Growing business in the legal industry isn’t as simple as hanging up a shingle and waiting for prospective clients to call or email. The industry already is crowded, and tens of thousands of law school graduates join the field each year.

How do law firms rise above the competition? There’s no substitute for being good at what you do, of course, but letting people know how good you are is crucial, and writing a decent press release can help spread the word.

Like every profession, journalism has its own rules, some written but many not. During nearly 20 years on that side of the communications business, I saw far too many press releases announcing otherwise important news written and sent by someone who clearly didn’t do their homework.

Here are some tips to ensure the next press release you send doesn’t make the reporter want to hit the delete button.

  1. Start with news. Was your firm honored with an award? Was one of your partners elected to a bar association post? Did you hire a new attorney? Sponsor a charitable event? All of these accomplishments are worthy of announcing in a press release.
  2. Commentary topics. Write about topics that are already in the news, so your releases ride the coattails of the news cycle. For ideas, review popular search topics at www.google/trends or check out what hashtags are trending on Twitter.
  3. Follow AP style. It’s not called “the journalist’s bible” for nothing. Most news outlets in the United States adhere to the Associated Press Stylebook, and violations of style stand out like red flags to seasoned journalists. For example, your firm isn’t “number one,” it’s No. 1. Some months are abbreviated in a full date (Nov. 6, 2013) but not when written (the conference is scheduled for November). It’s worth investing $20 in a hard copy of the stylebook for reference, though online access also is available.
  4. Length. Shorter is better. Keep each release to 400 to 500 words. People’s attention spans are notoriously short.
  5. Legalese. Most of your audience, including the prospective clients you want to reach, aren’t as well versed in the law as you are. Explain or avoid jargon completely. Instead of saying, “The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari,” say, “The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review…”
  6. Headlines. A good headline is critical. Keep them short (10 words max). Use active verbs–announces, advises, etc. When possible, incorporate your name or phrases people might type in when searching, such as “Philadelphia malpractice attorney.”
  7. Keywords. Incorporate terms that people might be searching for to help them find you, but don’t go overboard. Make sure the keywords are included in the most important spots–headline, summary and the first two paragraphs.
  8. Visuals. OK, this one isn’t about writing, per se, but it will help your writing reach more people. Include a visual, such as a headshot of you, a photo from the office or your logo with each release. Words get more attention when coupled with images.

Anyone who says writing is easy isn’t working hard enough at it. These tips, though, will help you get started the next time your firm does something amazing that you want to share with the world.

Sarah Larson is vice president of public relations at Furia Rubel Communications Inc., an integrated marketing and public relations agency with a niche in legal marketing, where she oversees public relations, content and social media. She spent nearly 20 years as a journalist before switching to the agency side. Find her on LinkedIn, follow the agency on Twitter or visit www.furiarubel.com to learn more.