Net Words: Creating High-Impact Online Copy
Nick Usborne. (McGraw-Hill Trade, 2001.) $16.95. ISBN: 0-07-138039-6.
Reviewed by Milton W. Zwizker
Weighty words and long sentences are the hallmarks of much legal writing—but fat writing does not work online. Given that words are the lifeblood of the online world, we should learn to change our writing style.
Many online users believe that it's graphics, not words, that dominate online. "One of the ironies here is that the environment itself—the Internet—is all about text." These words by Nick Usborne, author of Net Words: Creating High-Impact Online Copy, are a challenge to all online uses. The challenge is to write text that people will want to read. According to Usborne, we don't pay enough attention to our online words. He advises, "Work harder on the words—the words on your site, in your e-mails, in your newsletters and in your customer service correspondence." To take up the challenge, he explains, "You can't write to your audience in the same style and manner as you do offline."
The author talks a lot about the velocity of words, something Hollywood understands. Consider the impact of "Show me the money" and "Is that your final answer?" These are statements with big velocity. One way to encourage velocity online is with a form that enables visitors to e-mail a page from your site that recommends the site to other users. The author says, "It's great because the words of your satisfied users carry more weight and credibility than yours would."
Online communication is a great vehicle to help build client relationships. However, to take advantage of this vehicle, you have to understand what the software driving it does and does not do. As Usborne points as, "All the software in the world won't help you build strong relationships if you don't know how to talk and listen to your audience. The key is not in the science, but in the communication." Lawyer-speak is a poor way to express sincerity. "Using a simpler, more human approach works better."
The author writes eloquently about the Web. Words can set a Web site apart. Yet technology wizardry seems to dominate most sites. "For individuals, the Web is a wonderfully connected place, bubbling over with character and personality. Within e-mails, live chat and discussion lists, the Web is alive and filled with the voices of real people. But when those individuals arrive at a company's site, that sense of life and personality seems to disappear. All of a sudden, users are faced with a complicated and often confusing interface that is counterintuitive to just about every instinct they have, as a person and as a shopper."
Because of my love affair with newsletters, I paid special attention to what the author says about their online use. "Newsletters are not only the best medium through which to try out and evolve your online voice; they are also number one when it comes to creating relationships."
I could not agree more heartily.
The book ends with "An Online Writer's Manifesto." Lawyers should give particular heed to this part of it: "It's the words that build relationships." So take care what words you use, and learn to be an excellent wordsmith—online and off. This book has great examples of how to achieve that goal.
The Book of Agreement: Ten Essential Elements for Getting the Results You Want
Stewart Levine. (Berrett-Koehler, 2002.) $17.95. ISBN: 1-57675-179-7.
Reviewed by Edward Olkovich
Try this: Next time you have a conflict with a client or a lawyer, step back from the problem. Make sure your anger doesn't cause you to overreact. Focus on how you can minimize conflict arising from everyone's disappointed expectations, not on who is right or wrong. Try seeing the breakdown as an opportunity to find creative solutions. If you do, you will avoid expensive and negative effects that drain you of emotion and opportunity.
Where is this leading? Lawyer, mediator and educator Stewart Levine wants to show you how to prevent and resolve disputes. He believes that crafting agreements as "goal-setting tools" lets us articulate joint visions for better results. If you're interested in learning new ways to deal with others, you will benefit from Levine's The Book of Agreement: 10 Essential Elements for Getting the Results You Want. This new paperback builds on Levine's 1998 best-seller, Getting to Resolution.
Levine's "resolutionary" model describes how anyone can both prevent and resolve differences through a collaborative method. The basics are described in a few key chapters, including "When Conflict Surfaces: The Resolutionary Model." This chapter summarizes Levine's process for resolving disagreements—which I used the day I read it. My client wanted to delay paying my interim account until certain results were achieved. She was disappointed, and I was angry. Instead of negotiating while feeling frustrated, however, I recalled Levine's diagram of the seven-step process involved in the "Cycle of Resolution." I changed my attitude toward the conflict.
"Why do you feel you don't have to pay me promptly?" I asked the client. I listened as she told me her story. I then explained, " If you cannot give me security for my fees, you should hire another lawyer you can trust." We articulated our mutual disappointments and developed a shared vision, a "new agreement." This wasn't just a settlement where we forced concessions to make us both equally unhappy. This resolution was forged from what Levine describes as "the opportunity that conflict presents." I focused not on the problem, but on my desired outcome for our future participation. I wanted to help this client resolve her legal dispute.
Lawyers often forget Levine's message that "getting emotional about conflict will not help resolve it." Which indicates why his book does not include legal precedents, which are based on old-world adversarial "what-ifs." Instead, he writes, result agreements are based on a new way of thinking—about what you want to happen, not what could go wrong.
The book is divided into five parts that cover: foundational laws, principles and templates; organizational applications; professional or business relationships for financial planners, realtors, lawyers and others; personal applications for spouses, extended families and parents; and creating a culture to establish a new MBA (managing by agreement).
There are 31 chapters, with sample collaborative agreements to demonstrate Levine's 10 essential elements for getting results. Levine believes that at the start of each professional relationship the players should invest time to make "explicit the implicit." This forming of a covenant or vision minimizes potential costs of conflict. The model agreements are templates for his universal approach to create agreements for results and not legal protection.
The Book of Agreement is, overall, quite impressive and passionate. Initially, I felt it was too idealistic (rather like saving whales: a good idea but not very practical for someone sitting in Kansas). But gradually, I saw Levine's prescriptions created a new set of eyeglasses. I could use them to take the yellow-brick road wherever I wanted.
You, too, can benefit from Levine's perspectives on covenant and conflict, at home and office. Give this book to friends, family and colleagues. They also might be ready to try something different.
Ed Olkovich ( email@example.com) is a Toronto lawyer and author.
Would you like to write book reviews for LPM's Bookmarks column? Contact Milton W. Zwicker at firstname.lastname@example.org. A volume that explains the value of words on the Web. Also, a process for building agreements that focus on results instead of problems.
Milton W. Zwicker ( email@example.com) is Managing Partner of Zwicker Evans & Lewis in Orillia, ONT, and the author of Successful Client Newsletters (ABA, 1998).