting: Measure content KPIs on a monthly basis with respect to month over month growth and high level performance for senior management.
What you’ll bring
Experience: 2-5 years of content writing experience in a legal environment
Written Communication: Able to write at a high level across a variety of marketing materials including whitepapers, blog posts, reports, and guides
Detail oriented: Attention to detail while creating new content, interviewing subject matter experts, and aligning content deadlines with existing marketing programs
Collaborative: Ability to work cross functionally and especially with sales/account management teams
Exceptional storytelling skills: Expert understanding of how to craft and evolve legal narratives
Deadline-driven: Highly organized and can manage projects across a variety of personas and mediums
REVISING ONTRA’S WHITE PAPER
Their original text is in black, my comments in blue, my rewriting in red.
[Revised .pdf file is here, side by side comparison, text differs slightly from below (internal link)]
I. The Era of Remote Work Has Arrived – Ontra’s writing
The era of remote work has arrived. Did you catch this? This is very important. Instead of writing, “the remote work has arrived” or “the remote work era arrives”, the writer softens the sentence by using the word “of.” I’m not being pedantic. Use passive words throughout a work and you slow and fuzzy up that writing. I never let that sentence construction pass when I was revising and writing for the law. Corporate offices are disappearing, while employees plan to relocate away from larger cities and build their careers from home. Employers continue to expand their remote workforces, some offering up to 70% of office employees a virtual option. While the legal industry has yet to fully realize the impact of the shift to remote work, it will surely define the practice moving forward. This is a unique time; the future of the legal industry is as uncertain as its present. A new wave of digital work and professional flexibility provides opportunities for entrepreneurial attorneys to launch new ventures. The possibility and benefits of solo practice have never been greater.
Wordy and repetitive. Keep openings short.
I. The Remote Work Era Has Arrived – my writing
The remote work era has arrived. Corporate offices disappear while employees move to smaller cities to build careers from home. Employers continue expanding their remote workforces, many giving employees a virtual option. The possibility and benefits of solo practice have never been greater. This guide looks at the risks and rewards of solo legal work while providing ideas on infrastructure and strategy for the independent practitioner.
II. The Decision – Ontra’s writing
At law school graduations during the Great Recession of 2009, many newly-minted lawyers graduated without the guarantee of a plush law firm job. They were told: every one of you is now an entrepreneur, a small business owner Today, law firms have recycled that same word when conducting interviews and information sessions: entrepreneurial. It is a quality that firms claim to reward allowing the intrepid attorney to directly reap the benefits of their hard work through the billable hour. What? Are they saying a firm allows a lawyer under them to set their own billable hour rate? Really? If not, what does that sentence mean? Also, these lines need a paragraph break here or some white space. This is too block like for web reading. However, the personal and social pressures of firm work often diminish those rewards, leading some attorneys to seek change. But lawyers are risk-averse; the idea of working outside the structured environment of a law firm and its reliable book of business can deter potential solo practitioners. Hold on, what does this mean? Most lawyers who get that ‘plush law firm job’ are working endless hours to make partner. That’s probably the biggest thing an associate will lose if they leave. Despite the risks, solo practice presents an ideal opportunity for many legal practitioners.
Attorneys who are parents can balance family and work responsibilities. Long-term caregivers can re-enter the workplace on their own schedules without explaining a resume gap. Seasoned practitioners can scale back their practices while maintaining a stimulating workload. Attorneys restricted to a narrow field of practice can work on matters outside the silo placed around their work by a firm. Lawyers considering whether to launch a new venture should begin by assessing their risk profile as a business owner. Performing a SWOT analysis, evaluating their business strengths and opportunities versus threats and weaknesses, can guide potential entrepreneurs.
Excellent Ontra graphic below. The entire white paper was beautifully designed. As I show later on, these questions must be considered by the practitioner in consultation with a seasoned small business owner. Way too much risk to go it alone.
II. The Decision – my writing
The 2009 Great Recession Era left many law school graduates without a guaranteed law firm job. Instead, they were told by the profession that they were now independent small business owners or entrepreneurs. Free to manage and price their own billable hours.
The trade said, in other words, “Find your own work. Make your own job.” Young lawyers with few contacts and no network of helpful associates found that advice difficult to take. Others with college debt or poor finances found a storefront office too expensive to build.
After a time, many wound up as lawyers before them, with a traditional firm. Once established, many potential solo practitioners hesitated to strike off on their own. Their firm’s structured environment and its reliable book of business made many lawyers hesitate. Along with, of course, making partner.
Today’s technology and resources, however, enables remote and independent work not possible a decade before. Practitioners can now take the advice of the last era as The Law moves into the next.
- Some Solo Practice Benefits
Attorneys with children can balance family and work responsibilities. Long-term caregivers can re-enter the workplace on their own schedules without explaining a resume gap. Seasoned practitioners can scale back their workload to focus on cases they prefer. Narrow field of practice attorneys can work on matters outside what an existing firm covers.
III. Laying the groundwork – Ontra’s writing
If the lawyer completes their SWOT analysis and decides in favor of starting a new venture, the time has come to lay the foundation for the business.
No it hasn’t! Hold on before you lose your money, your existing job, or your marriage. Maybe your life. Starting a life changing new business means writing a good business plan and not the thought exercise Ontra advocates. See my writing further on.
Strong legal and technological infrastructure will support a successful solo practice. Selecting the type of entity to create will determine the kind of income taxes the sole practitioner and their venture will pay. A limited liability company (LLC) or partnership (LLP) is most common, balancing liability with a favorable tax structure. Consulting with a tax expert after defining specific goals for the new organization will prepare the venture for short- and long-term success.
Thank you! Consulting here is absolutely essential and the biggest thing Ontra left out when brandishing that silly SWOT acronym.
Infrastructure will require considerably more capital than filing the requisite paperwork to create the new legal entity. (Duh!) It will also present many challenges, some of which will not be obvious. Consider the ethical guidelines that govern lawyers. These include an unyielding commitment to client confidentiality. New venture lawyers must consider spatial issues (Spatial issues, indeed! Can you imagine a friend saying their house has spatial issues? Sheesh. No, they don’t have enough room in their house.) , such as whether their homes (and housemates) allow for confidential conversations and secure storage of client documents. The new venture lawyer should also consider data issues some states and ethical guidelines require attorneys to utilize data privacy software sophisticated enough to protect their clients sensitive information from a breach.
The solo practitioner should prepare to overcome the stereotype of the math-averse attorney. Accounting software can help in tracking, billing, and collecting for time spent working for clients. However, attorneys will need more than efficient software to collect on their bills they will need to build strong relationships and deliver value to clients. This will involve a significant time investment to increase the probability of timely (and repeated) payment. Attorneys report collection rates around 83%. A 97% collection rate is exceptional, and unusual. And even when clients pay their bills, they pay late 59% of the time. This introduces a level of uncertainty (you’ve got that right!) to the solo practitioner that can seriously impact the bottom line if not accounted for in the business plan.
Really good information here, nicely detailed with footnotes which I omitted for this post. But why bring this up now? This should already be in the business plan. Main problem with this writer? They have never written a business plan. The last one I worked on took over two months to complete with a dozen or so calls, sit-downs, and e-mails to Score volunteers.
Depending on the practice area, policies intended to increase collection rates like upfront payments or retainer fees may not meet a client’s service expectations.
III. Laying the Groundwork – My writing
Any lawyer considering a new venture must assess their risk profile as a business owner. Enter the SWOT analysis, the start of a small business plan. A SWOT analysis helps a potential entrepreneur’s decision making but only if performed in collaboration with an experienced small business owner, preferably another lawyer who has done what the entrepreneur now envisions.
SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Analyzing these elements without context or advice is an academic exercise. Private consulting firms can certainly help but an SBA funded program called SCORE puts volunteer mentors with years and often decades of experience in touch with the entrepreneur. Lawyers current and retired are among SCORE’s volunteers. SCORE’s services are free. SWOT is a big part of a small business plan. Consulting with a mentor is similar to sitting down with a CPA, a financial advisor, or a realtor. An expert. Most businesses using a self-developed business plan fails.
The chart on the next page outlines key ideas to think about while searching for a business mentor. Each subject needs discussing with an advisor who has been over them before. Someone to talk to. An authority who, when appropriate, can say things like, “That’s a good idea but you’ll need a big loan to carry it out.”
Getting old means experience. I’ve written business plans, magazine articles, newspaper articles, thousands of online posts, content mill articles, and a tremendous amount of writing in the law.
Years ago I got a paralegal certificate from a technical college and went on to assist attorneys throughout the Sacramento area with case prep and legal research and writing. I wrote or drafted points and authorities, case briefs, interrogs, memorandums of understanding and so on.
I liked criminal law the best although trying to determine legislative intent of a bill or a law was also enjoyable. I went with an attorney to court many times and always worried if I had done enough research. In part, because of my effort, would a client walk free or would they go to jail? That’s the real law, much of what Ontra writes on doesn’t feel that way.
– Sidebar – Reaching Out to Partners: Despite his willful and headstrong nature, Steve Jobs from the beginning surrounded himself with top financial and industry experts to guide Apple from its foundation to one of the greatest companies in the world. Alexander Graham Bell, more an elocutionist and tinkerer than anything else, retained top Boston lawyers who designed the leasing model for the telephone, a customer arrangement which financially powered the Bell System and then later AT&T.
These sidebars add variety to an otherwise monotone sounding text and repeat the need for collaboration. Ontra has a variety of partners they are eager to match practitioners up to but they ignore partnership when it comes to consulting on the business plan.
A successful solo practice starts by choosing the right business entity to operate under. Different business types exist, with a liability company (LLC) or partnership (LLP) the most common, balancing liability with a favorable tax structure. The business entity type determines the income taxes the sole practitioner and their venture pays. Consulting a tax expert after defining goals for the new organization best prepares the venture for success. A good business foundation also includes strong technology choices which enables the new venture. Hardware and software decisions today act on challenges not always obvious.
Attorneys never compromise on client confidentiality. New venture lawyers must consider whether home offices have enough private space to conduct confidential conversations. Securely storing client documents is a must. But not just for hardcopy documents. The new venture lawyer must also consider data issues, in that some states and ethical guidelines require attorneys to use data privacy software secure enough to protect their clients sensitive information from a breach.
Accounting software helps track, bill, and collect for time spent working for clients. Attorneys, though, need more than efficient software to collect on their bills; they must build strong, attentive relations with clients. This significant investment in time is necessary to increase the chances of getting paid on time. of the time, clients pay late. 59% Attorneys report collection rates around 83%. A 97% collection rate is exceptional and unusual. And even when clients pay their bills, they pay late 59% of the time. This uncertainty can seriously impact a lawyer’s practice if not accounted for in the business plan.
For their part, the attorney must strive to immediately bill upon completing a client’s work. Billing immediately shows organization, dedication, and discipline. Billing 60 days or 90 days after suggests no urgency to the client.
NB: Ontra’s original text in black, my comments in blue, my rewrite in red.
IV. Launching and growing a legal practice — Ontra’s writing
After making a business plan and setting up key infrastructure, the solo practitioner is ready to begin serving clients. (Again, only if the business plan is in order and enough financing is in place.) In the early days of solo practice, the lawyer can expect to spend most of their time developing client relationships, either through word-of-mouth advertising from previous clients, or through local bar associations, specialty professional organizations, or nationwide affinity groups which can lead to meaningful professional relationships and enriching collaborations. As new clients come in, the solo practitioner must balance the demands of client development with actual client work. Ideally, new business would continue flowing in as existing clients return year-over-year to sustain growth.
Ontra’s paper doesn’t address the nation’s two and a half year pandemic in any way, not giving any suggestions on how to carry out their advice in this time of Covid. Actually, most concerns starting out will be about money as it disappears twice as fast as planned. No one’s fault, this just happens. But a well written business plan, vetted by a experienced consultant and perhaps a bank, will keep the lawyer from devastating their savings to keep going.
Outsourcing or automating some business development work to a PR firm or a CRM software platform could allow the lawyer to focus more attention on legal practice. However, the lawyer must prepare to balance the need for business development, client relationship maintenance, actual lawyering, and outside personal responsibilities. This juggling act must be performed skillfully, else the sole practitioner risks jeopardizing many of the benefits of individual practice.
Determining if and when to add a paralegal, associate, or partner to the team will prove the most crucial next step for the solo practitioner. Becoming an employer will introduce a host of new challenges and expenses, tax contributions and health insurance to name a few; but when timed correctly, will enable the continued growth and success of the practice.
Ontra suggests W2 employees without mentioning 1099 folks. Independent contractors. Why would a start up incur payroll complexities, health care, maternity leave, and so on without first trying workers whose ties to the firm are de minimis? I’ve edited and revised legal content writing from foreign contractors for my last employer. I myself was a freelancer, an independent contractor. Today, it’s all about a remote workforce, just as Ontra stated in this white paper opening. But here, we’re right back in the conventional office.
IV. Launching and growing a legal practice – My writing
Vetting the business plan and setting up the infrastructure to enable it leads the solo practitioner to start serving clients. Early days finds most attorneys chasing leads through personal and professional networking. This is made harder with the pandemic. Money is a constant worry as cash disappears far faster than it should, no matter how well done the business plan. As new clients come in, the solo practitioner must balance the demands of client development with actual client work. Ideally, business would continue flowing in as existing clients return year-over-year to sustain growth Provided, of course, that the firm makes it year after year.
50% of small businesses fail by year five and that statistic holds firm year after year.
Business Failure Rates by Year:
First year: 21.5%
Second year: 30%
Fifth year: 50%
Source: Business Capital Report
These hard facts and statistics should not discourage any enterprising attorney. Rather, these points should educate the entrepreneur on what lies ahead, giving them an advantage over the unknowing, poorly prepared, and rushed competition. Lawyers know the type. And knowing the odds means more work and more research before starting up.
Fortune favors the prepared mind.
An entrepreneurial attorney as an employer faces new challenges such as payroll taxes, health insurance costs, workers’ compensation, and maternity leave obligations. Or, is the practitioner better off hiring freelancers or virtual assistants? The right hiring choice will certainly drive future success.
Web Work: Any practitioner in a competitive field like injury law must appear on page one of Google’s search results or they are invisible. Placing ads is one way to get there, building a website with pages attractive to the search engines is another. Ontra can hep an attorney find a website builder that handles only law firms.
Social Media: Social helps if done with humor and quick replies to questions and comments. Social should be avoided if time prohibits responding to the questionable behavior too often seen on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
V. A partner in practice – Ontra’s writing
It is difficult to manage risk in solo practice; being a small business owner will always carry the possibility of strategic missteps, unreliable revenue streams, or other market forces outside the practitioner’s control.
An external partnership can help the new venture focus its attention on lawyering. Software partners like Clio and Zola assist sole practitioners by consolidating their case documents, client information, billing, and email platforms in a single software solution. This relieves some of the infrastructure burden previously discussed, because these solutions bundle the essential elements of legal business practice in one place. These last two sentences repeat themselves. Even with the support of a powerful software suite, the solo practitioner must spend considerable time managing the firm’s logistics and client pipeline.
To acquire, maintain, and collect on hours worked, the practitioner must wine and dine clients, participate in community organizations to build goodwill, and advertise through traditional and/or digital channels. Nothing about Covid. The solo practitioner might also find that bidding for work from their ideal clients (sophisticated enterprises with recurring legal needs) is difficult in a saturated market of elite law firms and AI-backed legal technology companies that can cut legal spend through automation. Automation? Really? A/I? Really? I’ve tried several A/I promoted programs to boost productivity and all of them were major fails. The last word spinning product I used had the company admitting to me that the software was not recommended for legal work.
Interested practitioners should visit http://www.ontra.ai/legal-network to explore a partnership with Ontra. Partnering with Ontra shortens the runway when launching a new venture and removes some of the logistical challenges small practices face when seeking to grow.
Solo practitioners seeking to augment their current solo practice or, conversely, scale down their business and practice law on more of a part-time basis may wish to consider a partnership with Ontra. In addition to infrastructural software support (like email and case management), Ontra’s lawyer partners:
The article ends here with a graphic, not text as the colon suggests.
V. A partner in practice – my writing
How does a practitioner manage risk in a small business? Inevitably, poor business decisions get made, well paying clients move away, the current pandemic will cause unforeseen costs, and so on. External partnerships helps the new venture focus on lawyering. Software partners like Clio and Zola assist sole practitioners by consolidating their case documents, client information, billing, and email platforms in a single software solution.
Even supported by a powerful software suite, the solo practitioner must spend considerable time managing the firm’s day to day and client relations. To acquire, maintain, and collect on hours worked, the practitioner usually had to wine and dine clients, participate in community organizations to build goodwill, and advertise through traditional and digital channels.
Today, getting together in person is harder than before and will get even more challenging once the remote work era is built out. Zoom and FaceTime meetings are possible but the occasional warm telephone call to clients and associates is direct and simple. The solo practitioner might find that bidding on work for clients with recurring legal needs is difficult in a saturated market of large law firms who cut legal spending through automation.
We at Ontra help level that playing field. Solo practitioners seeking to augment their current solo practice or, conversely, scale down their business and practice law on a part-time basis should consider partnering with Ontra. In addition to infrastructure software support, Ontra’s lawyer partners enable all of these services for you. Thanks for reading. Let’s work together. Let’s partner. Your success is our success!
Very important to thank the customer for reading and to give them a reason to get in touch. What online marketing calls a “call to action” or CTA.