By Cameron Rhudy • August 07, 2014•Writers in Residence
This month I am very excited to introduce you to Mary Wenzel, J.D., founder of Write Law based in San Diego, California. Write Law helps law firms market their services through legal ghostwriting (legal website content and blogging) and DIY legal marketing courses.
When I stumbled upon Write Law I was immediately interested in Mary’s story and how, through Write Law, she has creatively merged the areas of law, writing, marketing, technology, and teaching into a niche business. I am truly grateful that Mary took the time to participate in this interview and I hope you find her as inspiring as I do!
Legal ghostwriting and teaching attorneys DIY legal marketing is a unique way to use a law degree. What ultimately made you decide to pursue this field?
I transferred to the University of California San Diego as a Creative Writing major and spent the majority of my time there writing poetry on the beach. My original plan was to get a Master’s in Education and teach English and Literature at the Community College level. At the time, UCSD offered students the unique opportunity to start the Master’s in Education program during your last semester of undergrad, so I took the opportunity and enrolled in my first course. Unfortunately for me, that class involved a lot of group projects and poster boards. I have a lot of strengths, but neat handwriting and doing group work aren’t among them. So I ultimately realized I wasn’t going to be able to finish two years of that kind of course work.
At the time I was working as a secretary at Iler & Iler LLP, a small plaintiff’s personal injury and long-term disability firm in north San Diego County. Beyond working with them, I had always been interested in law, my paternal grandfather had been a successful PI attorney in Los Angeles and a couple of my uncles are attorneys, so when my bosses, Brooks and Virgil, encouraged me to go to law school, it seemed like a logical choice.
I went to law school at nights and worked fulltime at Iler & Iler LLP through law school. I wasn’t in love with law though. Brooks and Virgil had been practicing since the early 80’s and 90’s respectively and they were looking for someone to eventually take over their practice. I was excited by the freedom that potential arrangement offered me. Because I was planning to take over, I was given a ton of freedom and got to get my hands in a lot of different projects over that 7 year span. I was a secretary, paralegal, office manager, and marketing coordinator. And LOVED marketing! Over the 7 years I was there, we bought a ton of marketing:
- Print Ads in legal magazines
- YP.com listings
- Bigger Yellow Page Ads in the phone book
- PayPerClick advertising from big companies and small companies
- I ran multiple Google Adwords Campaigns
- Social Media management projects
One project I worked on extensively was our website. We hired the design and development company that had worked on John Mayer’s website and we were jazzed. We knew it was going to be brilliant! But then, they asked us for the content to put in the site and we were stumped. We didn’t know how to write website content. Luckily, the design company was able to put me in touch with their SEO team and after learning from them, I took point on writing the copy for our site. I loved it! It was a great project, it let me combine my love of the law with writing. I started writing website content for other attorneys a bit on the side but between work and law school there wasn’t a heck of a lot of time for it.
After working for Iler & Iler for 7 years and struggling with the California bar (which is a story in and of itself) I went to work for a legal marketing company here in San Diego. It was a blast and I learned a ton about legal marketing and learned even more about writing marketing copy. But I started to realize I wanted to work for myself.
So I left that job and opened Prosperity Compositions. Originally, I would write marketing copy for anyone who would pay me. I wanted to get more creative, get away from law. But it wasn’t long before I realized that I enjoyed the law copywriting the most. I loved working with attorneys, loved using my knowledge of the law and loved writing. So in August of 2012 we rebranded. My long-term boyfriend (Gary Scott) came on as my business partner and we opened Write Law.
As I continued to work with attorneys we ran into two major hurdles: 1) most attorneys really struggled with marketing their firms because we don’t learn enough about running and marketing a practice in law school; and 2) the attorneys that struggled the most with their marketing could rarely afford our services.
Seeing those two needs and tapping back into my old interest in teaching, I started providing in person and online courses on legal marketing and legal copywriting. My thinking is that if they are going to write their own website copy or blogs anyway, they need to know how to do it. And if they were going to outsource their marketing, after our courses they could successfully evaluate the professionals they hired to make sure they didn’t buy snake oil.
It is crazy, nearly 10 years after I decided I couldn’t be a teacher because I didn’t play well enough in the sandbox to make it through the graduate program, I am teaching writing. I never would have guessed this is where I would wind up. But I feel so lucky!
You are the founder of Write Law, and before that Prosperity Compositions, which provided similar services but for a broader range of clients. Are you an entrepreneur at heart, or was starting these businesses a big leap for you?
I didn’t realize I was setting out to be an entrepreneur when I went to law school but looking back, what motivated me to pursue law was the potential to inherit an established law firm from my former bosses. I was drawn to the freedom to control my own schedule, my client load and the types of cases I was going to handle. That freedom was what motivated me to go to law school, so hindsight being 20/20, I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I just didn’t know it yet.
With that said, starting a business was a big leap and to some extent, it still is. I often joke that my motto is “Build that plane while you fly it.” Business ownership is the hardest, most exciting thing I have ever done.
What are the things you like the most about your work with Write Law?
The three things I love most about the work I am doing with Write Law are 1) I get to work with attorneys in all areas of law in a non-adversarial position; 2) I get to write every day; and 3) I am teaching now!
What are some of the pros and cons of being your own boss in this field? Do you ever get to decide to stay in your pajamas?
Being self-employed is HARD. It is harder than law school, it is harder than working fulltime and going to law school. But it is also amazing to be the master of my own destiny. I am responding to these questions from a coffee shop a block from the beach because I am taking a couple of days away from my normal routine to work on my business. I didn’t have to get anyone’s permission and it didn’t matter that I got on my bike later than planned. But on the flip side, I work crazy hours. I always work on the weekend and normally put in at least 50 -60 hours each week. It is also really hard to always self-motivate, it is much easier when you are given a task and a deadline and a goal. As an entrepreneur you have to come up with the tasks and goals and deadlines. Having a partner is great and makes it a little easier to get motivated.
The other thing that has really helped is finding other entrepreneurs who can encourage me and hold me accountable. I don’t stay in my PJs too often anymore because I often work from a coworking space here in San Diego called Hera Hub. But that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally go to the coworking space in yoga pants.
Are there any challenges that are unique to legal ghostwriting or ways that legal ghostwriting differs from ghostwriting for other businesses?
If you are doing any marketing for a law firm, you have to be aware of the ethical limitations that are imposed on the profession. For example, we can’t say the word “specialist” on a website unless all of the attorneys are bar certified specialists. We could use that word for marketing in almost any other profession without any concern, but in law, we can’t. So being aware of the limitations is so important, we don’t want to get our clients into hot water with the bar over the content on their marketing materials.
What does a typical day at Write Law look like for you?
I am trying to add a little more structure to my days so, in an ideal world, I would get to the office around 7am and knock out a couple of hours of writing for my clients before the world wakes up. Then I would check and respond to emails. I try and check my emails twice a day to cut down on the interruptions but I often can’t resist the siren song of my inbox that long!
After checking my email, depending on what is on the calendar, I would either hop onto a client call or crank out a couple of additional hours of writing. I normally break for lunch around 1pm. After lunch I tackle some marketing or business development tasks for Write Law (or a second business I am launching) and then check my email again around 3:30 or 4pm. After emails I wrap up any loose ends and plan my schedule for the next day. I tend to leave the office by 6pm for networking events twice a week. If I am not networking, I may stay later and work, or may head out for a run or a swim. I am currently training for a triathlon so I am trying to get 6 workouts in each week.
What are some of the ways that your work with Write Law allows you to be creative?
I get to be creative with my clients’ projects (to some extent) but I get to be really creative with my own marketing, branding and business development. It’s been fun to play with different marketing avenues and approaches.
Since technology is always changing, how do you keep up-to-date on the latest changes that affect your business and the services you provide your clients?
I didn’t really realize it before starting Write Law, but I am a total geek. I love new technology and staying on top of whatever Google is doing to change search rankings. I follow a couple of marketing and SEO bloggers and have developed strong relationships with other complimentary service providers, we help each other stay on top of what is changing, so that we can all serve our clients well. Building those strategic partnerships has been so important
Do you ever get writer’s block or have times when it is a struggle to get words on a page? Do you have any tricks you use, or sources of inspiration you return to, that help you get writing again?
Oh yeah, writer’s block happens. I try and give myself more than enough time to get something written for my clients so that if it just isn’t happening one day I can take a break and come back to it in a day or two. If I have that flexibility and I just can’t seem to write I will take some time and get outside. It is amazing what an hour on the beach can do to free things up.
If I am on a deadline and can’t seem to write, I will get out of my chair and take a 15 minute walk. Sometimes just getting the blood flowing makes a big difference. If walking doesn’t work, then I will set a timer for 15 minutes and just brain dump everything I can think of related to the topic onto a Word doc. Once the brain dump gets going, I can almost always keep going and can get a draft done. For me it is about creating a false sense of urgency to get things done. I guess working and going to law school hard wired me for being in crunch mode.
Do you have any advice for readers who might be interested in pursuing this type of work?
Sign up for one of our online courses. We share so much of what we’ve learned with our students. If you are an attorney, paralegal, marketing manager or a law student, they are jam packed with the information our students need to write their own marketing content. Legal Marketing 101 is a great place to start and if you’ve got a good marketing foundation, Legal Blogging Badass and Legal Content Masters are also awesome courses!
We are also developing an experienceship/internship program and are always looking for great contractors to bring on for a test. So if people are interested in writing rather than practicing law and have or are pursuing their JDs, we are always open to sharing what we’ve learned.
Otherwise, I would say just start writing. Writing is a skill that has to be nurtured and worked at. It isn’t something you can do efficiently without practice. I would also encourage interested writers to start learning about Google Algorithms, SEO best practices and the marketing limitations imposed by the bar on the attorneys in their state. Obviously you can write for someone anywhere in the US, but starting in your local community is often the best place to get going.